‘Lost Detectives: Adapting Old Texts for New Media’ aims to bring a work of nineteenth-century Russian crime fiction to greater public prominence by adapting it into a graphic novel. It is a collaborative project between Dr Claire Whitehead of the University of St Andrews and Carol Adlam, an author and illustrator who is also Senior Lecturer in Illustration at Nottingham Trent University. The project is kindly funded by the University of St Andrews’ Knowledge Exchange and Impact Fund.
‘Lost Detectives’ involves adapting Semyon Panov’s 1876 novel, Три суда, или убийство во время бала (Three Courts, or Murder During the Ball) into graphic novel form. Three Courts is one of five crime fiction novels penned by Panov during the 1870s, none of which have ever been translated into English. Panov is just one of the authors studied in Claire Whitehead’s recent book, The Poetics of Early Russian 1860-1917: Deciphering Stories of Detection, which was published by Legenda in 2018. Crime fiction enjoys huge popularity amongst readers in Russia today, but relatively little was known about its origins in the second half of the nineteenth century. So Claire set out to discover more about the roots of the genre in Russia and discovered more than a dozen marginalised authors who were writing great works of crime fiction in the late Imperial era. The Poetics of Early Russian Crime Fiction looks at over 40 works of Russian crime fiction from the late Imperial era and focuses on the various ways in which they use storytelling devices to construct and then resolve criminal plotlines.
Because very few of the works that are discussed in the book have ever been translated into English, Claire began to think about ways in which she could bring some of these works to greater public attention. During discussions about the design of a cover image for the book, Claire and the illustrator, Carol Adlam, came up with the idea of adapting one work of early Russian crime fiction into a graphic novel. Having discussed various possibilities, they decided on Semyon Panov’s 1876 novel, Three Courts, or Murder during the Ball as the most promising text for visual adaptation because of its own intriguing plot and setting and the effective way in which is represents the genre as a whole.
Thanks to funding from the University’s KE&I fund, work began in early February with Carol Adlam producing a working script for the graphic novel in English and meetings between the collaborators to discuss various elements of the adaptation. A first event was held on 23rd April 2019 in which Claire and Carol discussed the history of Russian crime fiction, the nature and ambitions of adaptation and, in particular, the role and depiction of space in Panov’s novel. The inital stage of the project will come to fruition on Wednesday 22nd May when an exhibition of artwork related to the project will be unveiled in St Salvator’s Qua The exhibition will feature ten pages of proof-of-concept artwork for the graphic novel designed by Carol Adlam. The exhibition will be launched with a talk and reception at 4.30pm in School V and will remain on display until Monday June 10th. This artwork will then form the basis of an approach to a publisher in the hope that production of the remaining 110 pages of the graphic novel adaptation will be commissioned.
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