Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes: The Authorized Adaptation (graphic novel) by Ron Wimberly, introduction by Ray Bradbury

At one point, I mentioned all those ARCs I got at a conference. I was going to try to post about them before they came out, or at least during the same month they came out. That hasn't been working out so well for me. Trying to shake myself out of my reading slump, I decided to pick an ARC I actually wanted to read, regardless of when it was going to be coming out. This graphic novel won't be released until July 19, 2011.

I tried my best not to include spoilers, although I do occasionally refer to scenes that occur late in the story.

Synopsis:

Will and Jim, two 13-year-old friends, are sitting outside Jim's house when they are approached by a lightning rod salesman. The man gives Jim a free lightning rod, telling him his house will soon be struck by lightning. After the salesman leaves, things only get weirder. A carnival has come to town, a strange carnival that Will, the more cautious of the two boys, wants nothing to do with, but that Jim is fascinated by. The carnival has a house of mirrors that almost kills the boys' teacher, Miss Foley, and a merry-go-round that has the power to make people become older or younger. The boys attract the attention of Dark, also known as the Illustrated Man, and Mr. Cooger. After a terrible incident involving Mr. Cooger, it's not long before the entire carnival starts hunting for them.

Commentary:

As far as I know, I haven't read the novel this was based on, and I haven't watched the movie based on the book, so I can't say how it compares to either one of those versions. I can say that I really didn't like this graphic novel.

It's possible that I would have liked either the book or the movie just fine - I thought the story itself was the best part of the graphic novel. There was something slightly creepy and strange about the characters and situation that reminded me of some of Neil Gaiman's writings. Unfortunately, I found myself wishing all too often that I was reading one of Gaiman's Sandman graphic novels instead of this.

Although I did think the story was interesting, it had its problems. Quite a few things were mentioned and then dropped, something that I don't think would have been as much of an issue if this graphic novel had been a bit longer. For instance, the boys' teacher, Miss Foley, makes several appearances. She almost gets trapped in the house of mirrors, and her nephew turns out to actually be a member of the carnival, made younger through the power of the merry-go-round. I don't believe any explanation was ever given for why Miss Foley, in particular, was targeted. At any rate, she shows up again later and then disappears. Nothing is ever said about her again. The same sort of thing happens with the lightning rod salesman.

Another one of this graphic novel's strong points was its characters. Again, some of the little details about them made me think of Neil Gaiman's Sandman graphic novels, in which even minor characters tended to have interesting layers to them. Jim's mother only makes a brief appearance, but during that time we learn that, of her three children, Jim is the only one still alive, and we learn that Jim's father is gone. I imagine Jim's surliness and desire to be older is probably due, at least in part, to a feeling of being smothered by his mother.

Even Will's father is interesting. He's basically a decent man, but he, like Jim, has a weakness that the carnival can exploit. Whereas Jim wants to be older, Will's dad longs to be younger. He must have had Will when he was in his late thirties or early forties, and he regrets not being able to play with his son the way some other dads can.

Although many of the characters have a spark of something interesting, it's a fairly small spark. Like I said, this graphic novel seemed to be a tad too short. The story felt rushed, and so did the characters, but everything was intriguing enough that I might have to see about reading the book sometime. Happily, we have Something Wicked This Way Comes at the library I work at, so I could easily check it out sometime and read it, no ILL necessary.

So, the story and characters were ok. I wasn't a huge fan of the way characters spoke, which did not seem at all like the way real people might speak and made it a little hard to feel for the characters as though they were people. Where this adaptation really fell flat, though, was in its artwork, not a good thing for any graphic novel.

I wasn't a huge fan of the artwork style. I gave it a pass, though, because its slight strangeness fit with the slight strangeness of the story. I tend to prefer artwork that is prettier and presents characters in a more consistent way. I can't say that Wimberly's artwork is very pretty (which might not have worked well for this story anyway). I also can't say that the characters were very consistently drawn. That, in particular, was a bit of a problem, since Jim and Will kept saying how they recognized adults who'd been made younger by the merry-go-round because of how their eyes looked - if it hadn't been for them saying that these children were the adults, I wouldn't have been able to tell who they were based on their looks. Also, people didn't necessarily look the same from one panel to the next. I might've been more willing to forgive this if there hadn't been so many other things about this graphic novel that I didn't like.

What other things didn't I like? I could make a whole list. The flow from one panel to the next wasn't always very good - it wasn't always clear to me what path my eyes should be following, and, in a few instances, I read some word bubbles in the wrong order because of the way they were situated. Then there were my issues with how the text and artwork worked together...or didn't work together. In a good graphic novel, the text and the artwork are parts of a whole. I had a feeling that this graphic novel was too wedded to the original text - I'd be willing to bet that all or most of this graphic novel's blocks of narrative text were taken straight from Bradbury's novel. A little of that is ok, but it felt like whoever was primarily responsible for adapting this work into graphic novel form (Bradbury? Wimberly?) was either too fond of the original text or didn't trust the artwork enough. It's also possible that all that narrative text was meant to act as a crutch, to fill in for what the graphic novel wasn't long enough to get across.

While I was reading, though, "lack of trust in the artwork" and/or "over-fondness for the original text" seemed like stronger possibilities. When Will and Jim watch the merry-go-round in action for the first time, the panels show Mr. Cooger on a merry-go-round horse, getting younger, while the text describes Will and Jim's reactions and what they are seeing. I know that Mr. Cooger got younger because the text says he went from an adult to seventeen, sixteen, and finally to twelve years old. Without the narrative text, I probably would have assumed that the merry-go-round had turned Mr. Cooger into an entirely different person who happened to be a dwarf, because he sure didn't look like a 12-year-old to me. Of course, since the artwork was so inconsistent, this wasn't true all the time - sometimes he looked like a small adult, and sometimes he actually looked somewhat like a child.

Later, when Jim and Will bring a police officer to the carnival in an attempt to help Mr. Cooger, who had been greatly aged by the merry-go-round, the narrative text describes several of the carnival's workers. I at first thought that the blocks of text had been placed near the people they were describing, but I couldn't even find any of those people in the artwork.

Not only did the text sometimes describe things that weren't shown in the artwork (and that probably should have been), sometimes the text and the artwork were completely at odds with each other. The best example I can think of is when Will's dad's hand gets crushed. At first, the hand that gets grabbed and crushed is his right hand. Then, in the next panel, you can see that the hand that is actually being crushed is his left. The text specifically says that it was his left hand that was crushed, and in some panels it is indeed his left arm that he grips in pain. Then, in one panel, he's griping his right arm. Later, Will's father's right hand is shown to be bandaged. So, tell me, which hand was it that he really hurt? Either way, the pain and damage can't have been that bad, because he had no trouble holding a harmonica with his bandaged hand. I've never dealt with graphic novel ARCs before, so I don't know if it's possible that these artwork mistakes might be fixed before the book is released. These kinds of errors certainly aren't as easy to fix as typos in the text.

Overall, I thought this graphic novel could have been much better. Even when it was at its best, all it accomplished was to make me wish I were reading something else, either the original book, which I suspect was quite a bit better, or any graphic novel that it reminded me of.

The list below features a lot of Neil Gaiman - sorry for the lack of variety.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • The Sandman (graphic novel series) by Neil Gaiman - The first book is the series is called Preludes and Nocturnes. This series focuses mainly on Morpheus, the Sandman, a dark figure who watches over dreams and makes sure they stay separate from reality. If I remember correctly, at the start of this series, Morpheus has been imprisoned for several decades, and the line between reality and the world of dreams blurred while he was gone. Throughout the series, several of Morpheus' siblings make appearances, as well as a whole host of human and non-human characters. At times, this series has an unsettling feeling that is similar to the Something Wicked This Way Comes graphic novel, although Gaiman's work is, in my opinion, much better. I'm not sure what age range Bradbury and Wimberly's graphic novel was aiming for, but Gaiman's Sandman series is probably best for older teens and adults.
  • Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles: The Authorized Adapatation (graphic novel) by Dennis Calero, introduction by Ray Bradbury - If you'd like to try another graphic novel adaptation of something by Bradbury, you might like this. Like Something Wicked This Way Comes, it's not coming out until July. I don't have this on my stack of ARCs, so I can't say whether it's better or worse than Something Wicked This Way Comes, but an excerpt is available, so you can at least take a look as see what you think.
  • The Books of Magic (graphic novel) by Neil Gaiman, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess, and Paul Johnson - Timothy Hunter has the potential to be the greatest magician that ever lived, but whether he will be on the side of good or the side of evil is yet to be determined. The Trenchcoat Brigade, a mysterious group of people (characters from the DC occult universe - the only one I recognized was John Constantine), tries to help Timothy make a decision about the path he'll choose, taking him into the past and far into the future. Those who'd like more weirdness and magic might want to try this out. While I don't consider it to be nearly as good as Gaiman's Sandman series, the original Books of Magic mini-series is much shorter and may therefore be less daunting to some.
  • The Vampire's Assistant (live action movie) - Every time Jim found himself drawn to the carnival, I couldn't help but think of this movie, which also features a freak show that includes more magic than most of its audience realizes. I haven't listed any of the Cirque du Freak books, because I haven't read any of them and don't know how similar this movie was to any of them.
  • The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch (graphic novel) by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean - Another graphic novel that features a carnival, in this case a mini one, a traveling Punch & Judy show. It's been a long time since I last read this, but I remember it being a very odd, creepy book that intertwines the tales of Mr. Punch with a family's dark secrets. I'd especially recommend checking this one out if you've ever seen an actual Punch & Judy show - I occasionally saw them when I was a child in Germany and never even noticed how creepy they actually were until I read this book.

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