Review by Frank Plowright
As the title indicates and the opening captions reinforce, Twelfth Grade Night is a reworking of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The original play is a comedy messing with identity, disguising men as women and vice versa, and co-writers Molly Horton Booth and Stephanie Kate Strohm give that theme a twist by incorporating 21st century gender definition against a magical fantasy background.
The result is actually over-egging and off-putting because Booth and Strohm aim for the staged effect of a play, but that doesn’t work for a graphic novel requiring something more than a succession of characters marching onstage in assorted costumes to deliver smart lines. Additionally, there are too many occasions where convenience is applied. One is that for almost the entire book the fantasy elements are just a distraction, and Booth and Strohm would surely have been better off constructing a plain high school drama around the structure of Twelfth Night. The reason they haven’t is because very occasionally a magical element is needed.
Artist Jamie Green proves to be the star of the show, drawing people attractively and naturally, good with posing them for maximum effect and with facial expressions showing how they feel at any given time. Vi is suitably dowdy and downbeat when introduced, but brushes up well, and bit part player Melvin is the person Green obviously enjoyed drawing the most, a bundle of emotional energy in a straw boater. A downside is a habit of using a dull colour wash over entire panels, meaning Twelfth Grade Night doesn’t always look as attractive as it should.
Overall Vi’s journey to a happy ending disappoints because there is potential to the cast and idea, and there should be more graphic novels exploring how people feel about their gender. They should just be better.