Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Somethings Just Don't Work in Translation

If you've been reading steadily here - which would be difficult to do as I've not been posting steadily by any means - but if you have you'll probably have noticed I have a slight affinity for comic books. (Or "graphic novels" if we want to sound more adult about them. But there's a distinction between the two, and I'm not going to indulge my inner geek in that debate. Not in this post, anyway.) I am also a fan of Stephen King and a few other authors, who have recently found themselves translated into the more visual medium of comic panels.

Not always successfully.

Sometimes this is simply a question of the visuals presented on the page not working as well as the ones in my head. Movies are subject to this as well, and I could list a few that failed to live up. (So too television shows - I like Joe Mantegna as an actor, but he was just not Robert Parker's Spenser in those A&E movies. Robert Urich is a different story.) I recently picked up a comic version of one of my favorite King short stories, N., which is a somewhat Lovecraftian homage that was for me genuinely creepy. Some of that was simply having come upon empty country fields - none with odd stone circles, thankfully - when I've been out and about, and appreciating the sometimes inherently spooky quality those places have.

The comic didn't convey that same atmosphere, and it was simply a clash between what I had in my head for the story, and what the artist put on the page. Sometimes the imagination works better when it has less to go on, even a normally visually-oriented imagination like mine. The stone circle on the page, and the field, and everything else, just didn't match up what was in my head, and the result lost all of the creepiness I'd felt reading the short story.

Other times they can be a disappointment because they simply rehash old material. Another series given the comic treatment was King's Dark Tower books. I was at first ecstatic, because here was a world where I thought there should be lots of potential. King wouldn't be writing them, but he had signed off on them, and here was a chance to learn more about that world. Alas, they lost me after the first two issues, in part because rather than do something brand new, they started by retelling a story already told in the books (specifically the events of Wizard and Glass) and so they lost the advantage of starting fresh.

The logistics behind that decision have become apparent now that they've moved on to their next installment in the DT comic series, which is a brand new story, the events of which were set in motion by the events in W&G. So if you were a new reader, you need to read W&G first, but... I wasn't. As I suspect a lot of fans out there were not. And I also suspect I was not the only one disappointed by the retread.

(I have not, as yet, picked up the new DT comic series, though it's on the list of things to get around to reading.)

There might also be retreads that I might actually want to read, were it not for the sloppy artwork. Marvel is retelling the early Anita Blake stories in comic form, and I was looking forward to rereading those in that form, until I realized all the characters in the comic looked almost exactly alike. It was nigh impossible to tell who was who, aside from the lead heroine. Which is a drawback to any medium that relies on the visuals - if they're not of the same caliber as the story, it's going to detract from the end result. (Vice versa, too, of course.)

There are also those comics that were really good, and innovative, even though they were based on source material from movies or films.... that then got trashed and made irrelevant by the continuation of the movies or television series. The Star Wars comics come to mind, and that's a whole other series of rantings from me, especially in the wake of the last set of movies. This particular gripe is also why I generally don't read any of the fiction set in any of the sci-fi universes (Star Wars/Trek in particular). The movies or television shows are regarded as canon, and it's too easy to follow a certain set of events only to find out they "didn't happen." This takes some of the joy out of it for me.

None of which means I'm going to stop reading comics, as even those based on original stories can be just as disappointing. (Yes, yet another rant there. Especially regarding my beloved Spider-Man.) It just means I have to learn to temper my hopes sometimes, and realize that for some stories, I'm going to be better off with the original.

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