Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Book-A-Day 2010 # 364 (2/2) -- M by Jon J. Muth

There was a time when adapting a movie into comics form was something vaguely disreputable, done for a quick buck in between the release and a TV showing sometime in the indefinite future. Given the ages and proclivities of comics-readers, these tended to be SF stories, from 2001 to Logan's Run to Star Wars, but that kind of comic started dying with the rise of home video and only turns up at long intervals these days.

Even in 1990 -- that is twenty years ago, but still solidly in the VHS Era -- the idea of adapting a movie into a long-form comic would have seemed quixotic to most observers, an artistic sport rather than an obvious idea. And picking a sixty-year-old movie would have been even odder. Unless, of course, that movie was Fritz Lang's 1931 classic M and the cartoonist was Jon J. Muth, in which case the result would be the excellent, atmospheric M.

Now, the ideal reviewer for Muth's M would be both a student of artistic techniques -- Muth does something very tricky here, painting mostly in monochrome directly from photographs he took for reference -- and have enough knowledge of film history to explicate Lang's career and the history of the movie M as well. I am neither of those things; in fact, I have to admit that I've never seen the movie M. (We all have that long list of great artistic works that we haven't managed to get to yet, whether it be the Rijksmuseum or A la recherche du temps perdu or The Magic Flute or Fallingwater, and there's no reason to be ashamed of it as long as we're seeking out great art when we do have the chance.)

So what I can say is that Muth's M is gorgeously detailed in that smeared dark photo-inspired style that now screams "early '90s" to me (from Big Numbers and this and Cages and who knows what else); that it tells Lang's story of a serial murderer of children in Berlin (and the competing efforts of the police and underworld to catch him) in a style that's as cinematic as it is purely comics; that his "actors" are well-cast, freeing Muth to draw his own angles and views, without being tied to the film; and that the package (an Abrams hardcover from two years ago) does justice to the art inside. It's still a quirky idea, but Muth made M his own -- telling the same story in a different way in a different medium, and doing so with energy and a magnificent interplay of light and dark.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

No comments:

Post a Comment