Alberto Hernández enhances R. L. Stevenson’s "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" reading experience

According to Peter Brooks “narrating is never innocent, telling a story can change a life […] narrative is a vital and necessary element of our lives” [1]. Stories are an important aspect of culture and, indeed, storytelling was probably one of the earliest forms of entertainment.

The idea for the “Hybrid Novels” project came up after a long search through piles of books for adults, particularly novels, where I noted that barely any of them contained imagery. I wondered about this. I assumed that the older we get the less we are able to “read“ images, and that generally people tend to think the inclusion of images diminishes good writing. I wondered about the lack of illustrated adult books — why is this so, if we learn to read images before we learn to read words? Books can be looked at as well as read. It is clear that adults are not content just looking at images, it is through reading that we learn new things, but can we imagine through reading as much as through imagery? Do we enjoy a book in the same way a child does?

My intention in this project was to try, by adding playful graphic devices to a chosen novel, to engage readers in a more dynamic narrative experience and help them at the same time to understand the story more easily. I am not only interested in the story the author creates for readers, but in the story readers create in their minds with a particular a novel.

On the other hand, nowadays we need printed books with visual effects more than ever in order to attract the attention of possible readers and make people read physical books since eBook sales are increasing. It is clear that the use of eBooks is more convenient and that they allow one to get involved in the story through a multimedia experience with music and lights but what is different about physical books is the feeling of having one in your hands, the feeling of flicking through backwards and forwards, the feel and smell of the paper, the colour of the illustrations and even the sound whilst flicking. Maria Fusco put forward that “the physicality of books is another of their distinguishing social features. People want to own a book, hold it in their hands, and show it off. […] People want to own books, even if the same content can be acceded elsewhere. A book not only provides structures for content, but also builds relevant social ties with its maker, as well as with its reader.” [2]


A hybrid novel can be seen as a hybrid image-text novel, not a children’s book, graphic novel/comic or gift book but a book where written text and graphic devices such as illustration, photography, information graphics or typographic treatments may interject in order to hold a readers’ interest, adding interactiveness to the book and also giving the printed page a multidimensional visual surface. It is a kind of book that requires to be handled and experienced, which requires the readers’ actions.

The use of graphic elements in fiction is certainly not new, images have traditionally been used as decorative elements in fiction. What is different about the emerging narrative style now, as Zoë Sadokierski put forward “is that graphic elements are being used in a way intrinsic to the narrative, much in the way graphic novels use a combination of word and image that is inseparable.” [3]

Then, when did hybrid novels first appear? We can find some examples in pioneering work such as each of a series of five novels in which Lope de Vega (16th century) omitted one vowel; Laurence Sterne’s “The life and opinion of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman” (1759) who used hyphens, dashes, and asterisks, left pages blank, and published entire pages in black to denote a character’s death; James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake” (1922) in which he scrambled the text to create a range of visual effects; William S. Burroughs’s “Naked Lunch” (1962) whose reordered text challenged conventional ideas of linear reading and narrative structure; or Georges Perec’s “A void” (1969) written without the letter e.


R. L. Stevenson’s story “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” (1886) is a tale about good and evil, about duality and split personality. The story also contains various secondary ideas such as homosexuality, experimentation, insanity, unconsciousness, and religion. This remediation is a compendium of things which have to do with dualism, asymmetry and combinations; all this is visible throughout, from the two different typefaces in which the text is set to the kinds of paper or even colours.

There are various recurrent aspects in the remediation. First of all, two different typefaces were used to set the text of the story. On the one hand, New Caledonia, which has elements of the Scotch Roman typeface, one of the most widely, used book types in Victorian times. On the other hand, one of the earliest sans serif typefaces: Grotesque, was used to the set the title page and chapter order. These two types give a complete Victorian flavour to the remediation.

Secondly, a wide range of paper was used to print all the material, from Bible paper to newsprint paper or glossy paper. In addition, a different variety of peach/salmon colours was used for the text pages; this is so: firstly, to communicate the hidden idea of homosexuality in the story, and secondly, having a range of different shades gives the remediation a more odd feeling and suggests the idea that there are different documents. Besides, the contrast between the pastel colour and black makes readers think of dichotomy.

In terms of the format, two different page sizes were chosen for this remediation. One of them has the format of the original novel, Crown Octavo, and then there’s a smaller one proportional to it. Most of the time, one of the books is within the other, the concept behind this is that Hyde is within Jekyll, in Jekyll’s words: “If each, I told myself, could but be housed in separate identities”.

The imagery used comes from a variety of different sources but mainly from medical studies and examples from the very early days of photography. Male imagery is also used almost at all times to suggest the idea of homosexuality.

The booklets are bound using either glue, which was starting to be used in Victorian times, or black staples, which gives a feeling of dealing with coarse and old documents. The structure of the book refers to the story narrative technique, which is presented as a dossier of witness statements.

[1] Peter Brooks. “Psychoanalysis and Storytelling”, Blackwell, Oxford, 1994
[2] Robert Klanten & Matthias Hübner. “Fully Booked: Cover Art & Design for Books”, Gestalten. Berlin, 2008
[3] Zöe Sadokierski. “Visual Writing: A Critique of Graphic Devices in Hybrid Novels from a Visual Communication Design Perspective”. University of Technology, Sydney, 2010

Comments (2)

Lo híbrido, lo ecléctico, lo humanista y lo caleidoscópico son texturas esponjosas y altamente nutritivas en una sociedad en la que prima, diría, lo opuesto. Si cuando leemos un libro ya estamos jugando a crear paletas infinitas de colores, imaginemos qué danza puede surgir leyendo bajo esta sutil manera. Apasionante simbiosis entre el contenido y la forma, fascinante y sin lugar a dudas un reto conseguir el equilibrio entre estos dos grandes términos, no sólo de la historia e historia del arte, sino también de la vida cotidiana.
Sueño ahora mismo con la melancolía secuestradora de la novela “Muerte en Venecia” de Thomas Mann. ¿Cómo no sentir un deleite sublime al imaginar que exisitera su libro híbrido? Pasar páginas y por unos segundos trasladarnos a la humedad de la ciudad soñada,sentir la decadencia y la fatalidad de una epedemia de cólera. Y todo ello con un tratamiento especial, papeles, colores, tipografías…
Llueve, llevamos días con lluvia. Y el tap-tap sobre las calles no suenan aún en los libros, tap-tap, vamos a buscarlos…


Excelente concepto superador del de novela gráfica

Raul Lilloy

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