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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: The Supernaturalist

The Supernaturalist: The Graphic Novel
Author: Eoin Colfer (original story), Andrew Donkin
Artists: Giovanni Rigano, Paolo Lamanna
128 pages
Unwanted by his parents, Cosmo Hill is put to work by the state, testing highly dangerous products. Cosmo realizes he must get away, and escapes with the help of the Supernaturalists, a group of kids who have the same special abilities as Cosmo--they can see supernatural Parasites, creatures that feed on the life force of humans. The Supernaturalists patrol the city at night, hunting the Parasites in hopes of saving what is left of humanity in Satellite City. But soon they find themselves caught in a web far more complicated than they'd imagined, and they discover a horrifying secret that will force them to question everything they believe in. (Source: Goodreads)
I've pretty much read almost every book author Eoin Colfer has put out so far (with the exception of his grade school lit) so naturally, I have to read the graphic novel adaptations of his works. At this time, only two of his series have gotten the graphic treatment: Artemis Fowl and The Supernaturalist - which, although is only one book, has already been confirmed for at least one sequel, thus it's a series in my eyes. Naturally, my expectations for someone turning Colfer's vibrant prose and lush world-building into illustrated form were pretty darn high.
And then this 128-page thin volume came and buried said expectations deep into the ground, like they had been left there by an unfortunate and stinky digging expedition via a certain dirt-chomping dwarf. Which, okay, wrong series but some of the same people who adapted Artemis Fowl into graphic novel form - and did a pretty good job of it - were involved in the Supernaturalist's GN. So how did everything go so splendidly wrong so fast in such few pages?

First of all, the art is bad. This art style worked with the Artemis Fowl setting but feel flat in the world of Satellite City, a hipster cyberpunk style that demands bold lines and vibrant colors and details - not everything washed out and out of proportion with all the finished quality of a sketchbook. The character design is out of proportion and quirky to the point of being annoying; people's heads are not shaped that way and there's no in-canon reason why they should be. Facial expressions seem limited and flat at best. Either Cosmo is really bad at showing emotions or the artist is really bad at drawing them, I can't tell.
Even the panels are a hot mess. Sometimes they go across the page, sometimes they don't, and you never know which section will go which way. Plus, there's no style to how the pages are laid out. It's a rather basic design with only few moments that take advantage of panel sizes and placement. And goodness forbid you like reading chapter by chapter; the chapter breaks are noted by a tiny graphic at the bottom of the page and I ended up skipping over it a lot before I realized it was there. Either have a chapter break that's noticeable or don't have one at all.
The highlight of the art was the artists' rendering of the Parasites - vacuous blobs of glowing blue stuff with disturbing humanoid faces and limbs. It perfectly straddles the line between pitiful and odd. Also of interest in the art is the various tech and gadgets used during the series; I particularly liked how the shrink-wrap gun was shown to be used - it really does look like it could suck the breath out of you. Good!
As for the writing, well, it's good. Well, the dialogue at least, since that was written by Eoin Colfer - one of the kings of dialogue for current YA fiction. If him and Neil Gaiman ever get together on a project, all our wallets are done for. However, being an adaptation, things get rushed. A lot. Which means readers have barely enough time to realize the gravity of one plot twist before they are thrown into another one . . . and another one. One of the areas that got seriously short changed was Cosmo's life in the orphanage; his connection to the place feels more genuine in the book because it's developed more. In the graphic novel, it feels like it's only necessary because the plot says it is.
As for the characters themselves, the readers actually do get a pretty good handle on who they are, their motivations, and so forth. The character that comes out the best development-wise is Ditto, the Bartoli Baby who is actually in his twenties and whose actions provide a major turning point for the story. Because he is cute and clever and has a wicked tongue, he gets the lion's share of the scenes with Cosmo, although he doesn't ditto as much as he did in the book (another adaptation flaw - character quirks aren't as readily highlighted as they should be). The villains with the exception of Ellen Faustino are pretty flat but they aren't required much depth anyway to keep the story rolling.
So the Supernaturalist's GN tries to hide behind its filled-to-bursting speech bubbles and info-dumping narration boxes because the art is so weak and it shows, it really shows. A lot of the info almost has to be dumped in exposition either in narration boxes or in quick scenes meant to induce an emotional response because the plot is going at such a fast rate it can't even keep up with itself. So why didn't this book get another 50-60 pages to fill itself out a little more? The extra pages would have certainly improved the pacing and would have added more depth to the story and the characters as well. 128 pages to cram a 300+ page novel's story into a coherent narrative? Even Peter Jackson couldn't pull that off.
But as a teaser and a taster for readers who have yet to read the original novel? It works on that level only, because it is definitely not a replacement for the novel so much as a supplement. Plus, it's a good way to get a handle on Colfer's quirky writing style and knack for world-building, even if a lot of it is truncated to fit limited page space. Having said that: if you have actually read the book, skip it. But read the Artemis Fowl graphic novel; they actually got that one right.