Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Future's So Bright: Science Fiction Classics

Rob reviews the latest volume from the Graphic Classics line: SCIENCE FICTION CLASSICS (Eureka Productions).

Series editor Tom Pomplun is nothing if not ambitious, and each new volume from his GRAPHIC CLASSICS line looks a little better and reads a little better as he and others adapt works of classic and popular literature. Some are well-known stories, while others are obscure. Some of the stories are by authors not necessarily known for working in a specific genre, like E.M. Forster's science-fiction story in this edition. Some authors have proven difficult to adapt to comics form (like HP Lovecraft), while others worked surprisingly well (such as Mark Twain). Pomplun digs deep into the world of professional illustrators and alt-cartoonists to adapt the stories, and the results have sometimes been mixed. That's especially been true in stories that used a lot of deep shadings that looked a bit murky in the final product. Some artists (and stories) also cried out for color, and Pomplun finally published a volume that was full color in SCIENCE FICTION CLASSICS.

The results, pretty much across the board, were spectacular. It's a great looking volume, where every artist thought long and hard about their color choices and used them to change the way the reader thought about the art. Above all else, color was a quick way to establish mood and tone in this volume. The Rich Rainey/Micah Farritor adapation of HG Wells' THE WAR OF THE WORLDS was the longest and best-known piece in the book, and Farritor in particular does a fine job of conveying the harrowing nature of the story. The use of color is muted, adding depth and atmosphere. The story is as much about the way people act and interact when society breaks down as it is about an alien invasion, and Farritor gets at the claustrophobia and sheer panic felt by those experiencing the invasion firsthand. The narrative moves the story along at a nearly frenetic clip and never bogs down while still conveying the protagonist's sheer, human panic.

Pomplun was devoted to providing a wide arrange of visual approaches in this volume. From Farritor's moody naturalism we veer off into the crudely humorous art of humorist Johnny Ryan adapting a Jules Verne short story. It's an interesting choice and a clever one, given that this is a story predicting things about the far future (a thousand years) that came true fewer than 200 years later. The bright, simple colors add to the tongue-in-cheek presentation of this adaptation. On the other hand, "A Martian Odyssey" is straight-up pulp, and the ultra-slick art of George Sellas, while off-putting at first, did wind up to be a great match. The story itself is nothing special, but Sellas keeps things moving and the red tint to the story really drew the eye in. This story would have been a disaster in black & white. Antonella Caputo & Brad Teare's "The Bureau D'Echange du Maux", an adaptation of a Lord Dunsany story, gave the book a dirtier art style that was appropriate given the more supernatural nature of this entry. The story's idea was clever: a shop where one could exchange one evil for another (the men who traded wisdom for folly was especially clever).

The two standout pieces in the book were "The Disintegration Machine" (originally by Arthur Conan Doyle) and "The Machine Stops" (by Forster). While they were the best-written pieces in the book, they were also superbly illustrated. Choosing the great Roger Langridge to humorously illustrate the Doyle piece was an inspired choice, and writer Rod Lott left Langridge plenty of space to do what he does best: cleanly and smoothly tell a story with charm, humor and a touch of anarchy. Langridge's clear-line works quite well with color, making this story a pleasure to look at and read. Langridge in particular excels at selling the humor of a story through character facial expressions alone.

Ellen Lindner, one of my favorite young artists, teamed with Pomplun to adapt the Forster story. It's interesting that for a distopian story, Lindner chose to go with a lot of soft, bright colors. It gave the underground world run entirely by an all-powerful machine a cheerful but queasy feeling. Linder focuses on facial expressions above all else in her work, and her slightly thick and exaggerated line was an especially nice fit for this story of a mother detached from her son--and reality. Forster seems to be making a none-too-veiled attack on modernity and technocracy with this story, exaggerating its influence on the societyof his time for effect. Of course, the kind of social isolation suggested as a side-effect of the machine's influence is quite relevant in today's world. It's a clever character piece with an intriguing concept, and Lindner's stylish art feels well-matched with the more restrained style of Forster. Overall, this is the most successful of the GRAPHIC CLASSICS books. Color was absolutely necessary to pull this book off, and Pomplun made sure that the stories chosen would really pop out at the reader. That made every story flow organically as something to read and look at simultaneously. This is something that should happen naturally on the comics page but is often an issue when adapting a story to comics.

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