By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Gareth Hinds is a prolific illustrator who worked in the video game industry for over ten years and still found the time to self-publish. Technically, that’s before Candlewick Press discovered him, and when they called him up to offer a deal, it was one he could not pass up!
Some fans know him for the cult hit, System Shock 2, and others may recall his earlier works, namely his adaptation of Beowulf. His artistic interpretations of literary classics are simply spellbinding. He has published ten books in all, including The Odyssey. As the recipient of Boston Public Library’s “Literary Lights for Children” award, his works can be found in use in classrooms across the country. Reading some of these classical works is not always easy, and to have the right kind of art to have young minds interested in the original material makes the process of learning how to read easier. Perhaps, one day, he may attempt Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Personally, I’m quite drawn to his works which looks at classical antiquity. In Poe: Stories and Poems, my taste for the macabre gets satisfied. His latest work is Homer’s The Iliad which took more than two years to produce! When this book clocks in at 270 pages and 95% of it are illustrations, the wait is certainly worthwhile. It is now available through bookstores like Amazon. To coincide with the release is a book tour. The remaining dates can be found at the end of this interview.
How difficult was it to translate Homer’s epic poem to graphic novel format?
It was a mammoth project. It’s so dense with information and has such a large cast of characters, it was a real challenge to distill it down to the essentials and tell it in a clear and compelling way.
Was there a lot of research you had to do to craft a visual style that would work with The Iliad?
Back when I started The Odyssey, I did a lot of test pages do work out what style was going to work best. For The Iliad I wanted to use a very similar style, but also tried out some solutions to some of the problems I encountered in The Odyssey. I used digital “pencil” for the linework, which allowed me to work in layers and make changes more easily. And for the nighttime scenes I painted them partway with watercolor then finished them digitally. That allowed me to control the tones more precisely.
What made you decide to have a single colour (monochrome) look of the Greek gods? Was it meant to be symbolic?
It’s important that you be able to tell when the gods take mortal form. I decided to draw them with a colored outline which would persist when they’re in disguise. To distinguish them even more from mortals, I decided that in their true form they would be painted entirely in the same color as their outline. As for the color choice, some were obvious — golden yellow for the sun god, grape purple for Dionysus, sea green for Poseidon, red for Ares, pink for Aphrodite. Others were a bit more intuitive.
One detail I noticed in your art style is that it’s very similar to the frescoes found in classical antiquity. Was this intentional?
The coloring is watercolor. It does have colors and textures similar to what you might see in a fresco. I wanted the freshness and immediacy of that look, though I wasn’t specifically trying to emulate frescoes.
I definitely appreciate the notes at the end of the book which explains the changes you made or how you interpreted Homer’s material. Had there been more room, what else would you have liked to add?
I had a draft of the endnotes that was twice as long. It had a lot more about things I took out of the story, and about the cultural context and the lead-up to the war. I’ve written a lot of supplementary material about those things in articles and interviews for other websites. I’m collecting it all on the Iliad page on my website.
What do you feel we can learn from reading this version of The Iliad?
I think The Iliad can be a hard read, but it’s one of the most important works of classic literature. It’s one of our best windows into life in the Bronze Age, and it tackles important universal topics like mortality, justice, what it means to be a hero, and what is worth killing or dying for. I hope the graphic novel medium makes it more accessible, easier to keep track of who’s who and what’s going on, so the reader can appreciate those deeper themes.
You have adapted many literary works to art format. Not all of them were easy, I imagine, and have to ask what’s next?
I am doing something a little different. It’s an adaptation of a contemporary YA novel some of your readers may know: Graceling, by Kristin Cashore. Kristin and I are good friends and are really excited to be working on this together.
At your book tour, what will be offered?
I will do a presentation about how I got started as a graphic novelist and my process for adapting and illustrating my books, including a live drawing demo. I answer audience questions, and of course, sign and personalize books.
5/18 – Gaithersburg Book Festival, Gaithersburg MD
3/21 – Bank Street Books, New York, NY
3/24 – An Unlikely Story, Plainville MA
3/25 – Porter Square Books, Cambridge MA
4/13-4/14 – LA Times Festival of Books
4/27 – Mrs. Dalloway’s, Berkeley CA (with Pamela Turner)
5/1 – Books Inc., Mountain View CA
5/2 – Kepler’s Books, Menlo Park, CA
5/3 – Hicklebee’s Books – San Jose, CA