Review by Matthew Nielsen
Based on the Joseph Conrad novella of the same name, the graphic novel Heart of Darkness (adapted by David Zane Mairowitz and illustrated by Catherine Anyango) is about a man’s journey up the Congo River during the late 19th-century Belgian colonial period. The protagonist, Marlow, works for an ivory trading group, and has been given the task of meet with Kurtz, an exceptionally “efficient” obtainer of ivory.
As the story progresses, the reader is introduced to more and more atrocity, murder, and madness. Whilst much is lost from the original book in this abridgement, certain fundamental elements are powerfully translated from words into picture. So though we may not get the novella’s extended inner-monologues from Marlow, we do get intense imagery than tells a lot in their own right. Likely because the original Heart of Darkness was based off some of Conrad’s own personal experiences, Mairowitz has chosen to include extracts of Conrad’s diary throughout the book. This wasn’t done in the original book, and is an interesting way to link the story with the original writer.
Anyango has illustrated this comic in a way that feels more like fine art than the usual line art associated with the majority of comics. The images come from many angles, warped points of views, and harsh forms of lighting. Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of, when artistic license and style trumps clarity, but this works well with the story’s theme of madness.
The thing that stands out the most are the speech bubbles and boxes. They look really basic, like something easily achievable with the most limited software, which works a little against the artwork style trying to be achieved here. However, the semi-transparent boxes do little to interrupt the artwork itself, so it’s tricky to find better alternatives. Perhaps bold full speech bubbles would have been worse?
Overall, though this book has some very interesting artwork and techniques, the abridged story seems to take something away that the original book had. It feels more like this graphic novel would serve fans of the novel better than people who have not yet read Heart of Darkness. So if this is your first time hearing of the story, perhaps get the book or audiobook first before moving on to the adaptation. However, the Heart of Darkness graphic novel is still worth a look for the art alone.