Cover art from Self Made Comics' Romeo and Juliet

A UK comic publisher is ready to find out if a rose by any other name really would smell as sweet. Apparently Self Made Hero Comics, a relatively new house, is set to give Shakespeare a manga treatment with a series of novels this year based on his plays. First up to bat, not surprisingly, are Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, followed later this year by Richard III and The Tempest.

Abridged to fit the house's 208-page standard and to allow for the story to be carried visually, the actual dialogue in these forthcoming graphic tragedies is Shakespeare's own, transplanted to modern (and sometimes futuristic) settings á la Baz Luhrmann's Leonardo DiCaprio romp. While Self Made's Romeo is set in modern-day Japan--with the Montague and Capulet houses feuding Yakuza samurai-style while their offspring find romance--Hamlet inhabits a post-global warming catastrophic cyberworld in the year 2017.

Cover art from Classical Comics' MacBeth
Not to be outdone, another new publisher, Classical Comics, is busy working on versions of Henry V and MacBeth (as well as Dickens' Great Expectations and Bronte's Jane Eyre), each to be available in either the original text, plain text, or abridged. Like Self Made's manga, these books also transplant the storylines, setting MacBeth in 1040 feudal Scotland.

Aside from my general excitement at the prospect of watching the Montagues and Capulets flaying one another with katanas, I applaud the efforts of these publishers at making Shakespeare more accesible to young readers.

I have a friend who teaches middle school social studies in the Brooklyn projects, where student interest is, needless to say, lacking. He frequently uses graphic novels--Bendis' Torso and Moore's V for Vendetta among others--to instruct his students, and has found that comics engage the students much more deeply in the subject matter. Many teachers like him feel stifled by the rigidity of the No Child Left Behind Act's curriculum, and are constantly searching for alternative texts.

Okay, new publishers are probably more concerned with releasing books that will sell, and it probably doesn't hurt to be peddling known masterpieces. But I still believe the net benefit of these novels will be positive. At the very least, they've gotta be better than CliffsNotes, right?