[5 September 2006]
The horror genre is a very subjective thing. What is scary to one generation is silly to the next, and if it is not done well it can be more comedic than scary. There are also different types of horror, from gory and in your face bloodbaths to more subtle terrors that allow the viewer’s imagination to take hold and do more damage than anything else could. One of the grandfathers of this brand of horror is none other than Edgar Allan Poe. For years his tales have scared readers, and his influence is felt everywhere, from other horror writers, to movies and even to The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror” episodes. Modern horror today might not exist if not for Poe, but do his stories in general stand the test of time?
Eureka Productions has compiled a collection of some of Edgar Allan Poe’s works, including short stories and poetry and along with a series of writers and illustrators, adapted it into the graphic novel medium. Like many compilations, the tone and quality varies from piece to piece. Some works attempt to capture the frightening aspects of Poe’s work faithfully and use the black and white format to depict eerie situations. Others take a more cartoon-like approach and show perhaps Poe’s odder side through his stories. Some however, merely wish to add an illustration here and there to Poe’s already enjoyable prose. This format both adds and takes away from the experience. Certainly, different artists approach things differently, but sometimes the drastic changes in tone or style between each story can be frustrating and take away from the immersive experience of reading the graphic novel. The positive however is that it does show different dimensions of Poe’s work.
It is hard to find these stories outright scary. The subject matter is certainly terrifying to a degree. Whether it is murder, being buried alive, being haunted by the grim reaper or visiting a town of boorish and ogre-like beings, these tales invoke a classic kind of horror. Today, it’s a chainsaw wielding serial killer or nothing at all that gets many people frightened. Perhaps it is even that these comics show the terrors and evils that Poe imagined, rather than letting the reader create something in their own mind that takes away from the entire experience. Sometimes the scariest thing is that which we do not see, and instead allow our imaginations to fill in the blank.
Some illustrators took a different approach, and merely added illustrations to Poe’s prose, creating more of an illustrated text than a comic book. The artwork again ranges from the more frightening, to the odd and perhaps silly. One thing that all of the pieces have in common for the most part, is that they use Poe’s prose directly in their work. Certainly this may be because nobody can tell a Poe story better than Poe, however it takes away from the adaptation of these stories. Instead of using the prose to narrate the panels, it would have been an interesting and perhaps more successful experiment to show what’s happening and add dialogue or narration only when necessary. Sometimes when adapting another’s work, particularly one so well known and loved as Poe, one tends to err on the side of caution and reverence, which leads to it being not as interesting and has the reader longing more for the original author’s tales instead of the adaptation. Take the author’s work, and turning into one’s own work is far more exciting and would show just how malleable Poe’s work, or anyone’s for that matter, can be.
Edgar Allan Poe’s stories may not be as scary as they once where, but it is his writing style and eerie settings and circumstances that still make his stories and poetry a fun read. No doubt there will be others who try to adapt his works, whether in a movie or a graphic novel, and those that do will have a challenge before them. While Eureka’s collection is not perfect, it is still enjoyable and would certainly be a welcome addition to a dark and stormy night.