This manga adaptation of Twain’s classic novel recounts the adventures of small-town rascal Tom Sawyer and his cohorts growing up in St. Petersburg, Missouri in the mid-nineteenth century. This volume in the manga classics series stays true to the plot and themes of Twain’s work, following Tom, Huck, Becky, Aunt Polly, Injun Joe, and the other residents of St. Petersburg on a series of adventures. The flow of this manga version is episodic, including all the memorable scenes of Twain’s original. We see Tom trick Ben Rogers into completing his work painting a fence, Tom’s tumultuous relationship with Becky Thatcher, and the drama as Tom, Huck, and Joe Harper witness their own funeral.
While the majority of the manga consists of these loosely-connected episodes, Tom’s eventual decision to come forward after he and Huck witness Injun Joe commit a murder, and the implications of that decision, is a thread running through much of the novel. The story continues in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which has also been adapted by Manga Classics.
Manga Classics: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer has been classified as a Young Adult title for ages twelve and up by the publisher. This designation is fitting, not due as much to mature subject matter as to the fact that the novel is a challenging read both textually and visually. The adapters have been faithful to Twain’s novel, which captures the dialect of the American South in the mid-1800s, including, as they acknowledge, racist language. Characters also use expressions and syntax which differ greatly from the speech patterns of today. In addition, characters who appear out-of-frame may still speak, so readers must connect a speech bubble to its unseen owner in order to follow a conversation. The episodic nature of the story can make transitions between scenes somewhat abrupt. While the novel is divided into chapters with each chapter number labeled, the numbers appear at different places on each page, which can make them difficult to spot. Finally, the fact that this book reads in typical manga style from right to left makes it a more challenging text for Western readers.
The gray scale illustrations are done in traditional manga style—characters have large eyes and thin, angular frames. Huckleberry Finn actually looks Japanese with straight black hair and dark eyes, while the other characters have various hair, skin, and eye colors. Manga conventions are often used, such as when characters express surprise and their eyes grow wide with large pupils. Characters are clearly distinguishable from one another, though there’s not much distinction between the way children and adults are drawn, apart from the older adults such as Aunt Polly. Inanimate objects can also be a bit difficult to discern. The panel structure is quite variable in size and function. Some panels introduce setting, while others introduce characters and character details. Each character is introduced for the first time with a large-scale captioned portrait standing apart from the panels on the page where he or she first appears. End matter includes notes from the text adapter and illustrator which provide insight into the adaptation process as well as sketches of key characters.
Manga Classics: Adventures of Tom Sawyer is an enjoyable way to experience Twain’s classic novel. The drawback to any graphic format of this book is that it must leave out large amounts of the narration that is a hallmark of Twain’s work. This is certainly noticeable here, and the flow of the story does appear a bit jumpy in places as a result. However, Chan and Chan have still done an admirable job adapting the work to the manga format.
Young adult readers, manga fans, and those interested in adaptations of classic literature will find this piece enjoyable. Adept middle grade readers may be able to tackle it as well, and it has potential for use in classrooms as part of a comparative study, along with its companion Manga Classics: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Manga Classics: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
by Mark Twain, Crystal Chan
Art by Kuma Chan
Manga Classics, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 12+