Saturday 27 March 2010

Review: Campfire Graphic Novels

It is always helpful when a publisher sends you a nice pile of shiny new graphic novels just when the blog you run is having a graphic novel themed month, so it was with much great delight that I cam home from work last week to find that the nice people at Frances Lincoln had sent me a number of books from the Campfire collection.

Campfire began publishing in Delhi, India in 2008 and this is what they say about themselves on their website:

It is night-time in the forest. The sky is black, studded with countless stars. A campfire is crackling, and the storytelling has begun. Stories about love and wisdom, conflict and power, dreams and identity, courage and adventure, survival against all odds, and hope against all hope – they have all come to the fore in a stream of words, gestures, song and dance. The warm, cheerful radiance of the campfire has awoken the storyteller in all those present. Even the trees and the earth and the animals of the forest seem to have fallen silent, captivated, bewitched.

Inspired by this enduring relationship between a campfire and the stories it evokes, we began publishing in 2008, under the Campfire imprint, with the vision of creating graphic novels of the finest quality to entertain and educate our readers. Our writers, editors, artists and colourists share a deep passion for good stories and the art of storytelling, so our books are well researched, beautifully illustrated and wonderfully written to create a most enjoyable reading experience.

A quick glance at the Campfire catalogue shows a host of classic titles from literature and mythology that will be available by the end of the year. Although there is some intention to release a number of original stories, it is this list of classics that will draw in a lot of readers, especially if the quality of the few I have read is anything to go by. In addition there will also be a number of biographies published in the collection, including Harry Houdini and Wright Brothers.

There has been a great deal of research into graphic novels and literacy in boys carried out in recent years, and any modern-thinking english teacher or librarian will tell you that graphic novels are a great way to encourage reluctant boy readers to pick up a book and stick with it. However, there is still some degree of stigma attached to their use in schools, with some traditionalists seeing graphic novels as childish, dumbing down or in some cases too violent. The violence concern is perhaps a valid one, as some graphic novels are particularly er.... 'graphic' in places and careful selection, especially by schools, can be paramount. Learning and Teaching Scotland have produced a great source of information and ideas on this subject which can be found at this website.

These Campfire books would make a perfect addition to any school library. The graphics are stunning throughout all six of the titles I have read. These books are illustrated by some incredibly talented artists, none of whose names will be familiar to the majority of people living outside of theor native India. The language in the classic titles has been simplified in order to give them greater appeal to 21st Century youngsters, but traditionalists will be glad to hear that enough of the original feeling of the stories has been retained - certainly no dumbing down with these books. However, I have to stress that these books are better for capable readers as they tend to have more text than many of the graphic novels that appeal to less able readers. That's not to say that these struggling readers won't be able to enjoy them with the assistance of a parent or teacher.

Four of the six titles I was sent are shown in the image at the top of this post. My favourite of these is the biography of Harry Houdini. He is possibly one of the most famous men from the 20th Century, yet he is someone I knew very little about. His story is brought to life for young readers in a way that no other medium could. Cel Walsh, the author, tells the great escape artist's story with great charm, focusing not just on the exciting elements of his career but also his determination to be a success. The subject matter is well chosen - this is the kind of story that could inspire many a 10 year old boy.

Another favourite was Kim, Rudyard Kipling's classic story of adventure, intrigue and derring-do, all set against a backdrop of India under the British Raj. I have never read Kipling's novel but I have seen the 1950 film starring Errol Flynn and Dean Stockwell many times so I have a a fairly Hollwood-ised concept of the story. Again, Campfire have selected their author and artist well and this book delivers Kipling's story in an exciting, dynamic way - I have now added the original Kim novel to my list of books I must read. And this is the magic of using graphic novels like this to encourage boys to read; hopefuly many will be inspired by the quality of the classic story and at some point in the future rise to the challenge of reading the original novel.

There are a large number of classics retold in the graphic novel format available to buy and more due out from other publishers throughout the coming year. However, I have not read many of these so I am not able to compare the quality of these with others. Except that is for The Hound of the Baskervilles. I am a huge Sherlock Holmes fan and found the Campfire retelling of this story to be a little cliched, with Holmes being portrayed wearing his deerstalker and Sir Henry is given a chiseled jawline as the stereotypical american gentleman. For a much more rewarding version of the story then you really should try the graphic novel by Ians Edginton and Culbard - the graphics in this version are simply stunning and far more in keeping with how I imagined them when I read Conan Doyle's original story many years ago. Edginton and Culbard have also released an equally enjoyable graphic novel version of A Study in Scarlet - I had intended to review them this month as part of my graphic novel theme but I don't own them and the copies I read are currently booked out from the local library to someone else and it is a while since I read them. Both books are well worth buying, as this review in the Guardian will attest. I believe their next Holmes production is The Sign of the Four (one of my favourite Holmes stories) - you can follow the progress of this at Ian Culbard's blog - Strange Planet Stories. There is also plenty of information about these and many other great graphic novels, including the Manga Shakespeare series, at the publisher's website     

Campfire already have seven titles available to buy in the UK, with five more coming out in April and a planned total of thirty-four by the end of 2010. We will certainly be buying a number of these for the school library. 


  1. I know adults who tend to turn a blind eye towards violent graphic novels. At least they're Reading!!! Especially for reluctant readers violence can keep them hooked.

  2. I completely agree. Unfortunately though teachers and school librarians have to be quite careful when selecting books to buy as it only takes one parent to take offence at the content of a book and things can really kick off. Sad, I know, but true.

  3. The violence is replacing the story though, lame story?-stick in lots of heads blowing up;. AS for Marvel, theyre stuff really sucks at the moment. I'll give these books a try, but they better be good!!

  4. It depends what you are after. These are not like Marvel, DC, 2000AD, Dark Horse - these are graphic novel versions of classic stories.

  5. I appreciate that, but Marvel's stuff sucks.