Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City has had many lives. From serialized chapters in The San Francisco Chronicle, to a series of novels, TV and radio adaptations, and a stage musical by Jake Shears. Now it has been turned into a charming graphic novel by Isabelle Bauthian and Sandrine Revel, potentially the first of a series.
Step back to the 70s and rediscover San Francisco with the disarming Mary Ann Singleton, Mouse, Mona, and Mrs Madrigal. This volume covers the events of the first novel faithfully over its 129 pages, hitting the well-known scenes and beloved characters with economy and enthusiasm.
Award-winning artist Revel’s vibrant style sees the book’s colorful panels filled with beautiful hues that accentuate the innocence of the moment, between the sexual liberation of 60s and the emergence of the AIDS crisis in 80s. There is an appealing catroonish quality and humour to her storytelling that translates to the page. Mrs Madrigal’s playful demeanor, Mary Ann’s shock, and Mouse’s heartache are clearly conveyed. The style does struggle slightly when it comes to the books’ darker later chapters, but I’m intrigued to see how it evolves as the later books move forward in time.
When it comes to the text, Bauthian’s adaptation is concise, accentuating the episodic nature of the scenes, and knows when to step back and let Maupin’s words lead the scene. The pace though feels too measured, hitting all the “greatest hits” of the novel, but lacking its own sense of storytelling.
Returning to Barbary Lane is always a welcome retreat in all of Tales of the City’s various iterations and this adaptation provides a new chapter in the life of an enduring classic of LGBTQ+ literature. As an introduction to Maupin’s world, this may be somewhat lacking, but as a companion piece it makes for a sweet addition to any queer bookshelf.
Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City Vol. 1 by Isabelle Bauthian and Sandrine Revel is published by Ablaze on March 29, 2022.
Thanks to Netgalley for an advance review copy of the book.