The Prophet: A Graphic Novel Adaptation is A. David Lewis’s attempt to translate the groundbreaking work of Kahlil Gibran from 1923 to the graphic novel world of 2023. In the afterword, Lewis says, “In his lifetime, Gibran was known not only as a poet and writer but also as a visual artist and philosopher. From reading his biographies and his notes, I became convinced that a multimodal approach to The Prophet, one that incorporated both word and image, would be entirely in keeping with his legacy.” This is an extremely daunting prospect. For context, The Prophet has been translated into over 100 different languages, it is one of the most translated and best-selling books of all time. The original work is 26 prose poetry fables collected and revised over a number of years which didn’t become a hit overnight, but has slowly grown in popularity and been studied extensively. I know that this was assigned reading for friends in high school, but it was new to me at this reading.
The story opens with an old man sitting on a bluff overlooking the sea. “Almustafa, the chosen and the beloved, who was a dawn unto his own day, had waited twelve years in the city of Orphalese… and he beheld his ship coming with the mist. His joy flew far over the sea. And he closed his eyes and prayed in the silences of his soul.” As he sees the ship approaching their island, he’s overcome with the chance to return home, but also feels deeply how leaving will affect him and others. He has the sailors wait and goes to bid the citizens goodbye, only to have them all ask him to speak on different themes. He’s asked to speak on love, marriage, children, giving, laws, freedom, pain, friendship, prayer, death and more. To all of these he gives long answers in a tone that is both reverential and contemplative.
Credit to artist Justin Rentería for what he accomplished in black and white here. It has been described as, “a 1920’s Ottoman-inspired style”. Lewis says, “Justin and I tried to maintain a semi-timeless feeling for the setting and its citizens: no technology, no jargon, no potential anachronisms. The culture is a mix of several civilizations, not the least of which is Gibran’s own Lebanon.” Rentería accomplishes this and helps deliver a familiar yet foreign world that feels like home for these strange characters. I feel like the art is the strength of this book trying to help paint the picture the words alone can’t.
I can certainly see this book finding a home in high school and college libraries as it tries to find an audience with people who may struggle with the original text. I would undoubtedly have been one of those people, I found this to be incredibly cumbersome and very slow to read. The original text has been described as “heady” and “cerebral,” which feels generous. At 100 years old, I think the accomplishment of the graphic novel is to provide clarity and context that doesn’t exist otherwise as this isn’t conversational or traditional narrative. Framing this story with illustrations and characters we can identify makes it a much more manageable book.
The Prophet: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
By A. David Lewis
Art by Justin Rentería
Graphic Mundi, 2023
Publisher Age Rating: 16+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Lebanese-American