The Graveyard Book, Volume 1
by Neil Gaiman, adapted by P Craig Russell.
Illustrated by P Craig Russell, Kevin Nowlan, Tony Harris, Scott Hampton, Galen Showman, Jill Thompson, and Stephen B Scott.
This, the first volume of the graphic novelisation of Neil Gaiman’s 2008 Gothick award winner, is as one would hope a quite faithful adaptation of the original. The author’s text is itself quite visual, and this must have made it a lot easier for P Craig Russell to produce storyboards that matched the action and the pace of the narrative.
Here won’t be the place to critique Gaiman’s story, nor do I intend to refer to volume 2 of the adaptation in this review; what I will do is outline what worked for me in this presentation and what puzzled me. To misquote Shakespeare’s Mark Antony, “I have come not to bury Caesar, but to praise him;” however, the wording on the epitaph will be even-handed.
Volume 1 covers the first five chapters and the interlude, just a little over half the pages in the original novel. Each chapter is allocated to different artists (chapter 3 being a joint effort by Tony Harris and Scott Hampton, where the transitions between one style and another are obvious). Each reader will have preferences, and mine were for Nowlan’s opening chapter and Russell’s ‘The New Friend’, with Showman’s ‘The Witch’s Headstone’ very close behind.
A special word must be reserved for colorist Lovern Kindzierski whose crucial contribution makes such a difference to atmosphere and narrative pacing. Her double page spreads are often dedicated to a dominant hue, most effective when Nobody Owens is kidnapped by ghouls, and in the clear distinctions between night and day, summer and winter.
Now, just a couple of moments of discomfort stood out for me. First is the obvious disconnect between interpretations of where The Graveyard Book is set. Russell’s chapter has American cops investigating a missing girl in the graveyard, but Showman’s chapter clearly shows an old-fashioned red London bus. My understanding — from references to Celtic burials, knights, Guy Fawkes, shillings, Edinburgh and so on — has always been that the novel is set in Britain, so how Russell as adapter could have depicted it otherwise is curious, to say the least. Maybe he just likes drawing US cops.
Another difficulty present here is, in my view, how exactly to portray the Sleer in the prehistoric tomb. They are an invisible presence in the text, a twining slithering sound, words sensed in the head, smoky tendrils of hate, and fear, and greed. It’s better to imagine such things than to have them depicted, to read about them rather than see them; so I’m sorry that an opportunity to imply rather than be explicit — in however vague a fashion — was not taken.
But these are mere quibbles, for this graphic version of the novel is a fine introduction to the world that Gaiman conjures up, of a boy who’s escaped murder most foul to be given the Freedom of the Graveyard by its inhabitants, brought up safe within its Gothick enclosure but still subject to the menaces of the man Jack. And the opening chapter with the bloody knife held aloft as frontispiece still has the power to instil the fear the Sleer does not.
I’m currently involved with a group read of the Gaiman novel, with a discussion to be aired during Witch Week between the end of October and Bonfire Night, for which this review is intended as a early warning