I’m enough of a literature nerd to love Shakespeare and enough of a pop culture junkie to love a remake. Shakespearean adaptations have been all over screen and print for decades, including my personal favorite, the movie: Ten Things I Hate About You. Into that grand tradition comes Family Ties: An Alaska Crime Drama by Eric Hobbs and Noel Tuazon.
To be honest, I was prepared to judge this book fairly harshly both as a Shakespeare lover and as an Alaskan resident, but I was pleasantly surprised. The set up is simple but classic: King Lear retold in a mobster family. Jackie is the patriarch/Godfather of the family and his daughters, Kim and Shannon, have stayed home to act as his lieutenants. His wayward daughter in this version is replaced by a law-abiding son, (a male nurse) Cain, who refuses his share of the family’s crime drama.
What follows is pretty much the exact plot line of the Shakespearean original with a few guns swapped in for swords. And yet, it is rich material that does not feel clichéd or pedestrian. While I might have known how the story was going to end, and how it was going to get there, for that matter, I really appreciated the journey. It’s a fantastic story that carries the reader along. Lear’s daughters’ hijinks lend themselves well to the machinations of a mobster family and the soap opera-style intrigue (two daughters cheating on husbands with the same bastard son) feels appropriate to the gangster 70s action movie vibe.
As true to Shakespeare as this was, it was credible as an Alaskan work too. The look and feel of locations was correct, as were the naming of neighborhoods, businesses, and landmarks. My only complaint is that other than one plot point on snowmobiles, this could have taken place in any major city. If the author didn’t misname any areas or make any mistakes, he also didn’t incorporate unique enough Alaskan elements to make me appreciate the Arctic setting. The setting provided a lot of potential, but the story focused on plot and characters and used the setting as backdrop only.
The character of Cain, the prodigal son, was well drawn as were some of the business associates and Edmund, the evil bastard son. However, I had trouble distinguishing plot lines and secondary and tertiary characters.
The artwork is black on white in a very frenetic style. For the most part, this matched the frantic pace of the plot and seemed like a good stylistic choice. However, the less well-defined lines and lack of detail is what contributed to the problem with identifying characters. At times, the blurriness overtook the action, leaving things to be merely implied instead of shown. This could have worked, but it just felt as though the book were incomplete. I actually checked to be sure my book didn’t have a “final artwork to come” label—it didn’t.
This is an adult book. I would love to recommend it to high school libraries for Shakespeare units—and perhaps it could fly in a community that isn’t too conservative. However, there is a lot of violence (not surprising) and some fairly graphic sexual content (no body parts, but clearly visible positions). I wouldn’t rule it out for a school library, but it would not be my first choice.
Overall, this is a good read. It’s fun and does a good service to the original source matter. I doubt this will be the graphic novel to win all fans of the Bard over to a new format, but it will absolutely find a readership in medium to large public libraries.
Family Ties: An Alaskan Crime Drama
by Eric Hobbs
Art by Noel Tuazon
Publisher Age Rating: Adult