The Great Gatsby Is Now in the Public Domain and There’s a New Graphic Novel

If you’ve ever dreamed about mount­ing that “Great Gats­by” musi­cal, or writ­ing that sci-fi adap­ta­tion based on Gats­by but they’re all androids, there’s some good news: as of Jan­u­ary 1, 2021, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s clas­sic nov­el final­ly entered the pub­lic domain. (Read a pub­lic domain copy here.) Cre­atives can now do what they want with the work: reprint or adapt it any way they like, with­out hav­ing to nego­ti­ate the rights.

Or you could, just like Min­neapo­lis-based artist K. Wood­man-May­nard adapt the work into a beau­ti­ful graph­ic nov­el, pages of which you can glimpse here. Her ver­sion is all light and pas­tel water­col­ors, with a lib­er­al use of the orig­i­nal text along­side more fan­tas­tic sur­re­al imagery, mak­ing visu­al some of Fitzgerald’s word play. At 240 pages, there’s a lot of work here and, as if it needs repeat­ing, no graph­ic nov­el is a sub­sti­tute for the orig­i­nal, just…a jazz riff, if you were.

But Wood­man-May­nard was one of many wait­ing for Gats­by to enter the pub­lic domain, which apart from Dis­ney prop­er­ty, will hap­pen to most record­ed and writ­ten works over time. Many authors have been wait­ing for the chance to riff on the nov­el and its char­ac­ters with­out wor­ry­ing about a cease and desist let­ter. Already you can find The Gay Gats­by, B.A. Baker’s slash fic­tion rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of all the sup­pressed long­ing in the orig­i­nal nov­el; The Great Gats­by Undead, a zom­bie ver­sion; and Michael Far­ris Smith’s Nick, a pre­quel that fol­lows Nick Car­raway through World War I and out the oth­er side. And there are plen­ty more to come.

Copy­right law stip­u­lates that any work after 95 years will enter the pub­lic domain. (Up until 1998, this used to be 75 years, but some lawyers talked to some con­gress­crit­ters).

As of 2021, along with The Great Gats­by, the pub­lic domain gained:

Mrs. Dal­loway — Vir­ginia Woolf

In Our Time — Ernest Hem­ing­way

The New Negro — Alain Locke (the first major com­pendi­um of Harlem Renais­sance writ­ers)

An Amer­i­can Tragedy — Theodore Dreis­er (adapt­ed into the 1951 film A Place in the Sun)

The Secret of Chim­neys — Agatha Christie

Arrow­smith — Sin­clair Lewis

Those Bar­ren Leaves — Aldous Hux­ley

The Paint­ed Veil — W. Som­er­set Maugh­am

Now, the thing about The Great Gats­by is that it is both loved by read­ers and hard to adapt into oth­er medi­ums by its fans. It has been adapt­ed five times for the screen (the Baz Luhrmann-Leonar­do DiCaprio ver­sion is the most recent from 2013) and they have all dealt with the cen­tral para­dox: Fitzger­ald gives us so lit­tle about Gats­by. The author is inten­tion­al­ly hop­ing the read­er to cre­ate this “great man” in our heads, and there he must stay. The nov­el is very much about the “idea” of a man, much like the idea of the “Amer­i­can Dream.” But film must cast some­body and Hol­ly­wood absolute­ly has to cast a star like Leonar­do DiCaprio or Robert Red­ford. A graph­ic nov­el, how­ev­er, does not have those con­ces­sions to the mar­ket. Woodman-Maynard’s ver­sion is not even the first graph­ic nov­el based on Fitzgerald’s book—-Scribner pub­lished a ver­sion adapt­ed by Fred Ford­ham and illus­trat­ed by Aya Mor­ton last year—-and it cer­tain­ly will not be the last. Get ready for a bumper decade celebrating/critiquing the Roar­ing ‘20s, while we still fig­ure out what to call our own era.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What’s Enter­ing the Pub­lic Domain in 2021: The Great Gats­by & Mrs. Dal­loway, Music by Irv­ing Berlin & Duke Elling­ton, Come­dies by Buster Keaton, and More

The Great Gats­by and Wait­ing for Godot: The Video Game Edi­tions

The Wire Breaks Down The Great Gats­by, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Clas­sic Crit­i­cism of Amer­i­ca (NSFW)

The Only Known Footage of the 1926 Film Adap­ta­tion of The Great Gats­by (Which F. Scott Fitzger­ald Hat­ed)

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

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  • scott mansfield says:

    There are peo­ple all over the plan­et who are help­ing to put the texts for pub­lic domain works online for all of us to use. One of these groups is the Dis­trib­uted Proof­read­ers. After texts, some quite ancient, are scanned, mem­bers of this group proof­read the text gen­er­at­ed from the scans to clean up the con­tent and oth­er­wise pre­pare the files for online pub­li­ca­tion. If you want to help advance every­one’s access to these his­toric and enter­tain­ing works, check out this org:

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