Written by: William Shakespeare Illustrated by: Sonia Leong (Self Made Hero, 2007)
Romeo – “What lady’s that? O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright. Did my heart love till now? For I never saw true beauty till this night.”
Falling in love is a treacherous endeavour at the best of times, but during the teenage years, it is an adventure for the brave, the bold and the reckless. Dealing with new experiences and learning about oneself as well as sharing that with someone else going through the same journey is a difficult balancing act. This is why William Shakespeare’s timeless classic Romeo and Juliet, is still so relevant today, as it pinpoints the moment in life when love first becomes such an emotional rollercoaster ride. Anyone familiar with Manga will know that emotional rollercoasters are pretty much an everyday occurrence and so it came as no surprise to discover that two rival Yakuza families, the Montague’s and the Capulet’s were at war. Romeo the son of Lord Montague was infatuated with a girl called Rosaline, and when he learnt that she was to be a guest at a party thrown by Lord Capulet he couldn't resist crashing the party. But his love for Rosaline was a fickle thing and Romeo soon lost interest in her when Juliet, the daughter of Lord Capulet, caught his eye. Romeo instantly fell in love with Juliet, but as they were related to rival families, it made an alliance a difficult prospect. The couple defied their families and married in secret the next day, but the situation got even more complicated for the couple when Romeo was banished from the city after he killed Juliet’s cousin Tybalt, in an act of revenge over the death of his friend Mercutio. Upset at Romeo’s banishment, Juliet soon learnt that her father had plans to marry her to one of his associates, Paris, and she threatened to take her own life. Convinced by the friar to instead just fake her own death it was the beginning of the end for both Romeo and Juliet, as tragedy engulfed both their lives and they eventually became casualties of love. And you thought you had it bad!
The story of the doomed lovers from rival houses had been adapted numerous times for the big screen with Romeo + Juliet (1996) from director Baz Lurhmann easily the most accessible for a modern audience. The film’s contemporary setting explained that Romeo and Juliet was a story that could relate to any teenagers life and that Shakespeare’s work was still relevant. Adapting Shakespeare’s work to Manga worked perfectly as well because the style of art easily blended the mixture of tragedy and comedy and Romeo had never looked so handsome. The text was updated making simple, yet necessary changes, such as using emails and telephones to send messages and it highlighted that the only changes needed were in the background details and not the story structure itself. The beautiful artwork from Sonia Leong captured the essence of the emotional interaction between the young couple and yet still stuck closely to the spirit of the play. As Romeo was first introduced, his infatuation with Rosaline was expressed through his facial expressions (specifically his tears) as he longed to be with the girl of his (current) dreams. He leaned against a tree, his head tilted down as if he was emotionally distant with his mind swamped with thoughts of her. Throughout the next few panels he hugged himself, he raised his arm across his weary head and he was shown in profile with windswept hair, mouth ajar and eyes on the edge of eruption. He was restless and unable to control the desires of his heart which ruled his head. It was those feelings that drove the story, a romance on the precipice of disaster which quickly transferred from Romeo’s interest in Rosaline, to his love for Juliet. His feelings towards Rosaline were forgotten in an instant when he saw Juliet and from that point onwards a whirlwind romance replaced the feelings of yearning from afar that he had experienced previously. His new found love was a romance longed for from even those with the hardest heart, yet it brought with it feelings which spiraled out of control for those inexperienced at love.
The true heartache in Romeo and Juliet was not the tragic end for lovers who saw no way out other than through death, but that they shared a romance which could never live up to the reality once they were passed the honeymoon period. Outside forces, such as the Montague/Capulet family rivalry, the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt and Juliet’s impending marriage to Paris all added weight to their situation, which created a bubble for the pair to exist in for the short period of time. It intensified their feelings for one another and heightened the tension and emotion when they had to eventually separate. Sonia Leong’s artwork beautifully captured the moment when Romeo and Juliet shared one last embrace, even though they were unaware of it at the time and it was genuinely heartbreaking. Romeo asked for one last kiss before he stepped down from Juliet’s balcony and a panel of Romeo tenderly holding Juliet’s face as they kissed, was replaced by the image of their hands just out of reach of each other. The couple would never reach out for each other again as this was the last time they were together alive and so the lasting legacy of their relationship was cemented before the cracks had time to set in. Their love for each other lasted mere days, yet their union eventually united their families and proved that love conquered all.
PLAY TIME: * William Shakespeare was born in 1564. His birthday is celebrated on the 23rd April, which is also the day he died in 1616. April 23rd is also St. George’s day.
*Romeo and Juliet was one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, which also included amongst others, Julius Cesar, Othello, Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear. Yeah, The Comics Code is an intellectual place don't you know.
*Richard III, Hamlet, The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream have all been translated into Manga, as has The Bible. Just in case you're unsure, that last one wasn't written by Shakespeare.