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 ISBN: 9781637790502
Publisher Age Rating: 16+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
The year: 1972. The place: Detroit. Elena Abbott is a hard-hitting journalist at the Detroit Daily, using her work to ask difficult questions and bring to light police abuses that some feel are best left unexplored. To make things more difficult, Abbott moves through this primarily white male world as a black woman, encountering both institutional and direct bigotry and discrimination.
The story opens with Abbott arriving at a crime scene, and it’s clear from the start she has learned well how to operate in a world that’s hostile to her in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. A police horse has been killed and mutilated. The police are ready to point fingers at the Black Panthers or other “Negro agitators,” regardless of a lack of evidence. Abbott is prepared to pick up the story and follow it until she finds the truth, and she’s ready to fight anyone who stands in her way. Her investigation soon leads to a string of killings and mutilations, mostly of black men, but there is something more at work than just a serial killer. As she continues to follow leads, Abbott finds her life threatened by something decidedly supernatural—possibly connected to the same forces that took her husband away many years prior.
The book Abbott contains issues #1-5 of the comic, and serves as a self-contained story that wraps up by the end. As of this writing, no further issues have been published or announced. On the whole, I am a fan of Abbott and think it has echoes of both Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics and the DC Comics character John Constantine. Abbott is compelling and well-developed, and she avoids the trope of tough female characters who aren’t allowed to show vulnerability or emotion. It’s also nice to see women whose strength comes not from being physically muscular or violent, but from their personalities and determination. The story is interesting, serving up lots of paranormal and noir flavor, and is supported with a memorable cast of characters.
My one main complaint with the story of the comic would be the pacing and length. The starting pace is well-set, but events wrap up fairly quickly toward the end. I think there are a lot of intriguing plot elements to be explored, and I honestly could have read another five issues at least in the same storyline. The end leaves a number of unanswered questions, so the possibility for more Abbott is certainly open.
The art of the comic left me with mixed feelings, though I recognize there is a lot of subjectivity here. It seems to hearken back to an older comics style, or even a newspaper comics style, which I’m guessing is intentional, considering Abbott’s profession and the year the story is set. Colors are somewhat muted, and characters don’t always stand out from the background details as much as they do in other art styles. While this is not my favorite style personally, it does make a lot of sense content-wise and fits the story. There is also some creative panel work and a few images or panels stuck with me and were well-executed.
It’s refreshing to see a black woman cast in the hard-boiled noir detective role, a rarity to be sure. Most of the other main characters are people of color as well, including the bisexual Abbott’s ex-girlfriend. The story tackles the racial politics of 70s Detroit, both through the challenges Abbott faces and snippets presented from her newspaper articles. It’s a more vibrant and complex picture of Detroit than the stereotypical ruins many people picture today, centering on people whose stories are less frequently told.
Abbott is a great addition to a library collection, appropriate for adults and some older teens. The horror and supernatural elements mean there are some disturbing and gory images. Abbott also spends most of the book smoking cigarettes, while another character smokes marijuana, and some characters drink alcohol. Despite the racism and bigotry depicted, the language used is not over-the-top, and there is no sexual content depicted aside from kissing. Readers who enjoy detective stories, murder mysteries, and the supernatural can find something to enjoy in this title.
Abbott By Saladin Ahmed Art by Sami Kivela ISBN: 9781684152452 BOOM! Studios, 2018
Browse for more like this title Character Traits: East Asian, Black, , Bisexual, Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator