Gutter Space #19 by Leslie Salas
The Art of Adaptation:
Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis,
adapted by Peter Kuper
A topic which I was shocked to realize I hadn’t yet covered in Gutter Space is the art of adaptation of prose into works of sequential art. I’ve done a great deal of research on adaptations in general and their pedagogical benefits in various levels of schooling for improving visual literacy (or just plain literacy in general) and creating an excitement and love for reading—but what I’d like to focus on today is an artist’s reimagining of a classic novella. In this case, Peter Kuper’s take on Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.
Part of my favorite aspects of reading Kafka’s Metamorphosis is the ambiguity involving Gregor’s condition. We know he is a bug—but what type, exactly? A dung beetle? A cockroach? What is it?
In Kuper’s adaptation, given it’s inherent visual element, he had to make a decision, and stick with it. Some of the magic of the mystery is lost, but in it’s place, we are granted a rich interpretation of Kafka’s haunting story.
Poor Gregor, stressed by work (and capitalism in general), wakes up late one day. He wakes up an discovers he has a problem.
He can’t roll out of bed. He can’t move very well. It’s hard to see. And suddenly he realizes—he’s turned into a bug.
But look! Rather than being stuck in Gregor’s head, we get much, much more. The period furniture, the wallpaper, the painting on the wall, Gregor’s suitcase of textiles on the dresser, the key in the door—it’s all there for us to see. Kuper’s art style is reminiscent of old woodcut etchings.
Although Gregor is clearly a very large bug, as established in the image above, Kuper nonetheless enjoys shifting the sizes of things based on perspective. When Gregor feels attacked, he becomes very small. His attacker, in the case of the example below, becomes magnified in size, all the more intimidating.
The emanata by Gregor’s human-ish head—those little white lines—express Gregor’s surprise, and the emanata surrounding his body give the impression that he is shaking in fear. The negative space created by these lines is effective because of the rich darkness of the surroundings and the subjects of the panels—Gregor himself, and the boots coming to stomp him.
Poor Gregor. Locked in his room.
We empathize with Gregor because he still embodies a recognizable form. Even though he is a bug, his posture and his facial expressions showcase what we understand as being sad or melancholy. Given the experience he’s been through, we sympathize. Have we all not been rejected at one point or another?
But there’s more to this. Look!—That’s Prague in the windowsill. Although it’s never expressly stated that The Metamorphosis takes place in Prague, there are enough references to the fog and the vague shapes of old buildings that many scholars have assumed the setting is in Kafka’s hometown. Looks like Kuper has done his homework, and made an artistic choice to yet again solidify what the original author simply alluded to.
Another interesting decision Kuper has made with his adaptation is his willingness to play with the presentation of text. In the sample below, the caption does not read in a standard prose format, but instead the sentences mosey around the borders of the panels, following Gregor about as he learns to utilize his new body.
Kuper’s interpretation of Kafka is an interesting one, and adds to the richness of our understanding of the original text. Check it out sometime, and let me know what you think.
Leslie Salas (episode 75) writes fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, and comics. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida and attended the University of Denver Publishing Institute. In addition to being an Associate Course Director at Full Sail University, Leslie also serves as an assistant editor for The Florida Review, a graphic nonfiction editorial assistant for Sweet: A Literary Confection, and a regular contributing artist for SmokeLong Quarterly.