Friday, December 12, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #346: The Graveyard Book, Vols. 1 & 2 by Gaiman, Russell, and others

I do like fantasy novels. And I'm quite fond of graphic novels, with or without fantasy elements. But I'm not always thrilled when one of them turns into the other -- adaptations may have an inherent, committed, and often large audience, but they're trickier and more difficult to pull off than original works, which means they often fall just that bit flat.

But the world spins on, and publishers have lists to fill and cartoonists have drawing boards to hunch over and bellies to fill, so the obvious books come into existence, no matter how much someone like me grumbles. Neil Gaiman, for example, is massively popular, but not equally prolific -- and, even worse for a publisher, his work is bewilderingly varied, from short fiction to picture books to novels to films. (Publishers much prefer writers who do pretty much the same thing each time, and can deliver on the same date every year -- if they can deliver more than one book a year along the same lines, a la the James Patterson fiction factory or the indefatigable Nora Roberts, even better.) So I suspect there's someone at the fine publishing house of Harper whose job it is to figure out what this year's Neil Gaiman thing will be, and who is tasked to make sure this year's thing brings in about 10% more revenue than last year's thing.

That person is having a good year: Neil Gaiman things from 2014 include The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains, an illustrated short story; The Art of Neil Gaiman, a look at his life and work by his scary goddaughter Haley Campbell; Hansel and Gretel, a children's retelling of the folktale where he worked to complement Lorenzo Mattotti's art; and Chu's First Day of School, a more traditional picture book. And they also include a two-volume graphic novel adaptation of Gaiman's 2008 young adult novel The Graveyard Book, which won both the Newbery and Carnegie medals.

The two volumes -- titled The Graveyard Book, Volume 1 and The Graveyard Book, Volume 2, for maximum clarity -- were written by P. Craig Russell, who worked from a Gaiman script a couple of of times back in the Sandman days and who also adapted and drew a version of Gaiman's Coraline a few years back. But it's drawn by a number of different people, with a different artist or team taking on each of the chapters in Gaiman's novel. (Russell himself draws the second chapter and then works with Kevin Nowlan and Galen Showman for the last -- other artists include Tony Harris, Scott Hampton, Jill Thompson, Stephen B. Scott, and David LaFuente.)

Like Russell's adaptation of Coraline, this is a very faithful version, with lots of Gaiman's narration included and every moment dramatized to turn a short novel into 350 pages of comics -- despite the usual picture-equals-a-thousand-words metric. The changing artists may bother some readers, but they're all working closely to a Russell script, so the books has a unified look and flow. And the young hero -- Nobody "Bod" Owens, who grows from about two to about sixteen over the course of these eight stories -- is a little different each time, as he must be since he's growing up.

(I did think Silas was a little too on-the-nose, with his thin features, widow's peak, and black velvet cape with red lining -- that doesn't match my memory of the book -- but he's probably exactly what most readers expect.)

If you haven't read the novel, you need to go do that first: this is a solid adaptation, but the novel (particularly with the Dave McKean illustrations) is a true gem. So these two books are primarily for Gaiman fans who want to relive a favorite story in a new way -- there's nothing wrong with that, but it does show a slight lack of ambition in a world as full of books as ours is.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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