The horrific story of the demon barber and his craving for financial security achieved through the mechanisms of bloody murder and the sideline of tasty meat pies has been told and retold through a myriad of media since it was first published in eighteen weekly installments in the mid-eighteen hundreds. In this literary rendition of a dynamic urban legend of the nineteenth century, Sweeny Todd, the demon barber, generates his victims through the means of a revolving barber chair that deposits them through a trap door into the basement. The fall usually breaks the necks of the victims, but if necessary, Todd polishes them off by slitting their throats with his straight razor. The deceased flesh is ground and baked into highly prized meat pies in the neighbouring pie shop run by Mrs. Lovett. A young boy, Tobias Ragg, works for Todd and ultimately becomes Todd’s nemesis along with Joanna Oakley and Colonel William Jeffery, who are looking for a missing string of pearls and the person who carried them, last traced to the barbershop.

This graphic novel version, offered both with the abridged original text and with a contemporary and diluted quick text, artistically and authentically captures the darkness of the era and the antagonists’ deviousness in equal measure. The palate of colour favours murky browns, cloudy blues, and occasional flashes of brilliant reds and greens, perfect for a tale that takes place in dark and dingy corners of society and under the cobble stones of Fleet Street. What is not on the page, but can be easily imagined in the reading, is the latent gore of the story, as the murders and their aftermath are all located off stage. There is plenty of action on the page, however, as the story shifts from the planning of the two main groups of characters. The greed and descending madness of the wicked characters, as well as the ingenuity and integrity of the protagonists, shine through in this macabre exploration of good and evil.

The abridged original text offers the reader a satisfying reading experience while the contemporary language quick text efficiently conveys the gist of the tale, the motivations of the actors, and the melodramatic denouement of the original. A brief background of the story and its appearances in print, on the stage, and in film follows the main tale, as does an illustrated two page spread explaining the process of creating a comic book page from the foundation script, through the rough sketch, pencilling, inking, colouring and, finally, lettering. The script, in this case, includes which original text captions and instances of dialogue are to be included as well as the quick text, which is further adapted from these selections. An illustrated cast of characters precedes the story itself and provides a useful reference to the wide cast of characters.

Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street — Original Text Version and Quick Text Version
by Anonymous, Sean Michael Wilson
Art by Declan Shalvey
Original Text Version ISBN: 978-1-907127-09-0
Quick Text Version ISBN: 978-1-907127-10-6
Classical Comics, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: 10+

  • Gail

    | She/Her Professor, Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta


    In addition to teaching at the School of Library and Information Studies (University of Alberta) where she is an adjunct professor, Gail tells stories and conducts workshops on a wide variety of topics across Canada and the United States. Each year she teaches the following courses for the University of Alberta. All of her courses are delivered online: Storytelling, Comic Books and Graphic Novels in School and Public Libraries, Canadian Children’s Literature for School and Public Libraries and Young Adult Literature. She also teaches a course on Indigenous Literature for the ATEP program (Aboriginal Teacher Education Program) at the University of Alberta. Gail is the award-winning author of nine books on storytelling and folklore in popular culture.

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