Northanger Abbey is a 2007 comic, adapted from the Austen text by Trina Robbins, and illustrated by Anne Timmons. This adaptation is found in the fourteenth volume of the Gothic Classics Series alongside other classic Gothic stories such as Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla (1871), and Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794).
Anne Timmons's adaptation of Northanger Abbey sticks closely to the original plot line of the novel. Not too much time is spent developing the character of Catherine Morland - the audience simply learns that she is an "uncommon heroine" and that she takes great pleasure in reading. In the same way that Catherine is essentially thrown into high society, so too is the reader taken from an idyllic scene of Catherine reading in a garden, to Catherine awkwardly navigating around a crowded ballroom.
The rest of the comic is full of elegant ball scenes, cut up by the manipulation of Catherine by the Thorpes, and Catherine's dreams of Henry Tilney and her most recent obsession, the novel The Mysteries of Udolpho. There are no signifcant variances from the original text, and the comic culminates in an exquisitely detailed full page spread of the wedding of Catherine and Henry.
Though the theme of class and social standing is reoccurring throughout most, if not all, of Jane Austen's novels, Robbins' and Timmons' adaptations focuses on the importance of it more so than the elements of Gothic parody, which figured more prominently in the 1817 text. Isabella's desire to marry someone rich, and Mrs. Allen attention to the physical, outward display of wealth largely fall out, but General Tilney's outrage at Catherine being of lower social standing than he had assumed her to be remains. This is the main obstacle that Catherine must overcome in the comic - the scenes of terror while searching through the rooms of Northanger Abbey are quickly tidied up, but the miscommunication between herself, Henry, and the General is extended.
The classic display of Regency wealth in popular culture is the grandiose ballroom scene. Anne Timmond puts careful detail into her renderings of the ways in which the wealthy mingle socially, and her attention to the scale of these events highlights the importance of class standing magnificently. Catherine, not coming from as much money as either the Allens or the Tilneys, feels out of place, and not as well prepared to dance and socialize properly. She, as a member of the lower class, is a true outsider in these ostentatious scenes of affluence.
Northanger Abbey is rendered exclusively in black and white, and, throughout most of the comic, white dominates every panel. Even with the illustrations lacking color, the brightness is striking. Every scene, save for the moments during Catherine's snooping in the abbey, give off a sense of openness and vibrancy. This coloring is a reflection of Catherine's character - as Trina Robbins describes her - a "young, naive and big-eyed" girl. She envisioned the comic to be "cute and lighthearted" because that is precisely how she sees Catherine. She is earnest and receptive to her surroundings, absorbing in elements from each setting in which she is placed.
Currently, the Gothic Classics collection has exclusively five-star ratings on Amazon.com, with Northanger Abbey receiving praise for its faithful retelling and realistic, crowd pleasing illustrations of Catherine and Henry.
Stacey Hayman from VOYA magazine calls the comic "well drawn and adapted but [with] the least amount of fright factor," in the collection, which seems like less of a criticism and more of a differing in opinion concerning the major themes of the work.
Jennifer Waters of School Library Journal states that Northanger "does not really come across in the graphic-novel format, but nevertheless is...interesting. The book doesn't provide enough information for students studying gothic literature, but for fans of the band My Chemical Romance, it's just the thing."
Significance of Adaptation
This adaptation attempted to remain textually faithful to the source novel, a feat which proved too challenging for complete success. Though Northanger Abbey averages around 200 pages, and is therefore one of the shortest of Austen's novels, it is nevertheless too lengthy and too dependent on dialogue and description to work in such a restrictive space as a comic. Several pages in the text were completely overfilled with speech bubbles, making the conversations somewhat confusing and difficult to follow. The adaptation would have worked better if it had focused on retaining the mood of the original, rather than attempting to keep as much dialogue as close to the original as possible.