By Joseph Conrad, Catherine Anyango and David Zane Mairowitz
Like many literature students, I had to read Conrad’s groundbreaking novella twice before I understood its importance. Not only did I need to get my head around what was actually going on, I also had to spend time understanding that Conrad’s obfuscation was deliberate. For the first time here was a writer marrying content to form: the impenetrable nature of the Congo’s forests and people (to a European) were reflected in the language used to tell the story. Ingenius!
Of course, since Conrad published his tale in 190X, the graphic novel has become the dominant form of literature. (What do you mean it hasn’t?) Or at least, a significant player in storytelling. Indeed, where prose writers almost find it impossible to break boundaries of form in 2011, graphic novelists and cartoonists are still able to push their form further and further. Such is the achievement of Catherine Anyango in her arresting and disturbing visual retelling of Conrad’s famous story. David Zane Mairowitz has adapted the text itself, using Conrad’s memorable descriptions and dialogue, but it is Anyango’s images that win the day here.
In what appears to be charcoal or pastel, Anyango has managed to capture the shapes of this story. The action is not always clear in every frame – in fact, hardly ever – but that is an achievement, not a drawback. Anyango’s challenge was to translate Conrad’s confusing language into images. And she has done so expertly. Even taken out of context, these images are stunning, unnerving and even frightening.