Artist Renée Nault Turns Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Into A Must-Read Graphic Novel

The Handmaid’s Tale graphic Novel | Renée Nault – cover

Originally published in 1985, Margaret Atwood’s novel ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is a seminal work of fiction: influential and inspirational, provocative and prophetic. The book’s taut prose and unforgettable characters have been adapted into a major motion picture starring Natasha Richardson and Faye Dunaway, a radio play, a stage play, an opera, and, most recently, Hulu’s Emmy Award-winning show starring Elisabeth Moss. On March 26, Doubleday Books published the first ever graphic novel adaptation of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, and it is just the thing we need as we prepare for Season 3 of the Hulu series, appropriately being released in the month of June…

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Graphic Novel features the art of Renée Nault — a Canadian artist and frequent illustrator for the Los Angeles Times — who was hand-selected by the iconic author to adapt her seminal novel.

Renée tells the iconic story of Offred (also known as June in her pre-Gilead days) and the Republic of Gilead over the course of 240 full-color pages. Her watercolor illustrations, which took her over two years to complete from initial sketches to final pages, are gorgeous and haunting.

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ has long been a global phenomenon. With this stunning graphic novel adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s modern classic, beautifully realized by artist Renée Nault, the terrifying reality of Gilead has been brought to vivid life like never before. Like the Booker Award-winning novel it adapts, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Graphic Novel is worthy of widespread attention and discussion. So we had a chance to ask Renée about her vivid work, how she designed the illustrations around the central themes of the story, and what she hopes fans and readers will take away from the graphic novel.

The Handmaid’s Tale graphic Novel | Renée Nault – Page 4

Tell us the process of being selected to work on the illustrations for ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ graphic novel: 

Margaret and her Canadian publishers had the idea in mind to adapt the novel. They reached out to me and a few other artists with the idea. I did some sample pages and designs to pitch my vision of the story.

Were you already a fan of the book and subsequent series before working on this project? 

I was a big fan of the book! My work on the adaptation began before the Hulu series had started airing, and I made a choice to not watch it until I was finished with the graphic novel, to avoid being influenced by their ideas. I’m planning to watch it soon.

The Handmaid’s Tale graphic Novel | Renée Nault – Page 7

What was the most important aspect of the story you wanted to focus on in your illustrations? 

I wanted to not just relay the events of the book, but convey the feeling of the novel, and of Margaret’s beautiful prose. I also wanted it to be artistically ambitious – it was important to me that the graphic novel would be faithful to the book, but also stand as a work of art on it’s own.

Although you are Canadian, you are no doubt seeing the fight over reproductive rights happening in America right now. How did our current political climate play a role in accepting this project?

It was very ominous to see the situation in the states unfolding as I was working on the book. It made the work feel more urgent – I really wanted this story to reach as many people as it could. 

The Handmaid’s Tale graphic Novel | Renée Nault – Page 9

When drawing prominent characters such as Offred, Aunt Lydia and Serena Joy, how did you enhance their particular personalities and character arcs in your illustrations? 

I wanted each character’s appearance to instantly convey their place in the story. Offred’s face is expressive, but she can also make it completely blank to hide her feelings. Since we see Aunt Lydia mostly through Offred’s flashbacks, I wanted her to be really nightmarish. Serena Joy’s features are beautiful, but her expressions are pinched and she has a shrunken quality.

There is a definite somber and dark tone to the pages in the novel, to match the ominous environment of Atwood’s Gilead. Was this color tone chosen on purpose or were there certain illustration “rules” you had to follow? 

For the Gilead scenes I chose a very limited color pallet. It’s completely focused on the colors of the uniforms, and the strict societal roles they convey. For the most part, all other colors are greys and neutrals. The Gilead scenes contrast strongly with the scenes set in the Time Before, which are warmer and softer, and use the full spectrum of colors.

The Handmaid’s Tale graphic Novel | Renée Nault – Page 10

The novel took over two years to complete. What was it like sitting with this work and the dark stories for so long? 

It really wasn’t easy. I became very immersed in the story, and working on it day after day was hard. One good think is that, although the story is so bleak, a lot of the illustrations themselves are beautiful, and it’s always enjoyable to create beautiful images, so that helped!

What do you hope readers will take away from the graphic novel that is perhaps different to what they see on the Hulu series? 

Well, I still haven’t seen the Hulu series (I will soon!), so I’m not sure. I do hope that people who might not have picked up a graphic novel will see it, and check out some others. I think that graphic novels, perhaps more than any other medium, have a power to create moments that linger in the imagination.

While reading is still allowed for women, get your hands on a copy of Renée Nault’s graphic novel version of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale by clicking HERE.

The Handmaid’s Tale graphic Novel | Renée Nault – Page 11

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