Climate catastrophes? Gang violence? Political divisions? A president whose slogan is “Make America Great Again”? In the 1990s, that was the stuff of science fiction for Black author Octavia E. Butler.
“Just really hard-to-believe fictional stuff,” cartoonist/writer/teacher Damian Duffy says. “I keep doing that joke, and it’s not funny at all.”
Today, the outlines of the apocalyptic world that Butler described in her Earthseed novels — “Parable of the Sower” and “Parable of the Talents” — are all too close to reality. And it’s up to Duffy as well as his longtime collaborator, illustrator/professor John Jennings, to adapt those works to the graphic-novel format for 21st-century readers.
Although graphic novels are often thought of as comic books for grown-ups, there’s nothing funny about the late novelist’s books, or the adaptations created by Duffy and Jennings. Duffy even acknowledges that working on “Parable of the Sower” — which has just come out in paperback — added to the “depression stew” he’s been dealing with.
But in the end, he thinks it’s worth it.
“You feel a little bit stronger for having survived it,” he says. “I think that’s true as a reader, and I think it’s also true as adapters.”