... Karen Wenborn on Classical Literature, comics and the Tipping Point

Karen Wenborn standing by The Doctor ... Karen Wenborn on Classical Literature, comics and the Tipping Point

zur deutschen Version Classical Literature, presented in a modern and visual way, yet staying with printed media and offering the classical text - this sure is a challenge.

"Classical Comics", a publisher in the UK, took this venture and began to issue Shakespeare, Bronte, Shelley - in comics. 

We thought this a very interesting subject and got in touch with Karen Wenborn,  Managing Director of Classical Comics. 

Classical ComicsZauberspiegel: Karen, I first got in contact with you during the Frankfurt Bookfair this year and I was exited about your idea of turning timeless classics into modern media such as Comicbooks, yet offering the original text as well. Please tell me more about your company. How long does it exist, who is the owner?
Karen Wenborn: The company is now two years old. Our first book Henry V, was published a year ago. The founder (and Chairman) is Clive Bryant, who had the idea for the series. To quote Clive 'Neither Karen or I have a publishing background, but we're both strong businesspeople, and are probably overly enthusiastic about books, literacy and education. Jo comes from a print background, so we rely on her to make sure the end product is right.'

Zauberspiegel: You specify on comics on classical issues, published in the fashion of "graphic novels". It seems to be quite an attempt to start a publishing company with this specific subject. How did the publishers get the idea of focusing on this subject?
Karen Wenborn: In October 2006 in a bar, somewhere in London, Clive Bryant was explaining a new business idea to a friend. On the train journey to the city, he'd been reading "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell, and was inspired by the notion of a zero tolerance to crime having a dramatically positive effect on the streets of New York. On reading the book, the question came immediately to mind, "Would people behave in an antisocial way, if they appreciated fine literature?" It was a chicken-and-egg question; certainly some people would disregard such literature regardless of the circumstances.
However, the thrust of "The Tipping Point" is that the balance changes once a critical point is reached; there is no need to "convert" everyone, only the need to convert enough people for the rest to follow. So, how to create that appreciation? Surely it starts at school?
Ask teenagers their opinion on Shakespeare, Dickens and Brontë, and the vast majority will answer back with a number of variations on the word "boring"; and that is the major hurdle to overcome: turning "boring" into "cool".
There’s more on this subject on our website (Link: http://www.classicalcomics.com/press/aboutus.html)

Zauberspiegel: It may sound a strange question, but whom do you focus on as customers and readers? If I remember correctly, you also offer material for school lessons - so is it an educational focus?
Karen Wenborn: Actually it is split 50/50 at the moment between 'normal' bookshop sales and education sales. Because of the pioneering three text versions of Shakespeare (two text versions for other classics) the books work incredibly well in the classroom. We also produce teachers resources providing exercises that cover a variety of curriculum topics. These are VERY popular with teachers. It is great that any child, whatever their reading level, can access the classics this way.

Zauberspiegel: Why do you use full colour in your books?
Karen Wenborn: We 'tested' the format on a numbers of readers (and a lot of children). And every child said that the books HAD to be in full colour. TV is, video games are - so why would they want to read books in black and white? We took their point!!

Zauberspiegel: What I found most interesting was the fact that you do not only issue one version of most books, but various, including "modern text" and "quick read". What is the difference between "modern" and "quick" and why did you split this up?
Karen Wenborn: Well, Shakespearean English is beyond the reach of most 10 year olds (that's when we start teaching The Bard in schools), in fact an awful lot of adults find that having to 'translate' as well as grasp the story is offputting. This way, anyone can start with Quick Text (which is simplified English and has around half the wordcount of Original and Plain Text) and then understand the story. Having done that, moving to Original Text allows those readers to fully appreciate the beauty of his language.
With the other classics, such as Dickens and Shelly, we felt that the English was close enough to today's usage for most people to understand. So we produce two versions, Original and Quick Text.

Zauberspiegel: We have found great classical literature: A Christmas Carol (a review to follow), Jane Eyre (review will be going online today), Canterbury Ghost (not yet issued), Frankenstein (review will follow as well) and finally Shakespeare. What do you plan to publish in the future?
Karen Wenborn:  Oh, we have a full list! We'd love to have the full range out now, but as each title takes between 15 and 26 months, it is a slow process. Coming next year we have Great Expectations, followed by The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, Dracula and The Canterville Ghost. We have Wuthering Heights, An Inspector Calls, Richard III, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Sweeney Todd and the Importance of Being Earnest all in production.

Zauberspiegel: "Graphic Novels" - I would like to return to that issue. What would be your definition of the term "graphic novel"? Is there a "history" of graphic novels? And what is the difference between Comic and a "Graphic Novel"?
Karen Wenborn: Ah! Being a newcomer to the world of comics and graphic novels, I don't feel qualified to answer that one! But as to history - yes, using drawings to illustrate text is as old as books themselves! In fact we  did start to 'write-down' stories by using pictures before we'd got around to alphabets. I can recommend everyone to start at this site and go from there  http://inventors.about.com/od/cstartinventions/a/comics.htm

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