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Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” — The Authorized Graphic Adaptation

Miles Hyman

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Oct 25, 2016
Category: Art and Photography

Evening in a small rural town. A barn, a church, some houses, a dirt road. A man drives his ‘30s coupe toward Summers Coal, the one lighted window. Another man waits inside. They shake hands and, slowly and solemnly, take a wooden box from a high shelf. They take 300 small pieces and fold them in half, mark one with a large black dot, drop them in the box and lock the box in the safe. At midnight, they tear the date off the paper calendar. It is now June 27, and we are now 19 pages into Miles Hyman’s graphic adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery.”

You’ve read “The Lottery.” We all have. It’s an unforgettable tale of the cruelty that lies just below the surface of our ordinary lives: Each year, on June 27, the citizens of this village — and, we’re told, in others — gather in the square to pluck the folded papers from the box. Heads of families, heads of households in each family, members of households in each family — no one’s excluded. Each villager takes a folded paper. We watch, studying the faces, as they clutch them. As one, they unfold the papers. There’s a problem, so there’s a short, second drawing. The paper with the black dot: It’s held by Tessie, a wife and mother. The villagers gather rocks… and stone her until she’s dead. The last image? The same as the first: a barn, a church, some houses, a dirt road — a peaceful village.

You can read the Shirley Jackson story here. You can read — and, more important, see — an excerpt from Miles Hyman’s graphic adaptation here. I have a personal relationship with Miles Hyman — I’ve known him for five decades, I am a fan of his art, and I was honored when he agreed to draw the butler who is the symbol of this site — but if I knew nothing about him, I think I’d be chilled by what he’s done here. [To buy the hardcover book from Amazon, click here. To buy the paperback, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Miles Hyman is the grandson of Shirley Jackson. He didn’t really know her — she died when he was three — but he grew up in the small Vermont town where she lived and wrote, and she cast a long shadow. In an interview, he shares a memory:

I went to visit high schools when I was thirteen. At one point I was visiting one school and I was in an English class and the teacher introduced me to everyone and said, “This is Miles. You’ll be interested to know that his grandmother wrote the story we read last week, ‘The Lottery.’” And everyone turned around to look at me with horror in their eyes to see who I was. Perhaps that was the point where I became more intrigued by the gothic horror side of her work.

Miles now lives in Paris, where he makes art and illustrates classic novels. His style is a kind of throwback — imagine Edward Hopper or Norman Rockwell telling stories. As a storyteller, he’s more like a film director; his books could be storyboards for a movie. He understands what David Mamet knows: “If you pretend the characters can’t speak, and write a silent movie, you will be writing great drama.” In Jackson’s story, there’s an omniscient narrator. Here, although “The Lottery” is one of the most read and debated pieces of American short fiction, her words are edited; Hyman builds suspense through images.

Shirley Jackson is everywhere this season. December 14 marks the centennial of her birth, and there’s a push on to certify her as an American master. There’s a new biography, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, and a new edition of her books on the way.

Of all the Jacksonia, I submit that the graphic novel is the most powerful. A world of readers has become, thanks to the movies and the Internet, a world of viewers — and, in this case, voyeurs. The Rod Stewart song got it right: “Every picture tells a story.” And the pictures Miles Hyman has created do that; in every panel, we get a portrait of passive conformists that is even more chilling today than it was when Jackson’s story was published in 1948.

Kids who hate reading and adults who dare to make movies in their heads will find this book haunting, terrifying, gorgeous — and unforgettable.