The Great Gatsby went into the public domainFebruary 18, 2021
The big Gatsby
If you've ever dreamed of making a musical for “The Great Gatsby”, or writing a science fiction adaptation based on Gatsby but with androids, we have some good news: as of January 1, 2021, F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel finally entered the public domain. (Read a copy of the North American public domain on here.)
Creative minds can now do whatever they want with the work: reprint it or adapt it the way they want, without having to negotiate rights.
Or, like Minneapolis artist K. Woodman-Maynard, who adapted it to a beautiful graphic novel, which can be glimpsed with a few pages here. This version is all in light and pastel watercolors, making liberal use of the original text together with surreal and fantastic images and making visual some of Fitzgerald's wordplay. With 240 pages, there is a lot of work here and, needless to repeat, no graphic novel replaces the original, it is just… an extra jazz riff.
But Woodman-Maynard was just one of many waiting for Gatsby to enter the public domain, which, in addition to Disney property, will happen to most recorded and written works over time. Many authors have been waiting for the opportunity to tear up the novel and its characters without worrying about a cease and desist letter. One can already find BA Baker's The Gay Gatsby, a slash fiction that reinterprets all the repressed yearning in the original novel; The Great Gatsby Undead, a zombie version; and the prequel Nick by Michael Farris Smith who follows Nick Carraway during the First World War and on the other side. And there is much more to come.
Copyright law (in the United States of America) stipulates that any work goes into the public domain after 95 years. (Until 1998, it was 75 years old, but there were agreements between lawyers and congressmen). From 2021, together with The Great Gatsby, the public domain has won:
- Dalloway Virginia Woolf
- In Our Time Ernest Hemingway
- The New Negro by Alain Locke (the first major compendium of the Harlem Renaissance writers)
- An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser (adapted for the 1951 film A Place in the Sun)
- The Secret of Chimneys from Agatha Christie
- Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis
- Those Barren Leaves from Aldous Huxley
- The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
Now, the problem with the Great Gatsby is that it is, on the one hand, highly esteemed by readers, and on the other, difficult to adapt to other media by fans. It has already been adapted to the screen five times (the 2013 version of Baz Luhrmann with Leonardo DiCaprio is the most recent) and they all dealt with the same central paradox: Fitzgerald gives us very little about Gatsby.
The author intentionally hopes that the reader will create this “great man” in his head, and that he will remain there. The novel is very much about a man's "idea", much like the "American Dream" idea. But the film must have a cast and Hollywood must absolutely list a star like Leonardo DiCaprio or Robert Redford. A graphic novel, however, does not have these concessions to the market.
Woodman-Maynard's version isn't 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 won't be the last. Get ready for a decade of celebration and criticism of the Crazy Twenties while we have yet to discover what to call our era.
This article was translated from the original in English by Constança Costa Santos
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