So, I was mock-complaining last week about all the graphic novels cluttering up my hallway, so to speak. I can't possibly review each of them, so I'm rounding 'em up and running 'em down in a couple of portmanteau posts. Therefore:
Graphic Novels, April 2011, Part Deux: This Time it's Historical
This week I've grouped together a number of graphic novels set in the past. Or in an alternate past. Or... in places that people habitually wear hats, in the case of Dapper Men. Oh whatever, they just all go together and you're going to have to take my word.
Many of the items up for review today are adaptations of classic works. And, uh, I have kind of strong feelings about g/n adaptations of classic works. This is going to surprise you. Heck, it surprises me. My strong feelings are mostly along the lines of: why?
It's not like the teachers are going to accept a kid reading Manga Shakespeare Othello instead of Shakespeare Shakespeare Othello. The story in Moby Dick will not excite an uninterested teenager more if there are pictures. And classic literature is classic for a reason - it's (usually) the writing, stupid. When you try to shove all of Crime and Punishment into a 130-page graphic novel, you are going to have to slash a whole hell of a lot of writing out of the book.
On the other hand. *bats eyes demurely*
I don't sing. Stay with me here. I don't sing, or I don't sing well, anyway. If I did sing, and sing well, I might be tempted to sing my own version of Walk on the Wild Side, even though some people might think that the original version could never be improved upon. I might team up with some of the talented youth in my neighborhood and remake the entire My Aim is True album. Because I love that music and I would enjoy performing it.
So I get that Sonny Liew is going to be irresistably drawn to drawing Alice in Wonderland. I get that Bryan Talbot is going to take that same text and tease it apart and explode it and turn it into one giant tome of footnotes called Alice In Sunderland. When Gareth Hinds wants to take on King Lear, I want to look upon Gareth Hinds's King Lear.
I remain an extremely hard sell, however, on the Comix Classix series things. They feel like they're written and drawn by whomever's in the publisher's bullpen and not doing anything else. If Eric Shanower indulging his lifelong obsession with the works of L. Frank Baum is like k.d. lang doing a covers album (i.e. a bravura artist showing us something new about something we thought we knew), these seemingly churned-out series adaptations are more like Kidz Bop. It's bad enough to have to read assigned reading: do not read assigned writing.
All right then.
GORGEOUS. Etchy-looking and detailed, like newspaper illustrations from the turn of the last century. It's like... put it this way. A lot of illustrators have been inspired by this sort of industrial baroque style, and many of them work in children's books, so it's like Chris Riddell and Tony DiTerlizzi and even Brian Selznick have (among other things) been preparing children to appreciate Jacques Tardi.
Next! Marvel Comics takes on Miss Jane:
I read the Marvel Sense & Sensibility the other night. I couldn't help comparing it to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Graphic Novel, which I liked very much. And I think... I think Marvel found the wrong team for Sense & Sensibility.
Whatever your opinion of Jane Austen, "pretty" is part of the package. The pretty English girls in their pretty Regency frocks sitting pretty in the pretty sitting rooms in the pretty houses in the pretty Sussex countryside are practically the BBC's raison d'etre, but Sonny Liew has made the Dashwood sisters kind of skinny and lumpy at the same time.
Liew's skinny-lumpy style generally works just great: I loved it in Wonderland (above), and also in Re-Gifters, but in Sense and Sensibility, the text has been adapted in such a way that there are huge rafts of dialogue, sometimes with three people speaking in one panel. The figures have to be really small to accommodate the vast speech bubbles, and they end up looking cramped and uncomfortable. (The above page is not representative in this respect.)
A more successful classical adaptation is A Study in Scarlet: A Sherlock Holmes Graphic Novel, adapted by Ian Edginton, with art by I.N.J. Culbard. Panels are large, speech is concise. The palette is all tea-stained warm sooty grays and browns. Culbard's forthright line gives the sometimes prissy-seeming Conan Doyle story a welcome robustness, while Edginton has done a judicious paring-away that makes you feel like nothing has been left out at all.
I also have 3 g/n adaptations of classics from New Delhi-based Campfire: The Wind in the Willows, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and The Three Musketeers . I generally find Campfire's adaptations to be clunky and a bit hacky, but it's been hard to put my finger on just what I think is off about them. Maybe the pacing is clumsy? Or the pairing of artist to story? Now that I've had a look at one of Campfire's original stories, though, I know what's missing:
In Defense of the Realm is an original story - full-on Bollywood action romance drama full of strapping young men, authoritative rajas, jewels, beautiful women, and fantastic cities. Written by a South Asian archaeologist and set in the ancient Indus Valley Civilization (in what is now southern Pakistan), it's like a less cynical Prince of Persia. There's murder, treason, a poison ring, ambushes, and a princess with a sword - even a dance number - in this stunningly colored journey to exotic Mohenjo Daro and Harappa. With this book, Campfire really feels it.
Then there's Return of the Dapper Men by Jim McCann and Janet Lee. From Archaia, the company who publishes Mouse Guard, this is an oversize prestige production, beautifully printed and with a ravishing introduction by Tim Gunn. The decoupage pastel watercolor-ish art looks like Mucha and reads like a dream - great for fans of The Invention of Hugo Cabret.
One more? Should we look at one more?
Ok, one more. Grandville Mon Amour is the latest from Bryan Talbot (Alice In Sunderland, The Tale of One Bad Rat). It, like many recent graphic novels, is set in a fin de siècle steampunk milieu. Man, it seems like everyone in a graphic novel recently is wearing a bowler hat and has a robot butler, right? Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Certainly there's nothing wrong with that in Bryan Talbot's hands. If Bryan Talbot is going to draw a Victorian-era robot, it is going to be the most satisfyingly brassy steampunk robot you've ever seen. If Bryan Talbot creates a tortured he-man of a police detective - who is also a badger - you are going to swoon for that badger as if he's James frickin Bond. This is macho noir detection with lots of action and super-sly details.
In fact, if I take Bryan Talbot to task at all, it's for jamming maybe a leetle too much into every panel. The man loves his references (really, do read Alice in Sunderland if you haven't yet), and there are a billion of 'em, starting with the title and trickling through into the composition of panels and the poses of characters.
Our hero gets it on with a prostitute, however (all action offscreen), so Grandville Mon Amour is for older readers.
Good grapes! Is that it? Have I gotten to the bottom of this splendid, wacky stack? Wow, I actually haven't. There's a Mike Mignola title hiding in there; also a (I think) NF Latino memoir type thingy that looks like it's in the vein of Fist Stick Knife Gun or Yummy; and Fractured Fables from Silverline, which I really enjoyed and I guess I'll review separately.
But these must wait for another day.