Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg’

“Lives have been wrecked, and I’ve picked up my cheque; catch a plane out of here”

The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg is an adaptation of the Mark Twain story by Wander Antunes, who adds some fun changes to the story. This is published by Humanoids and it was translated by Benjamin Croze.

Twain wrote this in 1898/1899, while living in Vienna, and people have wondered about its genesis – whether it stemmed from his disgust with Austrian politics, whether something personal had happened to Twain in his life similar to what happened to the mysterious stranger in the story – but whatever its origin, by this time in his life Twain wasn’t taking any shit, and “Hadleyburg” is a bleakly cynical story about hypocrisy and greed. It seems like a good story to tell in comics form, and Antunes does a nice job with it.

If you don’t know the story (I didn’t), it goes like this: the middle-America town of Hadleyburg prides itself on its reputation for honesty – the citizens are, naturally, a bit too proud of this distinction, the fame of which has spread far and wide. A stranger arrives in town, vowing revenge against the people for some offense given him a year ago by someone in the town. He goes to the house of Edward and Mary Richards, where he finds only Mary at home. He drops off a large sack, tells her that she should read the letter attached to the sack, and takes off. When Edward gets home, they learn the bizarre story: the sack contains 160 pounds of gold coins – about $40,000 – and it’s from a man who was once an addicted gambler. He arrived, destitute, in Hadleyburg, where an anonymous townsperson gave him $20 and some advice. He gambled the money, won big, and quit gambling. He wanted to pay back the man who was kind to him, so he sent the sack and inside it a piece of paper with the advice the man gave to him. He wants the townspeople to find the man and give him the money. You can see the dilemma.

Once the word gets out, the town decides to hold an assembly where they will read the sealed letter aloud to the townspeople and find the benefactor. A large number of men in town send the reverend – who is entrusted with the sack – pieces of paper with what “they” said to the man in the hopes of being identified as the good Samaritan. At the meeting to discover who the good man was, things get heated, people show their greed, and Hadleyburg’s reputation is ruined. Revenge!

Antunes changes some things, particularly at the end, which is a bit tighter than Twain’s story. The town’s reputation is still ruined, but from what I can tell, Twain had a bit more that doesn’t seem entirely necessary, involving the stranger returning and turning the knife a bit more. On the one hand, it’s probably good that Antunes ditched that, but on the other hand, some of the things that occur in this comic don’t make quite as much sense because he cut some things. For instance, Edward Richards receives a letter telling him what the advice is, a letter sent to him because the writer believes he’s actually a good man. In the story, it seems like every person who submitted an envelope to the reverend received a similar letter, which is why they all get the answer “right” at the meeting, and Antunes mentions that in the comic. However, the reverend does not reveal that Richards submitted a letter, so the townspeople believe he did not yield to greed, and Richards’s paranoia about why the reverend didn’t reveal it kills him, which seems a bit odd. In the story, there’s more to it, but it feels a bit too abrupt in the comic. I also don’t know how much of this is in the story, but Mary Richards, for instance, is aware that the town doesn’t deserve its reputation, and it seems some others don’t think it does, either. It seems like a strange thing that some citizens are already disillusioned by the town’s standing, as the revenge plot wouldn’t seem to work as well unless everyone in town was absolutely convinced of their sterling character. For me, it doesn’t hit as hard when things go south. There’s also the fact that the people really aren’t as horrible as Twain (or Antunes) makes them out to be. I mean, sure, they probably don’t deserve their reputation, but on the other hand, nobody tries to steal the money or even look at the letter that reveals the key advice. I mean, that counts for something, right? We never learn the “offense” the stranger suffered, so maybe he’s just a dick who likes messing with people? Food for thought! Antunes adds Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn to the story as a tribute, and they’re able to comment a bit on the town and its degradation as outsiders who aren’t invested in protecting the town. It’s a slightly strange but not terrible twist to the original story.

Antunes does a nice job with the artwork. His thick lines fit well with this kind of rough-hewn Americana that Hadleyburg represents, and he has a good time with the various extravagant facial hair that the men of the town sport. As the assembly gets more and more heated, Antunes makes the characters a bit uglier as their emotions get the better of them, and he adds in a torrential rainstorm at the end of the book to add drama, and there’s a nice two-page sequence in which laundry is carried away by the wind as the townspeople’s word balloons are transposed over the brewing storm. He uses colors to good effect – most of the book is colored “realistically,” but Antunes slips in bright reds and blues as emotion markers, not always where you might think, which makes them pop a bit more. The art isn’t fancy, but it is effective.

This is a good comic with themes that always resonate, and while it’s cynical, it also shows that some people aren’t as bad as they may seem. Twain was bitter when he wrote it, it seems, so it’s going to be a bit bleak, but Antunes does a good job humanizing the people – even the greedy ones – and we get a broader portrait of a town that can’t possibly live up to its reputation and needs to realize that so that they can move on. It’s not a cheery story, but it’s not utterly depressing, either. It’s almost as if Mark Twain was a pretty good writer.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆


  1. Eric van Schaik

    Thanks for the review.
    I wasn’t familiar with this book. It’s right op my alle. I hope it’s possible to get it in Holland.
    Can you tell me when it was released?

    1. Greg Burgas

      Pretty recently – I do these in chronological order, and this is the penultimate one (for now; I got some last week that I haven’t had a chance to read yet), so I’d say within the past month.

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