Monday, June 15, 2009

review of the graphic adaptation of i am legend

everything that a graphic novel should NOT be, is sadly what the last graphic novel i read, is. i finally gave the "graphic novel adaptation" of i am legend a read this week. angela gave it to me for my birthday since she knows how much i love the novel, and its author richard matheson (writer of some of the best original twilight zone scripts, the incredibly shrinking man, and many other stories, including this, his most famous work). and she also knows how much i love comics. sadly, this adaptation, put together in 1991 before the film came out, and ostensibly reprinted because of it, falls very very short of what it could be.

steve niles was the writer of the adaptation, and i'm sure he felt very reverent about this seminal work by matheson, as he barely cut any text, as far as i can tell. i've read an anthology of short stories by niles that i enjoyed, featuring one of his own characters, cal mcdonald, called dial m for monster. it featured illustrations from various fantastic comic artists, like gilbert hernandez, and niles' future collaborator ben templesmith, but it's not a graphic novel. i haven't read his 30 days of night, done with templesmith, and i'm hoping that when i do i will see something by steve niles that is a true marriage of writing and art that reflects what comic storytelling should be.

this adaptation's text is surrounded by images yes, but it doesn't really integrate the text with the images. the story is told in a straight forward matter and the art in its best moments reflects the story being told at its most basic level. richard neville decides to go to the cemetery and you see him there. in some places there are giant blocks of text describing the protagonist's scientific experiments that have his face, and themed images floating around them. i couldn't help but think that those long pieces of text, if niles wanted to retain them intact would have been better served by being designed as journal entries and broken out from the narrative. and the art might contain his doodles, or drawings of the theory the character is expounding, or conversely, niles should have cut down the matheson text so that it could work. i don't say that it isn't difficult to make this story live on paper: it's the tale of one man struggling against the extinction of his race, and his hopes that he can stop or reverse the disease that has taken his family, and his life away from him. the story is not serving the images, nor do they enhance the text. it is poorly executed from start to finish. i won't say there is nothing redeeming about this adaptation because if it got the novel into the hands of people who wouldn't have read it otherwise, then i am happy for it. but taken for what it is, it is not what i look for in a comic book, or novel, and actually makes me squirm with unhappiness when i think this might be what people think of when they think of either art form.

have a look at sin titulo by cameron stewart: i have it linked here under mo-centric satellites on the right-hand side. it is a weekly web comic that i'm sure will soon see its day in print, in graphic novel form. in this week's page (79), the fourth panel is a close cut image of a bike helmet falling. three words are shown in relief, and their strength is heightened by the art in which they are displayed. that's the kind of expression that makes me want to read comics because there are two narratives entwined which i can't get from reading straight prose. of course, stewart is writing his own story, not trying to serve someone else's, and has spent a lot of time interpreting other comic writers and their text so he knows how to do it well. my understanding is that this is his first foray into writing the comic he's drawing but his efforts are miles above this wretched adaptation.

i'm not mentioning the artist of the i am legend adaptation by name here because i have nothing good to say, except that i hope he's gotten better since this book came out, or that he has found another outlet for his art. perhaps this was his first book -- perhaps he didn't have very much control. ultimately it's not his style i loathe (though i'm not really taken by it either) but oh, the execution. it's just abysmal.

we all know that the term "graphic novel" is really just for marketing purposes. the graphic novel is extended comic narrative, and this one is terrible. the art does not live up to, or is remotely cohesive with the text. thank heaven there are many more, and better, graphic novels out there to read. i will make sure to review one very soon so you know what i mean. or if you're impatient have a look at some of the comics i've linked to. :)


  1. alex hoffman (via facebook)June 22, 2009 at 11:58 AM

    Alex Hoffman at 23:14 on 21 June
    yeah, steve niles is garbage. i enjoyed the horror anthologies he edited and contributed to, but from what i've read of his longer work, it's mediocre at best. 30 days of night looked great, but even josh hartnett breathed more personality into that character than niles managed in the original book.

    if you want a good comic book adaptation, check... Read more out p. craig russell's reworking of wagner's ring cycle. all four operas, collected two per book and russell's best art to date. it's stunning.

    also: spain rodriguez's version of nightmare alley is great, but then, i always have a softspot for sideshow freaks.

  2. Maureen, have you ever read the Preacher series of comics? Or any of the zombie The Walking Dead?

    I'm a big fan of the Omega Man...I can't help it.