Pulp and Dagger

Graphic Novel Review


for June 18, 2006


Adventure Classics:
Graphic Classics Volume Twelve

cover2005 - available in soft cover

Written and illustrated by various.

144 pages

Published by Eureka Productions

website: Graphic Classics

Cover price: $11.95 USA

The idea of comics adapting "classic" stories and novels dates back almost as far as the medium itself -- sometimes with mixed results.

The latest attempt in that vein is the Graphic Classics series from Eureka Productions (I've reviewed another volume here). But instead of adapting single novels, each black & white trade paperback is an anthology of stories, adapted by various artists and writers, focusing on a particular author per volume (Mark Twain, H.P. Lovecraft) or multi-authour stories collected under a thematic umbrella -- here, it's Adventure. And it's an eclectic bunch. In this volume we are treated to adaptations of Rafael Sabatini, Johnston McCulley, Sax Rohmer, O. Henry and many more...authors a lot of modern readers probably have never read, or even heard of, but were giants of their day.

And the delight is that these old boys still have it!

Albeit not too many stories are what I would necessarily categorize as "adventure". Rohmer's "In the Valley of the Sorceress" is more a ghost story, while others lean toward crime drama or are played for humour, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Crime of the Brigadier". Those that seem slightly more of the "adventure" genre include Zane Grey's South American set "Tigre" and Sabatini's "Blood Money" (though even they are more suspense than adventure).

This is solid, old school story telling. Admittedly, a few stories resolve anti-climactically, but most have you flipping the pages, interested in where it's headed. You want to read them. With too many modern comics or short story anthologies, the pieces tend to be vignettes rather than plots.

I was initially surprised by some of the art choices. In contrast to the beautiful, painted cover, some of the artists employ off-beat styles that wouldn't necessarily be my first choices. But a lot won me over, particularly as these are not necessarily artists who employ quirky styles to mask inadequacies...but are skilful craftsman. J.B. Bonivert's work on the Rohmer adaptation is almost as if Picasso had taken to drawing a comic -- but it actually works quite well, particularly in a story where an unsettling mood is the point. The most "traditional" artist is Don Marquez on "Tigre", who brings lush pencil work that (vaguely) evokes Mark Schultz or such greats as Al Williamson.

Occasionally, the art clashes with the material. In Robert Service's poem, "The Shooting of Dan McGrew", Hunt Emerson's comedic drawing of a sprightly figure jars with lines like "He looked like a man with a foot in the grave". And Kevin Atkinson's slightly cartoony style doesn't quite suit the more traditionally suspenseful "Blood Money", a story featuring Sabatini's Captain Blood pirate hero.

The stories rely a little heavily on text captions, not fully adapting them to comics. That may be a combination of the stated desire to be faithful to the authors, and that to literally break every scene down into pictures and dialogue would've necessitated many more pages. And the captions do, as often as not, enhance the mood.

Among my favourites in this collection were Damon Runyon's "Two Men Named Collins", moodily illustrated by Noel Tuazon, "Tigre", and O' Henry's "The Roads We Take", also moodily illustrated -- a story that threatens to have a cop-out ending, but delivers a thoughtful twist in the end. And, indeed, the Rohmer story does leave a lingering mood.

But the lion's share of the stories were, at least, eminently readable. Which is a testament to the current adapters...and the old masters to whom they're paying tribute.

Reviewed by D.K. Latta

Got a response?  Email us at lattabros@yahoo.com

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