Gris Grimly, the New York Times bestselling artist and creator of the beloved Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Madness, has long considered Mary Shelley’s classic tale of terror to be one of his greatest inspirations. He is now paying homage to it with a lavishly illustrated full-length adaptation, the first of its kind in this or any format. The tale of the hubris of Victor Frankenstein, the innocence of his monstrous creation, and the darkest desires of the human heart have never been more vividly represented on the page. Using an abridged version of the original text, Gris has created an experience that is part graphic novel, part prose novel, and all Gris Grimly … [X]
Before we even move to my glowing recommendation for this adaptation of Frankenstein, I want to show you all how awesome the illustration for the back cover is:
I just couldn’t help myself. I took a lot pictures of the illustrations, and hopefully I will get to legitimize taking so many.
Anyway, first off, I want to talk about the format. One of my (many!) favourite things about Mary Shelley’s novel is the Story Within A Story format. It was an absolute delight to open up Grimly’s adaptation and see the lovely, “hand-lettered” epistolary beginning to Frankenstein. It is also extra fun to delve into because, as a reader of this classic (and I have no doubt that each and every one of you are), its secrets are not hidden from us. So, everything elicits a guilty giggle or a wry smile*, including this particular letter from the first narrator of the novel, Captain Walton:
“I will not rashly encounter danger …” Ha! Ha ha! Not that you have a choice in the matter Walton!
*ahem* So, yes, the format stays true to the book and as we meet the worn out Doctor and get his story, the medium shifts from the elegantly rendered letters to an awesome steampunk-y graphic novel style.
It’s not exactly the kind of graphic novel I am used to. The panels are interspersed with heavy narration and the dialogues are simply presented in italics instead of speech bubbles, but that is all part of walking the fine balance between retelling and adapting. For the fans of the book, the lines from the original (though chosen carefully) are almost all there. For fans of the movie(s), we have the insane (and I mean that in the best possible way) art.
And to balance out the gore, we have cute stuff too. For instance, as evidenced by the page with Henry Clerval and Victor Frankenstein, every time Victor is happy, there are flowers that bloom around the panels. Also, baby William Frankenstein is less baby and more … doll.
I must say that I would have preferred that he wasn’t so doll-like because it kind of checks the amount of sympathy you would feel, given the kid’s tragic end. And really, that would be quite favourable if you wanted audiences to care more for Frankenstein instead of the monster, and that is in fact where this adaptation is different. Arguably, Mary Shelley herself sympathized with the monster or at least made him an intelligent character that one could empathize with, but Grimly decided to go another route:
I have found a new kinship within the pages of Frankenstein: that of Victor Frankenstein himself. The moral exhortation of Frankenstein is to value family and friends. Beware the slippery slopes of acclimating to a life of self-absorbed achievements and fame, lest one falls into the pit of fire and brimstone. – “Afterword”, Grimly.
This is not to say, however, that sections with the monster’s story are omitted. Instead, they are brought to life in a rather creative manner. At first, the panels are wordless and simplistic to parallel the monster’s new life and unformed language skills.
Only later on do we get panels that show glimmers of understanding.
However, it is partly through the grandeur of the art style that we can see how Grimly’s favours Victor. The monster’s panels are still rather simplistic, even towards the end of the tale, though his most powerful dialogue still do remain in this adaptation.
All in all, I feel like this graphic novel does a great job at attracting people who love Shelley as well as people who love comics. Perhaps, I draw greater pleasure from it, knowing what I do from reading the original, but I don’t think that the magic of the story and of the art would have any less of an effect on those who haven’t read the novel. And, honestly, isn’t that’s exactly what one would want from an adaptation of this sort? A connection to a story that lived on a page from long ago, but has been brought to life** in front of your eyes? I think, yes. And I think this one did its job well.
*Okay, fine, I know the book is very nearly two centuries old, but I can not expect that all of you have read it- trust me, there are no actual funny parts. Just parts that you snort at and then feel bad that you did. And oh, don’t expect me to warn you for spoilers. I think that’s a fair deal when we’re talking about fairly faithful adaptations of 19th century classics?
**A joke about reanimation comes to mind …