Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch: I expect this will quickly depart from people's memory

Not much new in the way of news, so straight to the talky:

The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch
Story by Neil Gaiman
Art by Michael Zulli
Lettering and script adaptation by Todd Klein



So, let's talk about adaptation.  It's a pretty common debate in the film world, but is it as widely discussed in comics?  Comics versions of literary classics are pretty common, and most superhero movies end up getting a comics adaptation, but do people often bother to wonder whether the adaptation is necessary?  What's the point of taking a story from one medium and creating a version of it in a different medium?  In some cases, it can be an interesting exploration of different ways to tell stories, but often it seems like crass commercialization.  This book might be one of those latter cases, since Neil Gaiman is pretty respected in the world of comics, so having his name on the cover of one is sure to sell a few copies.

In this case, while Gaiman is given top billing, he actually only wrote the short story on which the comic is based; Todd Klein adapted it to a comics script, and Michael Zulli provided the art.  Gaiman is skilled enough at comics scripting, that he might have been able to turn the story into a good graphic narrative, but in Klein's hands, it reads exactly like an all-too-faithful adaptation.  We get several scenes like this:



And most of the rest of the book features captionswhich describe what is happening on panel, breaking the oft-repeated "show, don't tell" rule.  It's obvious why Klein chose to do this; Gaiman's language is so vividly descriptive that you don't want to throw any of it out.  In fact, the words often describe the action better than the actual images that accompany them.  It begs the question as to why bother with the adaptation?  If the original text is so good, pictures really aren't necessary, unless you're going to do something interesting with them, something that necessitates the story being told in comics form.  And that just isn't the case here.

Not that the pictures are of poor quality; rather, Zulli's artwork is exquisite, detailing the characters and situations with a rough, yet detailed line and some beautiful painted colors.  The story (which involves a Gaiman stand-in, some friends, and the pseudonymous woman of the title attending a sort of punk circus that takes place in London's underground slums, with strange results) looks as good as a straightforward adaptation like this is going to, with some nice-looking renditions of the weird events and some really nice work with facial expressions:



But I just can't get into it; with the original story doing such a good job of bringing imagery to life with simple textual descriptions, and most all of that text being reproduced here, the images become superfluous.  It's not impossible to adapt Gaiman's works well (see P. Craig Russell's version of Murder Mysteries for an example), but this book only serves to highlight Gaiman's storytelling skill.  I say skip it, and read the original version instead.