The first comic that I remember falling into my hands was this old, somewhat faded copy of a story about a hobbit. A few months prior to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films exploded on to the big screen, I was entrusted with the family copy of J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit (I don’t know why, I was six and infamous for putting baby powder in the tea pot). Ever since opening those first few pages of “In a hole in a ground there lived a hobbit”, to the closing pages of “You are a very fine fellow Mister Baggins, and I am quite fond of you”, this novel has shaped my love for art, fantasy and the simple beauty of someone small on a big adventure time and time again.
The graphic novel first came to being in the late ’80s, when David Wenzel was recommended for the work after his run on The Avengers and The Savage Sword of Conan in the ’70s. A staggering feat of work as Wenzel delivered the fully illustrated and painted pages for the then three-part series The Hobbit: An Illustrated Edition of the Fantasy Classic. It has since been updated to the The Hobbit Graphic Novel and has seen three editions. It’s among the most successful graphic adaptations of a piece of classic literature ever.
Like a lot of you, I was the arty kid who everyone in class turned to when it was time to make a poster (right up until leaving cert…). The simple but stunning illustrations throughout the book by David Wenzel kindled my imagination and dedication to being able to draw a Gandalf that wasn’t a terror on the page. Every page is a testament to the beauty of traditional water colouring and inking. You can spot some colours spilling over the lines and even where the water was heavier on the dwarves. Even today these amazing pages have pushed me to stick with a medium that’s dwindled in comic books.
Having a pre-Jackson vision of Middle-Earth in my collection is a quiet point of pride; he beautifully re-imagined Middle-Earth, but his way isn’t the only way. It’s a small joy of mine to show off the same old Mister Bilbo Baggins and Thorin Oakenshield to friends and fans, but not as they’ve seen them before. My memory of it is spotted, but I revisited it at least once every two years. For six year old me, getting through a comic book as thick as a novel with slabs of text was about the same as attempting The Silmarillion now. The old softcover inevitably found itself sliding onto the floor or flat in my lap when I fell asleep during another attempt to read it.
I spent all the years I can remember obsessesed with Tolkien, spending evenings after school in front of the fire on spongey shag carpet trying to redraw Smaug, or rewatching Aragorn take down uruks on that new DVD thingy dad brought home. Over 70 years of Middle-Earth now stands for fans to dive in to, from the litany of Alan Lee illustrations, to board games and film trilogies. There’s a quiet simplicity to The Hobbit Graphic Novel that echoed the book in a unique way. While there’s now the screen interpretation with a good helping of the unfinished tales, the graphic novel takes exclusively from the book and is wonderfully adapted and woven around the art. While the screen adaptations boast an epic and grand vision of the quest to the Lonely Mountain, Dixon‘s and Deming‘s vision of Hobbition and Lake town are far more subdued, clearly of a different time in how fantasy was brought from the page. It’s Disney-like dwarves and bumbling British hobbits are a charming staple of a simpler vision that feels as if it was pulled from a child’s imagination as they read through the old classic. That’s part of why it remains with me, its distinctive classic feeling and look, setting itself miles apart from anything I read today, and certainly from the Jackson trilogy.
Much as I enjoyed most of the cinematic retelling of The Hobbit, when the black arrow pierces Smaug’s hide, or Bilbo and Gollum riddle in the dark, it’s these pages that flow familiarly into my head and I’ll struggle to forget them. The graphic novel has stayed essential to my collection, and I remember those afternoons reading it fondly. Most books and shows from my childhood fall apart like an old map when I revisit them, but The Hobbit Graphic Novel stays as enchanting as it did the first day I opened it.
Have you read the retelling of The Hobbit as a graphic novel? Do you have a favourite comic adaptation? Let us know below!