When I heard Abrams was developing a graphic novel adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred I was of two minds. I wasn’t sure if one of the most important books in the history of literature could be accurately represented in the graphic form. Even though I’m a rabid comic book fan, I felt a comic version of the novel would somehow cheapen it. But it was John Jennings and Dr. Damian Duffy, and I trust them implicitly. They have a decade plus relationship and have put out some of the most interesting and innovative comics work during this time.
They’re geniuses, and this isn’t hyperbole. This book here illustrates the genius of their partnership.
I read Jennings’s and Duffy’s Kindred in one sitting. Alone. At night. Folks have been trying to classify Kindred since it was first published: sci fi, speculative fiction, fantasy. I feel Kindred is a horror novel. And the horror crept into my dreams for three days after I finished the book. Only one other book (actually a series) has ever affected me in this way.
For those of you who don’t know, Kindred is about Dana, a young African-American woman (who is married to a white man) living in 1976 Los Angeles who travels back to a slave plantation in pre-Civil War Maryland. There is a time-dilation effect whereby a few minutes in 1976 amount to much longer on the plantation. On her first trip, Dana saves the life of Rufus, the plantation owner’s son. Each time she is yanked back to the past, she is charged with saving Rufus’s life. The reason for this becomes startlingly clear as the book progresses. I’ve read the original novel over twelve times, and will read this graphic adaptation more than that. It is a masterful interpretation.
Kindred is already a lean novel — not in length, but in narrative execution — but Duffy was able to distill the novel into its most important themes and contextualize them in a way that charges Butler’s words with a new energy and urgency, while giving us a new lens through which to read them. Duffy’s words, coupled with Jennings’ brutally jagged, disorientating, gothic, and impactful art allows their adaptation to be two things: A graphic adaptation of a beloved novel, and an amplification of said novel. Reading them together illuminates Butler’s work from angles I never thought possible. It felt like I was in the cookhouse, in the shadows of a corner, witnessing the lives of the enslaved.
This book complicates race, gender, power, and family in a discourse that is very much needed in our current political reality. Needless to say, it is heavy.
I say this, not because I am friends with Jennings and Duffy, but because I truly believe it: Not only is this one of the very best adaptations of an existing work, ever, but one of the best graphic novels in twenty years. It takes everything that makes Kindred an indispensable work of art and, through some crazy artistic synergy, elevates it. I urge you to get it now and record your reactions in the comments section.
Check out this interview I did with Jennings and Duffy at the 3rd Annual Black Comics Arts Festival, this past Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King holiday.