In an announcement that offered more irony than may have been intended, Abrams ComicArts plans to publish a comics adaptation of renowned science-fiction author Octavia Butler’s acclaimed novel, Kindred, and noted that the book will be edited by newly hired senior editor Carol Burrell. As it turns out, Burrell, a well-regarded cartoonist herself, is probably the perfect editor for the book since she was originally chosen back in 2009 to adapt and draw the novel for another publisher.
Abrams ComicsArts plans to publish a graphic adaptation of Butler’s Kindred, the story of a contemporary young African American woman who finds herself mysteriously transported back in time to the antebellum South and slavery. The book offers a frightening look at the reality of slave life and the violence and fear that was pervasive in the lives of slaves during those times. The deal to publish the adaptation was negotiated by literary agent Merrilee Heifetz of Writers House, who represents the estate of Octavia Butler, who died in 2006.
Burrell will edit the book, which will be produced by the creative team of Damian Duffy, who will adapt the prose novel into a graphic novel, and John Jennings, who will provide the drawings. However, in an unusual twist, it turns out the Burrell was originally chosen to adapt and draw a graphic novel adaptation of Kindred as part of a line of graphic novels planned by the Boston publisher Beacon Press back in 2009. At the time, Burrell, who is also the creator of SPQR Blues, a webcomic set in ancient Rome, also happened to be the editorial director of Lerner Graphic Universe, a line of graphic novels published by the Minneapolis-based educational publisher for schools and libraries. She left Lerner in December of 2012 to take a new job at Abrams ComicArt.
In a phone interview with Burrell, she said she was surprised when she arrived at her new job to find a copy of Butler’s novel on her desk. “When I arrived at Abrams, on the first day I saw it on my desk and I was told that Abrams would be publishing a comics version. It was a surprise,” she said, “and it was the same edition of Kindred that I had been using for my adaptation.” It turns out that former Abrams ComicArts senior editor Sheila Keenan had acquired the rights to the graphic novel adaptation of Kindred before she left the company in 2012.
Burrell said that the original adaptation she was contracted to do by Beacon Press just didn’t work out, despite putting in a lot of work. Burrell said she had thumbnailed “hundreds” of pages and fully illustrated about 120 pages of the book. “Not being able to complete my original version is one of my regrets,” she said, “the book was never completed to due to misunderstandings and a number of changing factors.” Burrell said the original adaptation “kept expanding and that kept the project from coming together.” However she also said she hoped her “complete immersion” in the novel for so long, will “give me insight into editing it.”
Burrell said “I found out after I got here that Sheila had acquired it. Michael Jacobs [Abrams CEO], loves the book and the author and he is enthusiastic about our adaptation and really wants to see it go forward.” The creative team of Duffy and Jennings, an unusual tandem of academics who have created original comics in addition to curating exhibitions on African American comics artists, was also chosen by Keenan. The two are also the authors of Black Comix: African American Independent Comics, Art and Culture, anthology on indie black comics and cartoonists, published by Mark Batty Publishers in 2010.
Burrelll said that Duffy and Jennings adaptation of Kindred will be in full color (her version was planned to in black and white greyscale), “It will have a very different look.” She said the book, “handles many issues and presents a complex world. I hope I can apply my experience working with it to the editing of the new book."