February 2007. In Edinburgh, you just could not get away from Cam Kennedy’s artwork for the new graphic novel of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Kidnapped. To go with no less than five different versions of the graphic novel and parts of the artwork appearing in the local Evening Times newspaper for four weeks, there were standees, posters, postcards and bookmarks, all to promote reading in what is the 2007 UNESCO City of Literature.
Kidnapped was chosen for the citywide reading campaign “One Book – One Edinburgh” as a novel by an Edinburgh born author set, partially at least, in the city of Edinburgh and in the nearby village of South Queensferry. The initial intention was to republish the original novel plus a simplified version of the novel for younger readers or those who may consider the original too much of a challenge, but a new graphic novel version was soon added to the list.
On 1st February 2007, 10000 copies of the full novel, 7500 copies of the junior novel and 7500 copies of the graphic novel were distributed free around the city to schools, libraries and directly to the public. For those not quick enough to get a free copy, all three versions were available to buy with all the main city bookshops promoting the title heavily.
The day after the various editions were released, artist Cam Kennedy and publisher Ron Grosset of Waverley Books appeared at the Scottish Book Trust in Edinburgh to talk about the graphic novel and to answer questions from the small audience. Writer Alan Grant was also scheduled to be there but had taken ill earlier in the day and sent his apologies, yet with Kennedy having used his face as the basis for the character of the lawyer, Rankeillor, Grant was there in image if not actually in body. It was announced at the event that, having checked with the Edinburgh libraries that day on how well the free copies were going, the majority had run out of copies of the graphic novel first.
The good working relationship between the two men and Kennedy’s dry humour came across well during the talk and the following question and answer session. When a graphic novel version was first suggested Grosset revealed he was given Shetland-based Kennedy’s name as a potential artist and Kennedy quickly agreed to the project as he had never been asked to adapt a classic Scottish novel before. It was then Kennedy who then suggested fellow Scot Alan Grant as the writer.
Once Grosset got hold of copies of Judge Dredd, Batman and Star Wars graphic novels he realised that he had “a Scottish dream team”. In turn, Alan Grant suggested another Scot, Jamie Grant, who is currently working on DC’s All Star Superman (and who they were at pains to point out was no relation) as the project’s letterer.
Alan, having read the novel some six times, was determined that as many of the words as possible in the graphic version would be from the original Stevenson text. While the script was taking shape Kennedy began preparatory drawings having read the novel three times himself.
Having painted a cover to act as publicity, Kennedy would normally have pencilled the entire book but due to the nature of the commission he was asked to complete the first ten pages pencilled, inked and painted, for an initial delivery, followed by another six pages before completing the work. In total it took him nine months to complete the work.
Much of the original art was then purchased by Edinburgh’s National Library of Scotland prior to the publication of the book.
Kennedy was given free reign with the art, both by Grant with whom he had worked before and from Grosset who allowed the two professionals to get on with the project.
Kennedy revealed he made some some changes to the original story for visual impact. story One of the main incidents in the novel is the shooting of the character the Red Fox — an historical event that is known as the Appin Murder. Grant wrote the scene with the character being shot off the back of his horse yet Kennedy chose to have him standing when he is hit so that, in a particularly dramatic frame, nothing detracts from the killing.
After some good humoured banter from Grosset suggesting Kennedy only made the change because he could not draw horses, Kennedy was keen to point out to the audience the horses appearing in the panels surrounding the death scene.
The only major change that Grosset asked for in the artwork was in a panel on the penultimate page of the book. This panel, taken directly from the last page of the original novel, has the main character of David Balfour walking into Edinburgh via the West Port and through the Grassmarket to go to the British Linen Company’s Bank in the Canongate. When Grosset showed the audience the original pencils, the ripple of amusement in the audience vindicated his intervention. Kennedy comes originally from Glasgow and while he had very good reference material for the Edinburgh locations it took the locals to immediately realise that he had drawn the character walking in the wrong direction.
A total of five different versions of the graphic novel have been published: the standard text version is available in both hardback and soft cover plus in soft cover with the “One Book – One Edinburgh” variant cover; there is a soft cover modern text version; and finally a soft cover version that has been translated into the Scots language entitled Kidnappit which uses a different image on the cover.
Throughout February Edinburgh’s local paper, the Evening News, ran the junior version of novel as a pull out in their Saturday edition. Rather than using the line drawings included in the paperback edition of the junior version they used panels of Cam Kennedy’s artwork from the graphic novel to illustrate their features.
All versions of the Kidnapped graphic novel (bar the OBOE variant) are available to purchase from Amazon and other outlets.
• Forbidden Planet Interntional’s Joe Gordon has a full transcript of the Kidnapped event at the Scottish Book Trust on the FPI blog: Read it now