Filler content with graphic appeal

Here are a couple of reviews that originally appeared in Black Static #34:-

GRAPHIC NOVELS

Adapted and with art by Ashley Marie Witter, INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE: CLAUDIA’S STORY (Headline hb, 220pp, £13.99) takes the section dealing with the child vampire from Anne Rice’s bestseller and reinvents it as a standalone graphic novel.

The narrative’s central plank is an old and familiar story, that of the unhappily married couple who bring a child into the world in the hope of maintaining and/or revitalising their relationship, but here given a much darker and more sinister twist, as Lestat turns the child Claudia into a vampire to bind his protégé Louis to him. Grateful at first and charmed by her undead condition, Claudia’s feelings shift to hatred as she comes to realise how she has been used, and the fate that has been thrust on her, to live eternally in an adult world as a child, dependent on others to survive regardless of all the power at her command. Her rage drives a wedge between Lestat and Louis, setting in train a series of events that will see the undoing of all three.

Strip aside the vampire trappings and we are left with a powerful and very human story, that of a tragic and fateful ménage à trois in which Claudia is both the broker of peace and the monger of war, but both these aspects of her being are eclipsed by the anger she feels at the unasked for gift that has been granted to her. Of course things can only end badly, with a greater tragedy to crown the one that has gone before. Finally all Claudia’s scheming comes to nothing, as she is undone by a collision of irony and ignorance with unfounded assumptions as to the nature of other vampires, and yet at the end she seems somehow reconciled to her fate, something that cannot be said for either of her ‘fathers’.

Witter’s artwork captures the character perfectly, bringing Claudia to vivid unlife on the page, carefully detailing each expression and gesture to show the change in her nature, a shift from childlike innocence and wonder at her condition, through to despair and the development of guile, her scheming punctuated with outbursts of pure rage. Each panel is carefully constructed, with a keen awareness of perspective and a sumptuous quality to the finely detailed backdrops, the atmosphere of a bygone age seeping off the page. Witter works with muted colours, an almost sepia effect induced by the use of blacks and browns, and then the judicious splash of carmine to remind us where the book is coming from and what it’s really all about. It is a thing of beauty in its own right, a story which stands well alone while at the same time throwing greater light on the source material, and I have little doubt that Witter’s endeavours will win more converts to Rice’s oeuvre.

Hannah Berry’s ADAMTINE (Jonathan Cape pb, 104pp, £14.99) is an original work, a fusion of the horror story with the familiar trappings of the murder mystery. Four strangers meet up on a train journey that ends in darkness, their carriage inexplicably detached from the rest of the train, with lines of communication cut and their attempts to reach the other carriages all ending in some sort of loop. Gradually the back story emerges, with the revelation that all four were in some way connected to Rodney Moon, a man who many felt responsible for the unexplained disappearance of their loved ones, although Moon had claimed to be acting at the behest of some alien monster. Moon himself disappeared from a train, believed abducted by grieving relatives in search of revenge/closure.

Berry’s second graphic novel, this is a strange and disturbing work, one in which nothing is really explained and all the more powerful for that, with the whole story seeming to hinge on the title, or rather its implications (cryptically explained in the body of the narrative, but you’ll have to figure it out for yourself). The artwork is moody and impressionistic, with darkness the key note, so that there are moments when a black page with speech bubbles is all that we have, while other pages are crammed with small panels, perhaps as many as twelve to a page, each part of some greater whole. It’s a stylistic approach that keeps the reader off balance and works well to bolster the prevailing atmosphere of strangeness, perfectly complementing the complex and oblique story Berry has to tell, one in which nearly all of whatever represents truth is only hinted at, with the reader often knowing more than the characters do. Behind it all lies a suggestion of how power works, in both this world and the next, and intersecting that an appreciation of the sheer randomness of existence, the traditional form of the strangers with a story to tell given a new and unsettling treatment. I won’t claim to have understood it completely – as with life, there are details that hover tantalisingly out of reach – but I did enjoy it very much. Adamtine works well as both a treat for the eyes and a puzzle for the mind, demonstrating how ambitious and effective the graphic novel can be in skilled hands.

 

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