Sunday, January 02, 2011

Reader's Diary #675: Neil Gaiman (writer) and P. Craig Russell (Adaptation and Illustration): Coraline

Last year, after reading a graphic novel adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, I lamented that I wasn't sure whether or not it lived up to the author's original work. I made a promise at the time that I'd not read an adaptation again without reading the original first. Ooops.

Still, I enjoyed Coraline the graphic novel on its own. In fact, and though graphic novel buffs would balk at such a suggestion, I like it better than Gaiman's Sandman stories.

Coraline Jones, a young girl who has moved into a fourplex with her parents, finds herself bored and somewhat ignored by her busy parents. After trying to entertain herself with her elderly and eccentric neighbours, she stumbles upon a secret door which leads to an alternate version of her current world. At first the other word equivalents seem superior to her real world, especially her "other" mother and father who have far more time to dote on her. Of course, as most of us have come to learn, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is and the other world turns sour. Coraline's "other" mom wants to sew buttons into her eyes and to keep her forever.

It's a great blending of elements from traditional children's novels (The Narnia books and Alice in Wonderland come to mind) and originality (the eye buttons is a delightfully creepy new touch). P. Craig Russell, while not overly adventurous stylistically, adds to the eerie atmosphere by emphasizing shadows and pacing the story in a way that builds the suspense and tension. In a particular favourite page of mine, the largest panel is simply an old-fashioned doorknob with a shadow slicing diagonally across the top. You dread what's behind the door but are so tempted to look through the keyhole or turn the knob.

I said that I hadn't read the original novel and so couldn't compare the two. However, I did watch the movie shortly after. Comparing those were quite difficult. Besides very different changes to the story (not the least of which was the addition of a same age buddy character in the film version), Russell and director Henry Selick had two different visions. Certainly Selick's visuals are more interesting with a cartoonish, gothic (he also directed James and the Giant Peach and The Nightmare Before Christmas, even though producer Tim Burton seems to get all the credit as producer). Selick's transformation of the other mother into a skeletal spider woman over the progress of the movie would certainly lend itself to the nightmares of the younger and more sensitive members of the audience. On the other hand, Russell's realism would make the tale creepier for the more mature readers, who know that fear is a personal thing. Sometimes are own imaginations are scarier than any Hollywood score can conjure up.


Vasilly said...

I've seen the movie, I've read the novel, now after reading your review, I think it's time to read the graphic novel version.There are a lot of changes between the novel and the movie, so I wonder about the changes in the g.n. version. Thanks for writing such a thoughtful review.

Gavin said...

I read the novel and now want to read this version. P. Craig Russell is a favorite of mine.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I feel rather left out, having neither seen the movie, nor having read either of the versions. Time to change that, I think, as your review has made me very curious to experience all three.

John Mutford said...

Vasilly: Did you enjoy the movie?

Gavin: As I said above, I wasn't a huge fan of the Sandman, and besides his work with that series, I really didn't know much about him.

Barbara: Despite not considering myself a big fan of Gaiman, I've found myself reading a lot by him in recent years.

Meytal Radzinski said...

I'm surprised you haven't read the original! The graphic novel version isn't actually that bad (I rather liked it), but it does sort of soften the blow and make a book that has delightfully creepy pictures for some scenes and requires extensive use of your imagination for others slightly more... tame.

I've yet to see the movie, but I wholeheartedly recommend the original book. I'm not sure what you'll think of it having already "seen" the story, but it's a great book.