It's not exactly an original idea. After all, Classics Illustrated began adapting literary classics as comic books back in 1941,
But now Marvel Comics has jumped in with its Marvel Illustrated imprint, whose early offerings include a graphic-novel version of James Fenimore Cooper's "The Last of the Mohicans." The folks at Marvel may have borrowed the concept from someone else, but if this entry is any indication, they're doing it justice, the Marvel way.
Set in 1757 during the French and Indian War, The Last of the Mohicans is the second of five Leatherstocking Tales and Cooper's most famous novel. Benét's Readers Encyclopedia says the plot revolves around "the efforts of Alice and Cora Munro to join their father, the British commander at Fort William Henry, near Lake Champlain. Their course is blocked by Magua, the leader of a group of Hurons, who are leagued with the French against the British in the war. The schemes of Magua, an evil Indian, are frustrated by Uncas, the last of the Mohicans; his father Chingachgook; and their friend Hawkeye," although things take a tragic turn later on.
Part of what makes this volume interesting is that Marvel has combined the colorful, glossy look of a graphic novel with a generally faithful use of language from the original, which was first published in 1826. Thanks to that juxtaposition of Cooper's stilted writing (by 21st-century standards) and the contemporary artwork, the adaptation probably works better than it would have if the text had been modernized (read: bastardized).
"I felt that, as far as possible, Cooper's own words should be used, merely pared down and choosing amongst phrases," writer Roy Thomas says in an introduction. "The poetic mode of speech is as intricate a part of Mohicans as the action itself."
This is, of course, no substitute for the real thing, but Marvel worked hard to stay true to Cooper's work while converting it into a graphic format. Archaic or unfamilar terms, such as "younker" and "sagamore," are defined, and some French nicknames are used, as they are in the original novel.
This version even identifies dialogue that, although written in English in the graphic novel, is spoken in French by the characters. And it includes both a glossary of terms and a very concise biography of Cooper that is short enough to hold a young reader's interest.
Marvel first released each novel in the Marvel Illustrated series as six comic books, which it then collected into one volume per novel. Additional titles in the series include, among others, "Treasure Island," "The Man in the Iron Mask," "The Iliad," "The Picture of Dorian Gray," "Moby-Dick," and "The Three Musketeers."
As a bonus, "The Last of the Mohicans" includes a 31-page adaptation of part of "The Deerslayer," the first of The Leatherstocking Tales if the plots of the five novels are viewed chronologically.
I have two minor gripes, though. In his introduction, Thomas refers to the Huron Indians as "a branch of the Iroquois," which is incorrect. The Huron spoke an Iroquoian language, but they were not part of the Iroquois Confederacy, which initially included the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and, later, the Tuscarora.
Similarly, Thomas claims that the Iroquois fought "on the side of the French" in the French and Indian War, which is misleading. There were some Iroquois living in Canada who allied themselves with the French, but the bulk of the Iroquois, based in New York, supported the British during that war.