George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel Vol. One (Bantam)

Fans of George R. R. Martin’s acclaimed book series get yet another medium to enjoy Westeros and the feuding Houses who live there!

 
240 pgs. full color; $25.00 hardcover
(W: Daniel Abraham; A: Tommy Patterson)
 
First there were the books; then, there was the HBO television series. Now, George R. R. Martin’s stellar book series has made it into graphic novels! Collecting the first six issues of the comic book adaptation of Martin’s book, A Game of Thrones, this first volume attempts to tackle the herculean task of re-imagining the first book of the Song of Ice and Fire series. Acclaimed novelist Daniel Abraham (Wild Cards: The Hard Call) has bravely taken up the task, though for him it may be something of an old hand; he has also written the graphic novel adaptations of Martin’s Fevre Dream and “Skin Trade.” Artist Tommy Patterson (Farscape, Tales from Wonderland: The White Night, Stingers) wields the pen that brings Winterfell, King’s Landing, and the entire dizzying cast of Game of Thrones to life.
 
Lord Eddard Stark is the ruler of the cold North in the land of Westeros. In his home called Winterfell, the Stark family—Lady Catelyn; sons Robb, Brandon and Rickon; daughters Sansa and Arya; and Ned’s bastard son Jon Snow—lives in comfort and peace, despite their family’s harsh creed, “Winter is coming.” But not all is peaceful in Westeros: King Robert Baratheon, to whom Ned owes allegiance, comes to visit his old friend after the mysterious death of the King’s Hand, Jon Arryn. Robert brings his entire entourage to Winterfell, including his beautiful but aloof Queen, Cersei Lannister, and the queen’s brothers; her twin, Jamie “the Kingslayer,” and Tyrion, a dwarf with a wickedly sharp mind. As the two houses dwell uneasily beneath the same roof, across the Narrow Sea exiled Prince Viserys of House Targaryen, the fallen ruler of all Westeros, seeks to reclaim his throne by selling his sister Daenerys to the barbarian Dothraki warriors in return for their loyalty and strength. Meanwhile, far to the north of Winterfell, beyond the Wall in the realm of the Wildlings, something dark and ancient stirs, seeking to spread all across Westeros. The summer is ending—winter is coming.
 
Martin’s world of Westeros is massive, intertwined, and often confusing. Newcomers to the series have to grapple with individual houses, fiefdoms, and the separate characters particular to each, as well as the customs, mythology, and religions of an entire continent with only their mind to figure out a roadmap. Having read the books in the series, I can perhaps understand, at least a little, the challenges Abraham and Patterson undoubtedly faced in trying to condense the first tome into edible 30-page bites. Unfortunately, because it was decided to release the comic adaptation of Game of Thrones as individual comic books instead of a single large graphic novel, I noticed some fluidity problems. Martin’s style in the books flits from character to character; each chapter puts you in the head of someone else, and yet the third-person narrator helpfully sticks around as well. In the comics, Abraham mostly sticks to characters’ dialogue to tell the story, though occasionally the narrator appears in text boxes. In general, this works. There are certain places, however, where either additional dialogue or narrative text would be helpful, as I found that certain scenes confused me without any additional context.
 
As for Patterson’s artwork, I must say I am envious of his large scale scenes, such as the arrival of King Robert at Winterfell and Catelyn’s arrival in King’s Landing. He does a good job with the smaller, individual panels, but I felt as though he overused close-ups, and that the story could have been better shown if more large scenes were used. One of the inherent challenges with Martin’s story is the sheer size of nearly everything; in using so many small panels, places like Winterfell felt closer and more confined than what they’re purported to be. Patterson also made a tremendous effort to make those related characters actually look related, and in A Game of Thrones there are more people related than you think! Unfortunately, after a while, the characters all started to look the same to me, and their individuality was usurped by the style of drawing. I struggled to keep individual families apart, often having to rely on whether there was a direwolf or lion sigil on their clothing to tell if they were with Stark or Lannister.  
 
Finally, (I hate to belabor the point) one of the things that really irked me was how the young characters were drawn. I say this because Martin’s books follow a medieval-type setting, where the characters are performing very grown-up feats at very (for our modern time) young ages. Daenerys marries Khal Drogo at the age of approximately 14; her older brother Viserys is maybe 16. Jon Snow is also about 16, Robb Stark is 15, Joffrey Lannister about the same, and Brandon Stark is 10. Patterson’s styling makes all the characters’ ages rather vague; they easily look much older than their “real” ages, and thus some of the impact of their extraordinary feats are blunted. This is particularly true for Daenerys; she looks much older in Patterson’s pencils than she is. Conversely, those characters who are supposed to be older (such as their parents) look to be about the same age as some of their children. This depiction may be in keeping with HBO’s trend of casting characters several years older than their book counterparts, but for those who are looking for a slightly more faithful keeping to the book they will be disappointed.
 
In sum, both Abraham and Patterson do an admirable job of trying to convey all of Westeros and its peoples in Martin’s A Game of Thrones in comic book format. I think their efforts would have been better served, however, if they were allowed to create their adaptation in the longer graphic novel setting, as opposed to individual comic books which were then collected for this book. | Elizabeth Schweitzer
 
Click here for a preview of A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel Vol. 1, courtesy of Entertainment Weekly’s Shelf Life blog.

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