Two of Kipling’s classic how-and why-tales are retold in Capstone’s Graphic Spin series. In the original stories, “How the Camel Got His Hump” is a moralistic tale. The lazy camel refuses to help the Three at the beginning of the world – Man, Horse, and Dog. So when they encounter the Djinn in charge of All Deserts and complain, he makes the Camel’s snooty “humph!” into a real hump, right on his back. The hump stores water and food so the camel can work for three days without stopping, to make up for the days he didn’t help the Three. “How the Leopard Got His Spots” is one of Kipling’s more racist tales, although most versions you read will have some of the language toned down. Go read an original version and wince. Anyhow, in this tale, the Ethiopian and Leopard “In the days when everybody started fair” live on the High Veldt, a grassy desert, and both are “yellowish-greyish-brownish” like all the other animals. The plains animals flee to the jungle and on the advice of Baviaan, the Baboon, the Ethiopian and Leopard follow them there only to discover they stand out in the forest. So, like the other animals, they change their skin – the Ethiopian changes to black and then uses some of the black left on his skin to make spots on the Leopard and they take off hunting into the jungle.
Graphic Spin retells these two stories as cartoonish adventures set in a research/case study style. The stories begin with a depiction of the geography and characters, then “Kipling’s Observation” is the adapted story. This is followed by Kipling’s original poem, facts about the animals, glossary, discussion questions, and research topics with bios of Kipling, the adapter, and the illustrator. The general flavor of the language is retained, although much of the story is translated into sometimes choppy dialogue.
Pedro Rodriguez’ illustrations have a strong animation-inspired flavor. Kids who are fans of the Madagascar movies will enjoy the big eyes, goofy grins, and exaggerated expressions of the various animal characters and pick up on the humor, both original and added, of the stories. I thought it was unnecessary to picture the Ethiopian apparently coating himself with mud to create his new skin. The original story just says he changed it and Rodriguez’ interpretation made me wince, considering the historical racism equating dark skin with being dirty. However, he mostly does a good job of not making the Ethiopian and other ethnic characters in the story complete caricatures – the Man (now an Indian village with women and children) in Camel is a nicely and realistically depicted and the genie is an exaggerated cartoon character, green with pointed ears, a ridiculously long nose, and a painted clown mouth, a completely made-up magical creature. The Ethiopian is mostly normal, for a cartoon character, and instead of Kipling’s racist adult is now a sometimes sassy, sometimes awkward teen boy.
These two titles would not have been my first picks if I was adapting Kipling’s stories, but the adapters and illustrator have handled them fairly well. They will certainly appeal to kids with art that is strongly reminiscent of animation, quick action, and for the most part snappy dialogue. While not perfect, they do depict a variety of races in addition to the animal characters and kids will enjoy discovering these old favorites in a new medium.
(Quotations taken from The National Trust’s 1987 edition of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories.)