Two New Graphic Novel Adaptations of Ray Bradbury Classics
“The thing about my books is, they’re all graphic novels,” Ray Bradbury says in what turns out to be a surprisingly touching Amazon.com introductory video clip for the graphic novel adaptation of high school-reading list staple Fahrenheit 451. “They’re all motion pictures,” he continues. “There’s no difference between a novel and an illustrated novel.”
The mix of comic book style illustrations with Bradbury’s genre-blending and poetic literary sensibility is well matched. Two years following the release of the illustrated version of Fahrenheit 451, two more of Ray Bradbury’s most popular works have been recast in graphic form: Something Wicked This Way Comes and The Martian Chronicles. Bradbury’s journey in bringing his allegorical work Something Wicked This Way Comes out into the world was rather roundabout—he turned it from a screenplay (Gene Kelley tried to raise money to make the film and couldn’t) into a novel. Following the novel’s publication, Bradbury wrote a different version of a screenplay—one that was made. Thus the author makes for an excellent source of wisdom about permeable membranes of form and genre. Yet Bradbury’s statement on the lack of difference between novel and graphic novel raises questions about the effects and consequences of form. Certainly there must be differences between these “motion pictures” and the means by which they are delivered or else there wouldn’t be book-to-film or novel-to-graphic adaptations, would there? It isn’t about whether one form is superior over another, but rather examining the nature and consequences of adaptation.
Interpretations and re-imaginings give artistic work renewed life, be it a sample of an old Latin song in a hip-hop track or a short film adaptation of a story. These books do the same for two of Bradbury’s best-loved classics that blend science fiction and fantasy with the poetic language of literary fiction. One of the unique advantages of the graphic novel form is its cinematic ability to interplay images with text and utilize the nuance of facial expression, gesture, and contrast: speech and action, shading and light. Also, the reader’s ability to imagine is altered; the reader’s role in the reader-writer relationship becomes smaller as the illustrations take over for the reader’s own imaginings of characters, scenery, expressions, and detail, replacing that freedom with a specific artist’s interpretation. What the “regular” novelist must accomplish through language alone is rendered more compact and distilled.
Something Wicked and Martian Chronicles are not illustrated by the same artist, which serves to set them apart visually and tonally, and yet they read as complementary volumes.
Brooklyn-based illustrator Ron Wimberly creates an appropriately dark, Halloween-like vision of the characters in Bradbury’s classic about a sinister carnival: Mr. Dark, “the Illustrated Man,” who heads the carnival, the thirteen-year-old protagonists Jim Nightshade and William Halloway, Will’s father Charles Halloway, Mr. Coogar, and teacher Miss Foley. The black-and-white artwork plays with shadow and light, capturing the ominous essence of the allegorical novel and its themes of age, power, and the struggle of good to win out over evil.
In The Martian Chronicles, illustrated in color by Dennis Calero, we enter a surreal, deeply colored world of mind games, murder, and red sky. These linked stories, in which the Earthmen colonize Mars after destroying their own planet, are well-suited to the graphic novel form; told in dystopian vignettes. Two particularly strong scenes feature a poisonous prison of a Martian marriage in “February 1999, Ylla” to a vivid rendition of “April 2000, the Third Expedition,” in which Martians dupe the humans into believing they are in a typical Midwestern town in the 1920s in order to lure them into their own memories and kill them in the night.
Fortunately, Ron Wimberly and Dennis Calero’s visions are ultimately ones you want to inhabit. These graphic adaptations share in the feeling of being natural extensions of their non-illustrated counterparts. The graphic novel form is so appropriate to this material it is as if these adaptations always existed, and encountered as separate entities from the purely textual novels, one does not feel the need for the filling in of any blanks.
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