Monday, May 03, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 89 (5/3) -- Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Graphic Novel

I have to admit, up front, that I haven't read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Nor have I read Dawn of the Dreadfuls, the prequel. Or Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Or Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter. Or Android Karenina. Or Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim. Or any of the current stampede of mash-ups trampling the fields of the public domain under the heavy boots of various horror-movie tropes.

(And they are, entirely, movie tropes. The modern written horror genre has nothing at all to do with this brain-eating frenzy.)

But I have now just seen the adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, turned into a comics script by the busy British serial adapter-to-comics Tony Lee, from the "original" novel credited to Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. The stylishly vulgar cover is by Roberto Parada, but it doesn't accurately show the art style within, which is by Cliff Richards. (Not Cliff Richard, note.)

Richards's art is light and sketchy, particularly with background details and smaller figures -- there's some mechanical-looking tone in spots, but no strong black lines, and the whole graphic novel has the appearance of being reproduced from tight pencils. (Which may be the case -- if so, it was not an inspired choice for this project, since it tends to flatten every panel into a diorama and give every page an unfinished look.) Richards is a solid professional, and he has clearly used excellent reference for most of the clothing here -- though some glimpsed undergarments look much too modern to my eye -- but his women's faces are entirely wrong for the period. The Bennett girls all look like modern TV actresses -- and they also look all too much like each other, as well, with very little to distinguish them from each other. Of course, perhaps that was the point -- I imagine Richards was chosen in large part due to his association with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic, since the primary joke of P&P&Z is "Jane Austen meets Buffy."

I may be utterly wrong, but I suspect Richards was asked to do this large, complex book -- 166 story pages, with a large cast of characters in detailed costumes, with historically plausible backgrounds and details, plus hordes of ravening undead -- on a tight deadline, to get it out before the fervor over these mash-ups collapsed. If so, his layouts and large figures show his utter professionalism -- there's no sign of rushing or corner-cutting there. Smaller figures and panels, though, often appear to be quickly sketched in, with just enough detail to make it vaguely clear who the people are and what they're doing.

The story is, I imagine, precisely the same as Grahame-Smith's novel, and mostly parallel to the Austen novel. This particular Regency England is at war -- not, as in Austen's original, with the entirely offstage and never-mentioned armies of Napoleon, but with the more cinematically popular "unmentionables," a thoroughly Romero-esque cerebrophagic horde that are mostly an annoyance rather than a serious threat. At least, they're no serious threat to the Chinese-trained killing machines that are these Bennett girls -- again, the primary jokes here are in taking the unstated assumptions of Austen and her era, and the social conventions designed to control women's "virtue" and fertility, and giving them a very pulpy modern explanation. (If it weren't so jokey and aggressively downmarket, it would be possible to read Grahame-Smith's ninja & zombie explanation for 18th century morality against similar reconfigurings of that era's social conventions in Fforde's Shades of Grey and Walton's Tooth and Claw.)

I presume that this read more entertainingly in the original, as pure prose; Austen's dialogue is awfully wordy and convoluted for comics in the first place, and only became longer once Grahame-Smith got his grubby mitts on it. This is intermittently amusing, but really enjoying it will require the kind of reader who starts to snort whenever the words "ninja" or "zombie" appear. If you are one of those readers, go for it.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: The Mountain Goats - Autoclave
via FoxyTunes

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