I’m not one to seek out graphic novels. I don’t have something against them, they’re just not something I’m used to reading. Even as a kid, I never sought out comic books and I was “forced” to read my first graphic novel as part of a course (it was Watchmen by Alan Moore and I enjoyed it). But when I saw a graphica version of The Alchemist on the GPL’s shelves, I was apprehensive.
The Alchemist is a book I’ve read several times. I had such a clear picture in my mind of the characters before encountering the graphica version that I expected to feel a certain amount of resistance to the artist’s interpretation of the story.
The story itself is elegant and simple. A shepherd boy named Santiago receives an omen promising fortune. He leaves his home in Andalusia and crosses the Sahara desert in search of the legendary Alchemist who can turn base metals into gold. Based on a tale from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, the story is heavily spiritual but with broad appeal and guides the reader through universal themes of faith, struggle, and value. The original novel was a sleeper success eventually selling over 65 million copies worldwide. I didn’t grab the graphica version as soon as it hit our shelves, and when I got around to reading it I was prepared to be disappointed. I wasn’t, but found myself appreciating it from an unexpected angle.
Santiago is a teenager and once upon a time I tried teaching this book to a class of thirteen year old boys (note the emphasis on “tried”). The students enjoyed my reading the story to them; they found it adventurous and could easily identify with the main character. However, they found the language of the novel too advanced to read it themselves. I wish I’d had the graphica version of The Alchemist back then. Not only does it make the language and the story more accessible to younger readers, the graphics are reminiscent of an X-Men or Green Lantern comic. The heroes have muscles, the girls are sexy, and the narrative moves along at the pace of an action movie. Now, this isn’t a version of The Alchemist I would have sought out for myself, or immediately recommend to adult readers, but I could see myself buying a dozen copies of it for my former class of Year Nines.
Illustrator Daniel Sampere admits in his introduction to the graphic novel that he initially though he was unsuited for illustrating The Alchemist; his background was in illustrating superhero comics. However, in this fan’s opinion, the choice couldn’t have been more perfect.
This graphica version of The Alchemist presents the perfect stepping stone toward a universe of thoughtful, psychological, emotional adult literature for adolescent boys who may be reluctant readers.
Bottom line: If you’re a Paulo Coelho fan with a reluctant reader at home, consider checking out this “comic book” for him at the GPL and see what happens.
And if you’re a fan of graphic novels in general, you must check out the content available online via the GPL’s Hoopla! streaming service. With the slick new ability to navigate frame-by-frame and expand frames to full-screen size, Hoopla! offers a whole new experience to the graphica lover.