Reimagining a classic: The Great Gatsby as a graphic novel

To transform a preeminent and beloved literary work into a graphic novel for young adults is a challenge for the brave. K. Woodman-Maynard’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby illustrates the full range of innovation required for such a strategic project.

Image courtesy of Candlewick Press from the BLAD for The Great Gatsby.

Why convert the original to a graphic novel format? Book-length comics can encourage literacy and can be legitimate works of art in their own right. In Publishers Weekly lies a further explanation: Thomas LeBien, editorial director of Hill and Wang, publisher of Fahrenheit 451, which was adapted by Tim Hamilton, says, “I aspire to do more than a 64-page reduction exclusively for students who need this opposed to the original. With the length and sensibility, I’m thinking of it as a translation rather than adaptation.” Appropriate art can add dimension to the story, guiding the reader to see the narrative in new ways.

Nine years ago K. Woodman-Maynard visualized adapting the Gatsby novel and illustrating it as a modern-day Silicon Valley tragic love story, yet nothing came of that version. In 2018 she revisited the idea in time to have her agent pitch the concept to publishers in coordination with the original novel’s December 2020 release into the public domain. By then, the author/illustrator told herself, “Why would I do a modern-day version, when the original and the 1920s are so fabulous?”

Candlewick Press offered a contract, and the author/illustrator began the real work. She still had her copy of Fitzgerald’s novel that she had read and annotated as a sixteen-year-old, but she started with a new copy of the book. She marked that up, underlining lines or themes that felt important. With her editor’s oversight, she extracted the elements that best preserved the action and heart of the story. She wisely left in the most memorable, highlight-worthy lines and snippets of text, which she would incorporate into the art.

Image courtesy of Katharine Woodman-Maynard.

In videos on her website, this enterprising author-illustrator explains how she adapted and illustrated the book. She developed many preliminary thumbnails and page layouts. Once her editor had approved them, the illustrator created the linework using Clip Studio Paint and a Wacom Cintiq drawing tablet equipped with a pressure-sensitive stylus.

Image courtesy of Katharine Woodman-Maynard.

K. Woodman-Maynard’s imagery is informed by her research into the clothing and environments of the 1920s and the stylistic tone of the original narrative. She used reference photos as needed, often employing herself as a model to verify facial expressions and poses. Where Fitzgerald used descriptive visual metaphors, the illustrator’s art often depicts those metaphors explicitly.

Image courtesy of Candlewick Press from the BLAD for The Great Gatsby.

She explains further, “Once my Inks for The Great Gatsby: A Graphic Novel Adaptation are edited and approved, I move onto the coloring stage. Using my Epson giclée printer, I print out my ink drawings onto Stonehenge Coldpress Watercolor paper. From there, I color the pages with Winsor Newton watercolor paint. After spending so much time digitally drawing, it’s a pleasure to get back to creating by hand again!”

The artist digitally adds white areas for the text – the conversation bubbles and excerpts of the narrative. Some are also laid over color and worked into shadows or other portions of the images to energize passages and enhance their emotional impact.

The lettering itself is a font based on her handwriting, which she and a designer at Candlewick developed using a site called Calligraphr. Thus, the lettering looks like natural comic book calligraphy, yet without the pitfalls of mistakes while handwriting.

The Great Gatsby: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by K. Woodman-Maynard based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald is an homage to a remarkable work of American fiction. The green light shining across the bay symbolizes Daisy Buchanan, the love of Gatsby’s life, who is eternally out of reach. This tragic story elucidates the excesses of the nouveau riche society of 1920s Long Island, New York. By selective use of the original text and fully illustrating the story K. Woodman-Maynard offers young adults new insights into this profligate tale.

·  Grade level : 9 and up

·  Hardcover : 240 pages

·  ISBN-10 : 1536213012

·  ISBN-13 : 978-1536213010

·  Dimensions : 6 x 8.5 inches

·  Reading level : 14 – 17 years

·  Publisher : Candlewick; Illustrated edition (January 5, 2021)

Mark your calendar for the Virtual Book Launch of the The Great Gatsby: A Graphic Novel Adaptation on 01/05/21 at 6 pm EST with Red Balloon Bookshop!


  1. So much effort! I can’t imagine trying to reduce the word count of the original novel to fit the GN format. To study that alone, I look forward to it’s release.


    1. Hi Marti. I agree that excerpting is definitely time-consuming and since the original is a noteworthy literary work familiar to everyone, this adaptation requires great sensitivity. There is also another graphic novel version by Fred Fordham and Aya Morton, published in June by Simon & Schuster. So you have two to compare with the original!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s