Nevermore: A Graphic Adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s Short Stories (Sterling)

nevermore-header.jpgA collection of nine adaptations/reimaginings of the stories and poems of one of America’s most beloved authors.

 

 

128 pgs., B&W; $14.95

(W / A: various)

Edgar Allan Poe is one of those authors beloved of both English teachers and rebellious kids. He deals with big themes—life and death,  the creative process, obsession and guilt, the supernatural—in a way which makes them accessible to everyone, and his stories and poems are not only studied in American literature classes but have also become common currency in popular culture. My favorite example is the first Simpsons "Treehouse of Horror" Halloween special, which included a fairly straight reading of "The Raven" (albeit starring Homer as the narrator, Bart as the titular bird and Marge as Lenore).  Movie adaptations of Poe’s works number over 200 and several graphic novels have already treated his works or his life.

The collection Nevermore, which presents nine of Poe’s stories and poems plus a biography, interpreted by nine different creative teams, is a welcome addition to the field.  Some of the adaptations stick fairly close to their source, while others reimagine Poe’s works in different historical and cultural contexts.  So sorry, kids, but you can’t use Nevermore to shirk your assigned reading. On the other hand, these adaptations are so vivid that they just might induce you to read originals for fun. And if you’re already familiar with Poe, you can enjoy these fresh takes on some of his most popular tales.

Some of the adaptations are more successful than others, and when one fails, it’s not the artist who is to blame. Some of the stories are simply too complex to be presented briefly and sometimes the writers get caught up in their own cleverness and lose the essence of the tale they are adapting. But even the failures are interesting, and it’s possible that some I consider less successful will resonate strongly with other readers.

The cover to Nevermore. Click for a larger image.Nevermore opens, perhaps inevitably, with "The Raven" (W: Dan Whitehead, Stuart Tipples; A: Stuart Tipples) in an abbreviated version which retains the poem’s themes of desperation and loss while relocating it to a modern city. Tipples’ art is reminiscent of German Expressionist woodcuts in its angular shapes, strong contrasts, and oddly-tilted frames of reference, reflecting the speaker’s growing despair.  Writer Jamie Delano’s adaptation of "The Pit and the Pendulum" is set in a chillingly modern world with means of torture and execution more efficient than anything Poe could imagine. The delicately shaded drawings of artist Steve Pugh are both surreal and detailed, suggesting that similar events could take place in any moderately technologically advanced country, including the U.S.

Jeremy Slater (W) and John McCrea’s (A) take on "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" is truly frightening: a man near death, suffering from an unidentified wasting disease, undergoes hypnosis in the hopes that it will alleviate his terrible pain. But something goes wrong and the patient becomes trapped in a state between life and death. McCrea’s art is as gruesome as that featured in any horror comic, and emphasizes the horrible nature of the title character’s suffering and desire for release. "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" receives a lighter treatment from writer Ian Edginton and artist D’Israeli, as befits the preposterous nature (as it seems today, at least) of the mystery at the heart of this story.

In "The Fall of the House of Usher" as adapted by Dan Whitehead (W), Roderick Usher and the unnamed narrator are both former rock stars, the latter living in a seriously scary castle mirroring his disordered mental state.  Shane Ivan Oakley’s stark and disorienting art helps propel forward a story which lurches a bit with its rapid cycling between its ostensibly modern characters and the 19th-century trappings of Poe’s tale. "The Black Cat" as adapted by Leah Moore and John Reppion (W) and James Fletcher (A) also gets stuck in the transition between the source material and its updated setting: the cat in question becomes a trained panther in a third-rate carnival. There are some nice visual effects (the narrator is haunted by visions of ghostly panthers) but the entire enterprise feels forced, right up to its ham-handed conclusion.

David Berner (W) has an interesting take on "The Oval Portrait," the least-familiar story in this collection: the painter of the original story has become a photographer, and the wife an actress. Natalie Sandell’s art perfectly captures the updated milieu (1960’s Hollywood) but the story loses some of its punch in historical translation. "The Masque of the Red Death" also suffers by a clumsy updating: writer Adam Prosser sets it in the year 2016, when the rich and idle flee a global epidemic by amusing themselves at a comics convention. Artist Erik Rangel captures the coarseness of spirit exemplified by those who would fiddle while their fellow humans are burning, but the denouement feels rushed and fails to capture the desperation and horror of the original.

The collection ends strongly with an interesting version of "The Tell-Tale Heart". Writer Jeremy Slater makes the narrator both female and blind, and Alice Duke’s semi-realistic drawing style heightens the tension between the world as filtered through the narrator’s obsession and guilt, and reality as experienced by everyone around her. A two-page biography of Poe by Laura Howell (W & A), emphasizing the creepier aspects of his life, concludes the volume.

Further information about Nevermore is available from the Sterling web site http://www.sterlingpublishing.com/catalog?isbn=9781411415928. | Sarah Boslaugh

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