Written by Pierre Christin
Illustrated by Sébastien Verdier
Coloring by Philippe Ravon
Translation by Edward Gauvin
Published by SelfMadeHero
In Orwell, written by Pierre Christin and illustrated primarily by Sébastien Verdier, readers are given a succinct survey of author George Orwell’s life, with a particular interest in how his personal experiences shaped his writing.
This gorgeously illustrated graphic novel utilizes plenty of sequential storytelling technique in order to impart as much information about Orwell’s perspective as possible, and the result is an educational volume that is a joy to read. Whether you’re already familiar with Orwell’s writing or not, this biography will demonstrate to you why you should be, and give you a deeper appreciation when you next turn to his prose.
Orwell: From Fighting Fascists to Down & Out Life
The frame of this graphic novel is an exploration of Orwell’s life, beginning when he was a child and tracing the course of his life through to his death in 1950. From living “down and out” in the slums of London and fighting fascists during the Spanish Civil War, the breadth of Orwell’s adventures are laid out in this volume, both offering deeper insight into the writer’s foundations and providing an engaging tale in and of themselves.
Throughout the book, Verdier’s artwork is incredibly strong, with the expressions of the characters (especially our protagonist) and the historical settings being especially well rendered. The graphic narrative is ideal for historical nonfiction, affording a glimpse of events that can prove far more effective than solely prose could ever hope to accomplish.
This element is bolstered by the occasional use of a photograph or other reproduced image (like newspaper clippings and, at one point, an anachronistic movie poster). Along with the intermittent splash of color, these elements give Orwell a distinctive (and delightful) aesthetic.
And the autobiographical anecdotes included in the text afford significant insight into Orwell’s formation as a writer, from more superficial aspects like how he arrived as his pen name through to experiences like his time on the Burma police force.
1984 all over again
Another aspect of Orwell that was particularly well done is the representation of Orwell’s work. Rather than attempt to summarize Orwell’s writing, quotations from the author’s work are included, and made distinct from Christin’s words via a change in font. This is an effective an unobtrusive way of signaling to the reader that we have shifted gears.
Furthermore, these pages feature illustrations by guest illustrators, whose work is immediately distinguishable from Verdier’s artwork thanks to the fact that these commissioned guest pieces are in full color rather than (predominantly) black and white.
Featuring work by André Juillard, Olivier Balez, Manu Larcenet, Blutch (with colors by Isabelle Merlet), Juanjo Guarnido, and Enki Bilal, this comic technique is used to great effect in order to emphasize Orwell’s contributions to the literary canon.
The last few pages of this graphic novel take the form of an epilogue entitled “After Orwell,” which traces the author’s legacy in the decades since his death. Noting the propensity of both the Right and the Left to invoke concepts and terms that were conceived of by Orwell, like “Newspeak” and “Big Brother,” although they are often used in ways their author could not have predicted.
The afterword goes on to read, “Elements of the Far Left and Far Right shamelessly conscript Orwell to cast a slur on their perennial enemies, social democracy and the press (the progressive media most of all).”
By tracing his experiences as a journalist, Orwell demonstrates just why it is so ridiculous to use Orwell’s ideas to this end. In fact, this graphic autobiography is the perfect antidote to such misappropriation of Orwell’s concepts, eradicating misconceptions and illuminating the writer’s motivations for penning books like Animal Farm and 1984.
This graphic novel would be the perfect compliment to any of Orwell’s books, and it’s an interesting and informative read in and of itself.
Orwell is available now at your local bookstore and public library.