Octavia Butler’s shift in the last 40 years to ever expanding popularity in both academia and popular culture is due not only to her brilliant (and at times prescient) work, but also to generations of fans heralding her books to anyone who will listen. This includes the release of Kindred: A Graphic Novel, which despite its stark, brutal rendering, is a beautiful love letter by John Jennings and Damian Duffy to Butler and her original text. Teachers and librarians who loved the prose book will be eager to add Kindred: A Graphic Novel to their collections and curriculum, and this CBLDF resource is aimed at streamlining that process.
Graphic novel adaptations make texts initially more accessible to readers who would be slow to pick up the prose versions for any number of fears. In Kindred’s case, the graphic adaptation launches readers into a terrifying reality, which will stay with them long after the final page is read, images only adding to the visceral nature of Butler’s words. Because of the lasting impact images can have, graphic novels face challenges at a much higher percentage to their prose counterparts. The praise, reviews, and other resources below are to help prevent a challenge by, but if a challenge to Kindred does occur, make sure CBLDF is your first call!
Abrams House provides this synopsis for the graphic novel version of Kindred, Octavia Butler’s 1979 bestselling literary science-fiction masterpiece:
More than 35 years after its release, Kindred continues to draw in new readers with its deep exploration of the violence and loss of humanity caused by slavery in the United States, and its complex and lasting impact on the present day. Adapted by celebrated academics and comics artists Damian Duffy and John Jennings, this graphic novel powerfully renders Butler’s mysterious and moving story, which spans racial and gender divides in the antebellum South through the 20th century.
Butler’s most celebrated, critically acclaimed work tells the story of Dana, a young black woman who is suddenly and inexplicably transported from her home in 1970s California to the pre–Civil War South. As she time-travels between worlds, one in which she is a free woman and one where she is part of her own complicated familial history on a southern plantation, she becomes frighteningly entangled in the lives of Rufus, a conflicted white slaveholder and one of Dana’s own ancestors, and the many people who are enslaved by him.
Held up as an essential work in feminist, science-fiction, and fantasy genres, and a cornerstone of the Afrofuturism movement, there are over 500,000 copies of Kindred in print. The intersectionality of race, history, and the treatment of women addressed within the original work remain critical topics in contemporary dialogue, both in the classroom and in the public sphere.
Frightening, compelling, and richly imagined, Kindred offers an unflinching look at our complicated social history, transformed by the graphic novel format into a visually stunning work for a new generation of readers.
Reviews for Kindred: A Graphic Novel
School Library Journal (starred review)
A searing, painful, but necessary graphic novel adaptation of Butler’s classic sci-fi work. It begins with a short glimpse at African American protagonist Dana’s beaten physical state in the late 1970s and jumps briefly backward in time as she unpacks in her new home with her white husband Kevin. She is abruptly ripped from her present day to a plantation in antebellum Maryland, called there by the pained cries of her white ancestor Rufus. While Dana is in the past, time passes quickly, and she has to learn how to survive in horrendous conditions in order to protect her own future existence. She inexplicably returns to the present, where only a short time has passed, and eventually transports her husband to the past, where the white and black characters can’t understand their interracial marriage. The couple continues to be torn apart by the sporadic time travel, and each time Dana hopes to reform Rufus as he grows older, but to no avail. The graphic scenes of violence, including intimations of rape, might shock readers, but they also serve to put history in stark and realistic light. Jennings’s muted palette for the scenes in the 1970s and more vibrant hues in the mid-1800s serve as visual reminders of setting. The variation of the panels will catapult readers forward as the heroine slowly begins to understand how to manipulate the time travel. Inner monologues present Dana’s own battles with complacency in a heartbreaking way. Strong language is appropriate for the horrific situations the characters find themselves in, and important themes of oppression, systemic racism and sexism, and survival are explored. VERDICT: A compelling, masterly graphic novel for all libraries serving teens.
Booklist (starred review)
The grande dame of sci-fi’s 1979 novel is still widely, deservedly popular, and this graphic adaptation will lure in even more readers. Dana is a 1970s black woman repeatedly and involuntarily whisked back in time to a nineteenth-century plantation, where she becomes embroiled in the lives of the people enslaved there, risking everything by educating their children, even as she forms an uneasy and dangerous relationship with her own white ancestor. This adoring adaptation is dense enough to fully immerse readers in the perspective of a modern woman plunged into the thick of a culture where people are dehumanized by the act of dehumanizing others. It also preserves the vivid characterizations of the time traveler, her husband, and the enslaved people and the slaveholders, making the fantastical device that sets the story in motion a springboard for deeply humane insights. The heavily shaded, thick-lined, and rough-edged art lends a grimness appropriate to a life of jagged brutality and fearful uncertainty. Both a rewarding way to reexperience the tale and an accessible way to discover it.
Most of us read fiction as entertainment, a diversion to while away the time and not think about the everyday pressures of life. Sure, fiction can and often does so much more, but the principle reason we reach for a fictional story is escape. Every so often, a story will cross our path that stands out from the rest by reminding us about the power of fiction. It sets itself apart by transcending the page and bringing some sense of importance to life. Octavia E. Butler’s 1979 novel Kindred is one such book, and that characteristic remains in the recent graphic novel adaptation of Butler’s masterpiece Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Damian Duffy and illustrated by John Jennings. […]
The 240-page graphic novel adaptation makes Butler’s story all the more accessible. Duffy’s adaptation perfectly captures the horrific situations forced on the lives of black people in the pre-Civil War South and conveys the emotional impact of Butler’s work. Jennings’ illustrations add to the atmosphere; instead of pristinely drawn images, the images have a fitting “rough sketch” quality to them that emphasizes the hardships of life in those times.
Taken together, the graphic novel adaptation of Kindred is not to be missed as a solid piece of entertainment. But if someone were to ask me why they should read Kindred, I’d tell them it’s because Kindred deftly portrays a part of American history that we don’t dare forget.
Adapter Damian Duffy and artist John Jennings have produced a graphic novel adaptation of Butler’s work, which casts her words in a new light. Butler’s original novel is a powerful commentary on how the past informs the present and how we engage with both. But this adaptation makes an even more vivid statement about black Americans’ relationship with history. The kinetic lines feel urgent, messy, and visceral. The colors for scenes set in the present are muted while the colors of the past are vibrant, almost like a bright wake-up call to reality. When Dana time-travels for the second time, she witnesses a slave lashing. She explains how she’s seen such scenes in films and television before, but this experience, needless to say, was different. She could smell the sweat and blood. We’re given different perspectives on the event, as the panels show a close-up of the slave with spattered blood across his back and then the recoiled whip taking some of the blood with it. Yellow is used in one panel to indicate the loud, painful motion of the whip across human flesh. There are two side-by-side panels near the end of the ordeal: one of the slave crying and the other a frame of Dana’s face crying as reckons with what she’s seen. It made me think of the complacency the present affords us with regard to the past. Of course, black people now still have plenty of violence to contend with, but slavery, for those of us who haven’t lived it, is still a textbook experience. For Dana, it was a textbook experience until she was literally thrown backward in time.
Dana, an African-American woman in the 1970s, is thrust backward in time to a 19th-century Maryland plantation. Over many visits to the past, she realizes that the spoiled son of the plantation owner is her ancestor, destined to father children with a slave, and she must protect his life to ensure her own existence. Butler’s celebrated 1979 novel, here adapted into a graphic novel, starts with a gripping idea and builds skillfully, as both Dana and her white husband in the present are warped by slavery and become complicit in its evil. This graphic novel recaps the classic source material faithfully.
Praise for Damien Duffy and John Jenning’s Adaptation of Kindred
“A glorious tribute to Octavia Butler’s masterpiece. Extraordinary.”
―Junot Díaz, Pulitzer Prize–winning author
“Kindred is a perfect candidate for the graphic-novel medium—Damian Duffy’s taut adaptation and John Jennings’s tense, electric renderings vibrate throughout, pacing and containing, then pushing every ounce of discomfort to the forefront. Comics and science fiction exploit their greatest shared strength by illuminating the mundane that surrounds us, allowing any reader to critique and process our world with new vision.”
―Nate Powell, Eisner–Award winning and New York Times bestselling graphic novelist of March
“Wonderful. Captures the essence of Octavia Butler’s vision even as it demonstrates the superlative skills of Duffy and Jennings.”
―Nalo Hopkinson author of Skin Folk, The New Moon’s Arms, and Sisters Mine
“The timeliness of this release is important to note, as it revitalizes unresolved discussions around what it means to be a woman of color in America. Plus, the sense of frantic movement created by the artists’ colorful, layered outlines is a very cool touch.”
“It’s gorgeous, powerful, and makes you realize how resonant this sci fi story, about a young black woman living in 1970s California who’s transported to the South in the period before the Civil War, really is.”
“Together, Duffy and Jennings manage to condense Kindred into 240 pages that are respectful of Butler’s original work while also feeling like a distinctly new story at the same time. In exchange for some of Butler’s scene descriptions, the book offers up a richly rendered, raw take on Dana’s experience, heavy with thick lines and blurred movement conveying her existential disorientation.”
“In its illustrated form, Kindred receives a new identity of sorts, while retaining all of the complexities, politics, and moral questions that propelled its author to literary icon status. And the nascent social upheaval of the last couple of years has likely rendered its potential audience more receptive to a work that is challenging and imaginative while remaining grounded in a personal quest for identity and survival.”
―Tanya Ballard Brown, Code Switch, NPR
Praise for Octavia Butler
“With lively characters and rich narrative, [Kindred] is a wonderful blend of speculative and historical fiction that takes on the broad issues of power, freedom, gender, and race….This book, written nearly 40 years ago, still resonates today.”
―Rebecca Fitting, Greenlight Bookstore (Brooklyn, NY)
“[Her] evocative, often troubling, novels explore far-reaching issues of race, sex, power and, ultimately, what it means to be human.”
―New York Times
“Butler’s books are exceptional. . . . She is a realist, writing the most detailed social criticism and creating some of the most fascinating female characters in the genre . . . real women caught in impossible situations.”
―Dorothy Allison, Village Voice
“Butler’s literary craftsmanship is superb.”
―Washington Post Book World
“What ‘cyberpunk’ author William Gibson does for young, disaffected white fans…Octavia Butler does for people of color. She gives us a future.”
“Butler is among the best of contemporary [science fiction] writers, blessed with a mind capable of conceiving complicated futuristic situations that shed considerable light on our current affairs. Her prose is lean and literate, her ideas expansive and elegant.”
“[Butler] defied formulaic sci-fi while exploiting the freedom of the genre to take her usually female and nonwhite characters to places where mainstream fiction would tend to deny them.”
“She is one of those rare authors who pay serious attention to the way human beings actually work together and against each other, and she does so with extraordinary plausibility.”
Awards and Recognition for Octavia E. Butler
- 1984, Hugo Award for Best Short Story
- 1984, Nebula Award for Best Novelette
- 1985, Science Fiction Chronicle Award for Best Novelette
- 1985, Locus Award for Best Novelette
- 1985, Hugo Award for Best Novelette
- 1995, MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant
- 1999, Nebula Award for Best Novel
- 2000, PEN American Center lifetime achievement award in writing
- 2010, Inductee Science Fiction Hall of Fame
- 2012, Solstice Award, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America
Awards and Recognition for Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
- 2018 Eisner Award Winner, Best Adaptation from Another Medium
- YALSA 2018 Best Graphic Novels for Teens, Top Ten
- 2018 Horror Writers Association Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Graphic Novel
- Publisher’s website for Kindred: A Graphic Novel
- Publisher’s Teaching Guide
- Octavia Butler’s website
- John Jenning’s website
- Damian Duffy’s website
What should I do if Kindred: A Graphic Novel is challenged?
Most challenges to comics in libraries come from well-meaning individuals, frequently parents, who find something they believe is objectionable in their local public or school library. These challenges are often difficult and stressful for the library staff who must manage them, but there are resources to help them in the process. Below we’ve identified a number of tips and links to assist libraries to increase the likelihood of keeping challenged comics on the shelves.
1. Make Strong Policies.
Strong selection and challenge review policies are key for protecting access to library materials, including comics. The American Library Association has developed a number of excellent tools to assist school and public libraries in the essential preparation to perform before books are challenged here.
2. Face the Challenge.
What do you do when a comic is challenged? Much of the material in this post can be used to help defend Drama against a challenge. The American Library Association has developed these helpful tools to cope with challenges:
- Conducting a Challenge Hearing
- Working with the Media
- Formal Request for Reconsideration of Library Resources
CBLDF can also help by providing assistance with locating review resources, writing letters of support, and facilitating access to experts and resources. Call 888-88-CBLDF (22533) or email email@example.com at the first sign of a First Amendment emergency!
3. Report the Challenge.
Another essential step in protecting access to comics is to report challenges when they occur. By reporting challenges, you help the free expression community gather necessary information about what materials are at risk so better tools can be created to assist. To report a challenge to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, call us at 888-88-CBLDF (22533) or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also report the challenge to the Kids’ Right to Read Project, a CBLDF-sponsored program from the National Coalition Against Censorship and one of our frequent partners in the fight against censorship. Finally, you can report the challenge to ALA here.