Captain Comics

Neil Gaiman’s Finale to ‘Graveyard Book’ a Grabber

by Andrew A. Smith

McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

23 October 2014

Neil Gaiman constantly surprises, and he’s done it again with The Graveyard Book Volume 2, the wrap-up of the novel’s adaptation to comics.
 

Neil Gaiman constantly surprises, and he’s done it again with “The Graveyard Book Volume 2,” the wrap-up of the novel’s adaptation to comics. What looked like a horror story, perhaps overlaid with a fable, topped with a touch of modern myth-making, all intertwined into a charming, almost dream-like child’s fantasy, turned out to be … a coming-of-age story.

That makes “The Graveyard Book Volume 2” ($19.99, HarperCollins) sound pedestrian, and/or thematically different from “Volume 1” (also $19.99, and still available). Which it manifestly is not.

The coming-of-age part was there all along. It’s the skeleton around which the story is built, but not necessarily the only point of it. There are so many themes and ideas and insights on the human condition forming the sinew and muscle and hair of “The Graveyard Book” that it would fit comfortably in any number of categories in the bookstore — possibly, given the overworked metaphor above, anatomy.

As those who read “Volume 1” know, “Graveyard Book” opens with the murder of a baby’s family by a fellow known only as “the Man Jack,” but the baby is rescued by a graveyard. Well, technically he’s rescued by a vampire and an ensemble of ghosts who live in the graveyard, but it isn’t a stretch to say that the graveyard itself lends a hand. Well, not a hand, but some disguising ivy, or a reluctant gate, or whatever the situation requires. Because as long as Bod (short for Nobody) stays in the graveyard, he is safe from the still-searching Man Jack — protected by the dead and the undead, and even a non-sentient plot of land.

And there he learns his numbers and letters, skins his knees, plays and dreams, all the typical things a growing boy does. He also learns a few atypical things, like turning invisible and walking through walls. Hey, having things that go bump in the night as tutors and playmates has its advantages.

All of which was established in “Volume One,” which adapted the first five chapters of the novel. “Volume Two,” adapting chapter 6 through to the end, continues the tale as Bod gets a little too old to stay attached to his ghostly mother’s invisible apron strings. As height and hormones kick in, he wants to see more of the world, no matter how dangerous.

And Bod’s world is particularly dangerous, because of the organization the Man Jack belongs to, the Jacks of All Trades (all named Jack, of course), who have heard a prophecy that Bod will be their destruction if he lives. So they are pretty motivated to find and end him, and they are not without supernatural resources of their own.

So here’s where the “adventure story” part of Gaiman’s multi-layer tale comes into the foreground. As Bod moves about in the real world, he learns that not all people are nice, and that girls can be quite confusing. But the Jacks learn something, too: where Bod is. So while his guardians are otherwise occupied (also with the Jacks, in a different way), Bod must defend himself from the ruthless killers that murdered his family. All he has are his wits, some minor magic tricks … and, oh yeah, a graveyard that wants to protect him.

It’s a pretty rousing climax, which pulls together not only all the plot threads and themes of the book, but also virtually everything we’ve learned about Bod’s strange world. It’s as if every gun on the mantelpiece – in Chekov’s famous phrase — goes off at once.

Which is not quite the end. Sure, some characters are ended. But so is Bod’s childhood. Now comes the hard part, the good-byes. This is where the book reveals its coming-of-age colors — a chapter that is part hope and part fear, part youthful challenge and part inevitable growth, and all bittersweet. Any parent’s heart that doesn’t ache at this moment is as cold and hard as a tombstone.

Of course, this is a graphic novel, so the artists have a big say in the success or failure of the work. Fortunately, “Graveyard Book Volume 2” has some of the best in the business.

As with the first volume, classical artist P. Craig Russell has done layouts for all the pages, and selected the artists he thinks most suited to do finishes for each chapter. In addition to himself, that includes Scott Hampton, David LaFuente, Kevin Nowlan and Galen Showman — all-stars all. It’s beautiful, but more importantly, every line, shadow and panel border advances the tale. Russell is nothing if not a storyteller.

Amazingly, “The Graveyard Book” —a Newberry Award-winner that has sold more than a million copies in prose — is listed as recommended for ages 8-12. Well, those ages will enjoy it, true. But I think those who had their coming of age long ago will enjoy “Graveyard Book” just a tad bit more.

Meanwhile …

Guillermo del Toro’s “The Strain” trilogy is making the jump from novel to television, but before that Dark Horse started adapting it to comics. The first miniseries, adapting the first novel, has been collected in hardback — and “The Strain Book One” ($29.95) differs from the TV show in a number of interesting ways.

For one thing, the show is much more racially diverse. Rock star Gabriel Bolivar’s agent is a black woman on TV, a white man in the comics. Eldritch Palmer’s assistant, Mr. Fitzwilliam, is a black man on the show, a white one in the comics. Even Dr. Goodweather’s partner, Nora Ramirez,, and the exterminator, Vasily Fet, are more obviously ethnic on TV than in the comics. I have no idea why this is, but it is.

Also, the story varies on a number of points. How most of the main characters — Goodweather, Fet, vampire hunter Abraham Setrakian — meet and join up is considerably different. How Goodweather’s assistant, Jim Kent, dies is entirely changed; in fact, his death on the show happens in a scene that doesn’t exist in the comics. None of these variations change the vector of the plot, but they are hard to ignore.

That’s curious, because as artist Mike Huddleston said in an interview, del Toro oversaw every aspect of the comics, and translated most of what Huddleston drew directly to the TV show, on which del Toro is an executive producer. These changes might be accounted for simply by the varying needs of two media, or del Toro getting sharper as he tells the same tale for a third time. Whatever the reasons, the TV show is much more streamlined and exciting than the comics.

* * *

(Contact Captain Comics at [email protected] For more comics news, reviews and commentary, visit his website: comicsroundtable.com.)

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