Neil Gaiman: Coraline. The Graphic Novel
Adapted and illustrated by P Craig Russell
Colourist: Lovern Kindzierski; letterer: Todd Klein
Gaiman’s Coraline is a chilling portal fantasy, a warped version of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871) as seen through a distorting prism, and here impressively presented in graphic novel form. Coraline’s family moves to a flat in an old decaying mansion, but her parents are too wrapped up in themselves and their work to pay much attention to her. In her boredom, exasperated at the rather dotty aged residents in the other flats, she explores the house and eventually finds a locked door.
Though it’s bricked up she soon somehow finds herself through on the other side, only to find herself confronted by a psychic vampire of an ‘other’ mother with button eyes, eventually becoming trapped in a nightmare existence. However, just as Alice had both her Dinah and the Cheshire Cat, Coraline has a feline helper as adviser and companion, guiding her through the labyrinth and assisting her with the tricksy obstacles the other mother puts in her way.
Neil Gaiman’s spooky novella is well served by P Craig Russell’s adaptation: though Coraline’s appearance is a year or two older than I imagined her, he has rendered her moods and mannerisms exactly as I remember them from the text. Here body language and expression exactly mirror her boredom, sulkiness, irritation, confusion, fear, determination and joy. The supporting cast of assorted adults are also well characterised, their quirkiness brought out in appearance and behavioural tics.
The house is the epitome of the Victorian Gothick residence, all sash windows, French chateau touches and oppressive decor. The ‘other’ house is surrounded by mists, or loses definition the further Coraline walks away from it, only to find herself back where she started. And, naturally, it has its resident ghosts, rats, bats, a cellar and an attic filled with putrid rubbish, even an abandoned theatre. The level of detail is just right, mixing realism and illusion as it runs the gamut of everything from sweet dreams to nightmare, from normality to horror, from delight to distress.
The author’s ability to take cliché and weave it into an intricate seamless tapestry is always astonishing. The ambulating hand in The Adams Family films, the key from traditional Bluebeard tales, the holed stone of ghost stories and local legends, the object containing a soul familiar from both Russian lore and the Harry Potter series, the witch from Handel and Gretel, all are grist to Gaiman’s imaginative mill, transmuted to become integral to the tale and yet, with every appearance of being freshly minted. This version is true to the spirit of the original, and well worth more than a cursory glance.
2018 Ultimate Reading Challenge: a book which is a graphic novel
A previous review of Coraline and other tales appeared here