Octavia Butler is one of the most important writers of our time, known as the mother of black science fiction and speculative fiction. Because of her unique perspective, Butler adds a new lens to these genres using the influences of sex and race and their relationships to power.
Her best-known work of speculative fiction is her 1979 novel Kindred, in which the protagonist, a middle-aged black woman named Dana living in 1976 California, travels back in time to a plantation in Maryland during the pre–Civil War era. There, she reunites with her ancestors from the beginning of her known lineage: Rufus, the son of a plantation owner, and Alice, a slave who works on the plantation and whom Rufus is in love with. Dana must navigate the truth of her family’s history while making sure not to alter it, as doing so would prevent her family from ever existing in the present day. Kindred explores the complexity of the relationship between slaves and their masters and the fragility of whiteness when its power and prestige are challenged. Dana’s relationship with Rufus is that of both care and contempt, while Rufus’s relationship with Dana is navigated through sexual and romantic relationships as a form of power.
Starting today, Kindred is now available in a new form never taken before by any of Butler’s works: a graphic novel. Adapted by Damian Duffy with artwork by John Jennings, the original book’s framework—the skeleton of this novel, which is already descriptive enough to come alive to a reader just from the text—is literally repainted in a way that draws you in with emotion and makes it impossible to put the book down because you become so engulfed in the story. The visual depiction of each character and setting is uncannily faithful to the written sketches Butler created in her novel, and the vivid art and pacing transform the reality of the circumstances Dana faces into a journey that reader can travel themselves, meeting the same horrors of slavery with apprehension and terror.
Pieces of the novel that are already graphic in the written sense of the word become impossible to avoid in the way that some readers of the original novel may have done, intentionally or unintentionally, as a result of their discomfort with the material. Here, Jennings’s illustrations showcase the brutality and persecution that black bodies endured through slavery in full color and detail. While not overdone—the there is no added, gratuitous drama that Butler didn’t intend—the art doesn’t shy away from showing the pain, physical and emotional, that fueled the resilience of black survival.
Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation both serves as a wonderful standalone work and enhances the original text without replacing it. If this is your first exposure to the story, it will still be enjoyable to read the original novel even after exploring this edition. While I still highly recommend the original, the graphic novel is ideal both for folks who would like to enhance their previous reading of Kindred and for people who benefit from having a large amount of visuals incorporated into their literature. Either way, it’s worth it to have a copy of this striking adaptation.