Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Only the End of the World Again by Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell & Troy Nixey

First must come the consumer warning. I read this digitally, which means flipping through the pages would have been more cumbersome than with a physical book, and I took the "152 pages" as an indication of the length of the story.

Reader, I was misled.

Only the End of the World Again is a 48-page story, bulked out by an sketchbook section exactly twice its size that shows the thumbnail layouts and un-lettered final inks for each page side-by-side, presumably for fans of art to take a magnifying glass to them and make various low appreciative noises in the back of their throats for the next several hours. I did not do so; that's not how I read books.

If you do want to spend several hours with those earlier versions of the same story, though, this may well be a positive for you. It takes all kinds to make a world, after all.

"Only the End of the World Again" was originally a short story by Neil Gaiman. It first appeared in the 1994 Shadows Over Innsmouth anthology edited by Stephen Jones, and a few years later was collected in Gaiman's Smoke and Mirrors. This graphic novel, part of a big series mostly adapting his best-known stories from the '90s, was scripted and laid out by P. Craig Russell, drawn by Troy Nixey, colored by Matthew Hollingsworth, and lettered by Sean Konot.

As is usual with this series - see also my posts on Chivalry, Snow, Glass, Apples, Troll Bridge, and How to Talk to Girls at Parties - this is a very faithful adaptation. Russell makes Only a very heavily narrated comic, and gets what seems to be 85+% of Gaiman's original words onto these pages. (To my mind, that defeats the purpose of adaptation, but fans want things to be exactly like the original, only in a new form they can pay money for, so I see why.)

The story was deliberately a pastiche, not quite an in-joke but including a nudge or two to the ribs of fandom, in which an adjustor named Lawrence Talbot found himself in the mist-shrouded Massachusetts town of Innsmouth and, more by fate than by plan, foiled the end of the world. As the title implies, the story hints pretty heavily that this is Talbot's life: he wanders into a random town each month, supernatural stuff happens, and an apocalypse is averted.

(It may also have been somewhat inspired by Roger Zelazny's 1993 novel A Night in the Lonesome October, which has a related premise. The timeline is plausible - Night was published in August of '93, with galleys circulating a few months before that, and Shadows came out in October of '94.)

This version has a lot of Gaiman's atmospheric prose, as I said - in prose, this was a story of voice, and the comics version does its best to keep that voice and layer in more atmosphere with Nixey's Lovecraftianly lumpy people. (Nixey is a great artist for stories about Innsmouth, and maybe Lovecraftian topics in general; he can make people fleshy in unpleasant ways that hint at inhuman shapes.)

As usual with this series, I'm somewhat uneasy about seeing so much effort and care going into making sure as much of Gaiman's prose is still present in the comic version as possible - it seems a sin against the idea of adaptation, somehow. As if the adaptors aren't allowed to actually transform the story, to actually fit it into its new form in any way that would make it deviate from the original.

But I am clearly a minority opinion in that.

This is a fun Lovecraftian story, with sneaky Gaiman prose well manipulated by Russell and illustrated with relish (some kind of cold, blue-greenish relish, smelling a bit more of the sea than anyone you know actually enjoys) by Nixey. But don't be surprised to pick up this book and find the story is done a third of the way through.

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