Yorick and Bones
Yorick and Bones
When a line on a book’s cover identifies the work as “The last graphic novel by William Shakespeare” and one of the book’s creators is Jeremy Tankard (think Grumpy Bird), readers can anticipate being in for a lot of fun, and they won’t be wrong. Jeremy’s co-creator is his teen daughter, Hermione. In the closing “Acknowledgments” pages, father and daughter each share what they brought to the collaboration, with Hermione’s contribution being to take her father’s script and translate it “into Shakespearean iambic pentameter, thus giving voice to Yorick.” And yes, the Tankards’ Yorick is the same Yorick whose skull appears in Hamlet, Act 5 Scene 1, the graveyard scene in which Hamlet picks up the skull belonging to the king’s former jester and utters the words, “Alas, poor Yorick!”
In keeping with the Shakespearean motif, the graphic novel is divided into three acts: “Act One: Love Bites”; “Act Two: Man’s Pest Friend” and “Act Three: Best Fiends Forever”. And Hamlet’s words, “Alas, poor Yorick!”, albeit uttered in a different context, still apply to the Tankards’ Yorick. After having his skeleton “revived” by a witch’s accidentally spilled potion and then being dug up by a bone-sniffing dog, the long-buried Yorick expresses his equally long-buried want:
Forsooth, my joy, I barely can contain! I’ve wished for days on end for just a friend.
I’ve dreamed so long and hard for such a thing, I scarcely can recall my merry speech!
And so begins poor Yorick’s quest to find a friend. Though Yorick initially tries to drive the dog away, he comes to realize:
It seems to me he somehow doth possess some magical, demonic, wily charm.
This power he doth use to gain the trust of any stranger – they do think him cute!
No other person I’ve met of yet can quite resist his magical allure except me, of course. I seem immune.
Mayhap I can his very cuteness use!
Mayhap together we shall find a friend.
In the second act, Yorick’s implements his plan to make a friend by having the dog first approach someone while he, Yorick, remains hidden. When the child or adult has bonded with the dog, Yorick will then reveal himself and strike up a conversation. However, Yorick’s appearance repeatedly evokes the same response – a scream of A SKELETON!!! followed by flight. Amusingly, among those fleeing in panic is Yorick who, having not yet recognized that he is the cause of everyone’s fear, admits:
A skeleton? O, let this not be true!!! I hope above all hope we meet it not. There’s nothing I detest more than such things.
A skeleton is not a joyful thing. And I’ll admit it makes me quite afear’d
After three such experiences, plus a fourth in which Yorick scares himself when he catches a window-reflected glimpse of his own skull, he questions, “... could it be that this is some invasion and we shall spend our lives tormented thus?” But when he sees his image reflected back to him by the surface of a pond, the realization strikes him.
Am I the very creature that has caus’d the terror and disruption of this day?
Consequently, Yorick, believing he will now be friendless forever, walks into the forest and lies beneath a tree.
This place is satisfactory indeed. I’ll lie down here and wait as many years as it shall take for time and natural cause to bury me again forevermore.
In the third act, Yorick finally recognizes that the friend he has been searching for has been with him from the beginning. “If we be friends, thou dost require a name.” After rejecting Puck, Calaban, Rosencrantz and Romeo, Yorick decides on “the perfect name for thee, a dog!”
I’ll name thee BONES for ‘tis thy favorite food!
Though Yorick’s speech is presented in iambic pentameter, the few contemporary people he encounters respond in modern day English. The book’s humour is a combination of text and visuals, the latter being rendered in Tankard’s recognizable heavy outline style. One example of text and visuals working together to create humour occurs when Yorick commands the dog, “HITHER! HEEL!”, and the dog responds literally by chomping on Yorick’s shin bone. In another, after two men have fled from him, Yorick realizes he is not wearing pants. “‘Tis now no wonder unto me that those good men hath run away.” As Yorick seeks to find some pants, the visuals show him modestly holding the dog in front of his pelvic area. More humour is found in the scene in which Yorick, overlooking the fact that he lacks a tongue, lips and lungs, unsuccessfully attempts to whistle. “Wherefore canst I not whistle? I do recall that I once had that skill!”
Yorick and Bones is published by HarperAlley, a new imprint at HarperCollins Children’s Books that will focus on graphic novels for kids and teens. Though the publisher identified the book’s audience as being essentially elementary grade students, the graphic novel’s clever contents would not be out of place in much higher grades, especially those grades in which the students have had some exposure to Shakespeare and could recognize the Tankards’ nods to other works by the Bard from Avon. For instance, when Yorick, perceiving himself to be forever a friendless outcast, laments, “‘Tis sure that if you prick me, I’ll bleed not.”, his words echo those of Shylock in Act III, Scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice.
Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.