Interview With Renée Nault: The Dark Art of Oppression in 'The Handmaid's Tale' is Now a Dystopian Graphic Novel

Monday, 01 April 2019 - 11:50AM
The Handmaids Tale
Comic Book News
Monday, 01 April 2019 - 11:50AM
Interview With Renée Nault: The Dark Art of Oppression in 'The Handmaid's Tale' is Now a Dystopian Graphic Novel
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Credit: The Handmaid’s Tale Graphic Novel by Margaret Atwood & Renée Nault, published by Doubleday Books

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale has been reimagined as a graphic novel for the first time ever, featuring stark and vivid artwork by Canadian artist Renée Nault juxtaposed against the chilling reality of Gilead in Atwood's words.


The graphic novel, released on March 26th and is currently #1 on Amazon's 'Dystopian Graphic Novels' list, marries cinema's visual drama with the tangible pleasure of reading a book at home on a Sunday afternoon. This 240-page adaptation – each one a full watercolor illustration – was two years in the making from its initial concept sketch to drying the final draft. 


We caught up with Nault to discuss the making of the graphic novel, from why she abandoned her signature style to collaborating with Atwood on her seminal novel, & the two groups of readers she most wants to reach with her work.


(Credit: The Handmaid's Tale Graphic Novel by Margaret Atwood & Renée Nault, published by Doubleday Books)


We understand Atwood personally selected you. What was it like to receive that call, & what made you agree to take on the project?

I was extremely excited to be chosen for this project. I'm a big fan of the book, so being chosen to adapt it was like a dream. I knew it would be very difficult to create the version of the book that I envisioned, but I never considered turning it down!


The simplicity of illustration in these excerpts seems to differ from the majority of work on your website, where the ukiyo-e influence is readily apparent. Why did you take a different approach to The Handmaid's Tale?


Dropping out all extraneous detail really brings the story into sharp focus. Nothing in the art is incidental. In this story, color is especially important since it conveys each person's role in society, so I stripped away all color that didn't relate to the characters & their relationships.

(Credit: The Handmaid's Tale Graphic Novel by Margaret Atwood & Renée Nault, published by Doubleday Books)

Tell us what it was like, as a visual person, working with Atwood as a writer. Did you ever have differing ideas on how to tell Offred's story? How did you two strike the balance between images & words?

Margaret was amazing to work with, in that she really trusted me and my instincts as a visual storyteller. Maybe because the Handmaid's Tale has been adapted so many times, she didn't feel the need to micromanage this adaption, as many writers would have and since I admire her prose so much, I really didn't want to change it too much – I had to cut a lot out for length, obviously, but wherever possible I kept her beautiful narration intact.


Were certain parts of this project harder than others? How did you deal with constantly confronting & interpreting the violence (both physical & emotional) depicted in the book?


Yes, it was emotionally difficult to inhabit this world for the years I was working on the book. The world of Gilead seems very real, and often too close for comfort. I'm not good at maintaining emotional distance from my work or striking a good work/life balance, so it was a difficult project to work on.


Who do you hope this book reaches most, & why?


I hope everyone enjoys it, but I especially want to reach two groups of people: the first is young readers who may not have encountered the book before, and will hopefully connect the story to real-world events. The second is fans of literature who have never picked up a graphic novel and maybe haven't considered that comics can be art and can (also) be complex literature. I hope this can be their gateway drug to the world of graphic novels.


The Handmaid's Tale (Graphic Novel) published by Doubleday Books is available through most major retailers and on Amazon.com. More of Renée Nault's art can be found on her website.


(Credit: The Handmaid's Tale Graphic Novel by Margaret Atwood & Renée Nault, published by Doubleday Books)

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