Skip to main content

The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel: Volume 1

Review

The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel: Volume 1

Review 1, by Sarah Rachel Egelman

Comparing a novel to its graphic adaptation is like comparing a novel to its film adaption: sometimes much of the original is lost but in good adaptive hands, much can be gained. The first volume of the new graphic novel version of Neil Gaiman's THE GRAVEYARD BOOK loses his evocative language, pacing and characteristic lyrical heart. Still, it is a thrilling and unique tale that lends itself to the visual format, in this case deftly handled by P. Craig Russell and a cadre of fantastic illustrators.

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK is the story of young Nobody Owens. As his family was being murdered by a mysterious man named Jack, little Bod escaped to the graveyard up the hill where he found protection from the ghosts who lived there. Given his odd name by his adoptive parents and looked after by Silas, a creature able to move between the world of the living and the world of the dead, Bod was safe within the graveyard gates and received a education of sorts. But the borders of the graveyard were permeable enough to allow strange and intriguing encounters, including with a little girl named Scarlett, an ancient guardian spirit called the Sleer and ghouls who take Bod to their own dangerous realm. The first time Bod leaves the graveyard it is to purchase a headstone for a witch name Liza who is buried there, in unconsecrated ground, without one. Barefoot and poorly dressed, Bod steps out into the world of the living with an ancient snakestone brooch he took from the grave protected by the Sleer. Taking the brooch into the shop of a greedy antique dealer brings Bod face to face with real danger and even though he escapes, with some help from Liza, the murderer Jack is once again reminded of the boy who got away. But before Jack can hunt Bod down, a lovely day of winter blossoms and music happens, bringing the magic of the dead to the world of the living; the Dance Macabre.

An energetic and welcome version of the original novel that showcases the talents of Russell and the other artists who worked on it as well as the storytelling powers of Gaiman

But this first volume ends not with Bod's joyful dance in the beautiful falling snow, but with a glimpse of Jack, who is reminded that this living boy must die.

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK is a rollicking tale with all the hallmarks of a grand fantasy-adventure: an orphan, wild, magical and ghostly creatures, forbidden places, surprising friendships and imminent danger. In the capable hands of Russell, it comes alive with concise language that conveys the story without an over-reliance on narrative. The traditional comic paned illustrations are by seven different artists; distinct but sharing a palette and similar enough styles to make the book cohesive. There is not a weak spot in the book butthe illustrations by Tony Harris and Scott Hampton stand out for their combination of heavy blackwork, expressive faces and their soft treatment of the ghouls. The chapter by Jill Thompson is also notable for its playful and light-handed touch during the Dance Macabre.

An exciting page turner with cool pictures, enough horror and gore to satisfy middle grade readers but not enough to really scare or distract from the story, this book is an energetic and welcome version of the original novel that showcases the talents of Russell and the other artists who worked on it as well as the storytelling powers of Gaiman.

Review 2, by Jeff Ayers

In 2008, Neil Gaiman published THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, an enchanting collection of stories about an orphaned boy growing up in a graveyard. The book went on to win the Hugo Award, the Newbery Award and the Locus Award for Best Young Adult Novel in 2009, among others, and has been reprinted in an illustrated children’s edition. Now, Gaiman and frequent collaborator P. Craig Russell have put together a beautiful graphic novel re-telling, with help from a number of other artistic talents.

The story, told in the whimsically scary fashion Gaiman does so well, centers around a boy of three who survived his family’s murder. He wanders off into the night and ends up at the graveyard upon the hill, where the spirits of the place take him in. The caretaker of the graveyard is the vampire Silas, who quickly names himself the child’s guardian. He is soon adopted by ghost foster parents and named Nobody Owens, or “Bod” for short. Each chapter of the book gives its readers a snapshot of Bod’s life and, in this adaptation, each chapter is given its own artist, giving the different points in Bod’s life their own look and feel.

"This adaptation takes a lot of risks that end up paying off immensely, both for the reader and the story itself. The energy of the novel --- its essence, or, if you will, its very soul --- is completely intact."

The first chapter is illustrated by Kevin Nowlan, whose art speaks not only for the opening of the story but also the harsh violence and direct setup of the tale’s premise. Nowlan effortlessly depicts the events that unfold in the poor babe’s life, his parents and sibling brutally murdered at the hands of a killer known only as “the man Jack,” and his exodus and eventual relocation to the world of the graveyard. The great character design ensnares the reader’s attention immediately, as the ghosts that inhabit the graveyard are given as much life on the page as the living boy. The book’s first glimpse of the fabled “lady in grey” --- here, the Angel of Death --- is shown here, and Nowlan depicts her glory and gravitas in a fitting style.

Each chapter flashes forward two years, and when the boy turns five in the second chapter, Russell takes the artistic reins himself. He parallels the first chapter, but brings a bigger flow to the designs and the landscape. Much of this chapter is spent in the reader’s first sight of daytime, and Russell excels at bringing life to the land of the dead. Bod befriends a young girl, Scarlett, who plays in the graveyard while her parents read, and the scenes of the two children playing contrast the opening panels starkly, but beautifully.

The third chapter is titled “The Hounds of God,” a subtle homage to the adventure of “Kaa’s Hunt” from Rudyard Kipling’s THE JUNGLE BOOK. Tony Harris and Scott Hampton tackle the art in this chapter together, give the reader an idea of the dichotomy between the world of the graveyard that Bod knows the grotesque world of the creatures known as ghouls. The fourth chapter, originally published in Wizards: Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy in 2007, is drawn by Galen Showman in a much more adult tone. The tale of a witch who lives in the unconsecrated part of the graveyard, it depicts the first time the Bod leaves his home and ventures into the town below. Showman’s Bod shows the first physical signs of a boy growing up, and these are only heightened when Jill Thompson lends her artistic touch to chapter five. Now a boy of ten, Bod is faced with his first real interaction between the familiar world of graveyard ghosts and the little-known world of the townspeople, as the living and the dead join in the mysterious “Danse Macabre.” This first volume ends on the interlude of the original novel, as Stephen B. Scott shows the reader a glimpse of the underground workings of the shadowy society to which the man Jack belongs.

Adaptations of books into graphic novels juggle a number of requirements to be successful with readers. On one hand, they need to satisfy fans of the original work, while also providing a new and interesting take on the source material. On the other hand, they have to be engaging enough to command the attention of readers unfamiliar with the novel, while also not deviating too far from the work it is based upon. This adaptation takes a lot of risks that end up paying off immensely, both for the reader and the story itself. The energy of the novel --- its essence, or, if you will, its very soul --- is completely intact. Russell does a terrific job maintaining the roots of each chapter while allowing the artists to flourish and branch out in beautiful ways.

Gaiman is a master of the written word --- he is able to craft intricate settings and develop incredibly deep characters with seemingly effortless storytelling. He originally had the idea for this book in 1985, but kept shelving it for over twenty years because he believed he wasn’t a good enough writer yet. Yet that collection of stories was so spot-on that an adaptation like this, one that would most certainly fail for other works, soars alongside the original. Russell is no stranger to this quality either, having helmed adaptations of Gaiman's previous works Coraline and illustrated Sandman: The Dream Hunters. This graphic adaptation stands out not only as a wonderful interpretation of the source material, but as a remarkable graphic novel that bends and breaks the rules of traditional adaptations of stories to a graphic novel form.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman and Jeff Ayers on July 30, 2014

The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel: Volume 1
by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell

  • Publication Date: July 29, 2014
  • Genres: Children's, Graphic Novel
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • ISBN-10: 006219481X
  • ISBN-13: 9780062194817