JM Barrie’s Peter Pan is one of the best known and loved British children’s novels of the last century, so it comes as something of a surprise to discover that there has never been a graphic novel based directly on the original novel. Stref, aka Stephen White, along with colourist Fin Cramb, has set out to correct that with this new a4 sized, softcover publication from Birlinn’s children’s imprint BC Books.
The three Darling children, Wendy, John and Michael fly away to the island of Neverland with the perpetually young Peter Pan after their father bans them from having their dog Nana in the nursery. There Peter’s gang, the Lost Boys, are encouraged by Tinkerbell to shoot Wendy but she survives the arrow to become a surrogate mother for the children. Sharing the island with Fairies, Pirates, Redskins and a selection of wild animals, the boys are constant danger of being captured by the pirates and taken to their leader, Captain James Hook. After the Lost Boys save Princess Tiger Lily, the Redskins ally themselves to the boys while Hook continues his attempts to kill Peter Pan, which only serves to increase the danger for his friends.
JM Barrie originally wrote Peter Pan as a play which was first performed in 1904 before turning it into a children’s novel in 1911 originally entitled Peter and Wendy. Peter is now a familiar character to the general public through pantomimes for the play and through the Disney film for the book, while Tinkerbell has been hived off from the original story by Disney as the main character of their Disney Fairies franchise. Indeed she even has her own monthly British comic with average monthly sales this year of 20,000 issues. Yet most people who think that they know Peter Pan have never read the original book, including me, so the mortal danger that the children, both the Darlings and the Lost Boys, are in, coupled with the jealousy and vindictiveness of Tinkerbell, did come as something of a surprise.
Rather than modernise the text Stephen has opted to retain much of Barrie’s original wording. While this can make some of the dialogue a little stilted, due to the way language has changed over the last century, it does help emphasis the time period that the book is set in and gives Neverland even more of an otherworldliness.
Stephen’s use of a ligne claire style for his line art gives a lovely simplicity to the visuals of the characters while his intensely detailed backgrounds, both in civilisation and on the island, bring a richness to the book. It has to be said that Fin Cramb’s colours, which often give the impression of watercolour painting, do much to enhance the art as well.
In addition the book is full of in-jokes with Stephen using real locations that Barrie knew for buildings and landscapes while Great Ormond Street Hospital, to which Barrie donated the copyright of the book and play, rightfully receives a full-page as Peter and the Darling children fly off to Neverland over it.
Stref’s take on Peter Pan is a delightful book taking Barrie’s original text and giving it a faithful and truly beautiful graphical adaptation.
• There are more details of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan on the Birlinn website
• There are more details of Stephen White’s work on Peter Pan on his Pan by Stref Facebook page
• Stephen spoke to downthetubes about his work on Peter Pan here
• Stephen will be talking about Peter Pan and signing the book at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Monday 24 August, and both the Portobello Book Festival and the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in October 2015. There are more details of all these events here