Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell’s The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel: Volume One arrives in bookstores on July 29th, but I just finished reading my copy a few minutes ago. I’m a book reviewer, we have our ways. (It involves a lot of shameless begging for review copies. I regret nothing!)
It’s worth the wait. The original 2008 young adult novel has already won the Newberry Medal, the Carnegie Medal, a Hugo, and a Locus award, but that’s almost not surprising anymore; it’s a Neil Gaiman book. He’s put stories in Christmas cards that defy the imagination, the man can write.
Now the book has been re-imagined with art under P. Craig Russell’s direction, and next year we’re going to see lots of articles telling us how it’s won all these other awards, just you wait.
I’ve been a fan of P. Craig Russell since he did the art for the Sandman story Ramadan in the early 90’s. His style has influenced a lot of other artists, but I’ve never seen it duplicated, and it’s tough to describe. He bounces from a very stylized, simplified, almost cartoonish style for long-distance shots of people, all the way to an incredibly detailed style when it’s a closeup of someone’s face. He pays a lot of attention to eyes, and does amazingly well with showing motion and mood.
When I heard he was involved in the book I was over the moon, and then disappointed to hear he wasn’t actually drawing the whole book. I shouldn’t have worried. While he didn’t draw every single page, he did create the layout for the entire book, and the illustrators tapped for the rest were all picked because they come from similar schools of illustration. You can tell the difference, but you can also see the similarity, and the result is a very fun, lovely book.
The story itself is completely unchanged from the original novel; a toddler wanders out of his house in the middle of the night. Normally someone would’ve stopped him from getting too far, but as his entire family had just been murdered downstairs, he got outside unnoticed, minutes before the murderer came looking for him.
He wanders into a cemetary, and the ghosts (after a lot of arguing once they realized his family was dead) agree to take him in, giving him “The Freedom of the Graveyard.”
They’re persuaded to do this partly by Silas, who is not technically one of the ghosts. The word “Vampire” is most definitely not used, but it’s hinted at pretty strongly. (One of the only drawbacks to the graphic novel is that from the second you see Silas, you know what he is. But they still never use the V-word.)
“Repeat after me. There are the living and the dead. There are the day-folk and the night-folk. There are ghouls and mist-walkers. There are the high-hunters and the Hounds of God. Also, there are solitary types.”
“What are you?”
“I…am Miss Lupescu.”
“And what’s Silas?”
“…he is a solitary type.”
The book is then divided into several long chapters, telling the story of “Nobody Owens” (named for his foster parents, Mister and Mistress Owens, and because “he looks like nobody but himself.”) Each chapter is like a self-contained short story, with a satisfying ending for every one.
There’s a bit in “The Hounds of God” where Nobody is being tossed from one Ghoul to another as they run for the city; it always reminded me of Mowgli being kidnapped by the Bandar-log in The Jungle Book. You can imagine how happy I was to find out Gaiman wrote that chapter as an homage to “Kaa’s Hunting.” Apparently there are other Jungle Book tidbits hidden in the book, and now I have to go find them.
My favorite story by a long shot was “The Witch’s Headstone.” I’d read the original story in a short-story anthology, and it was what convinced me to buy the full book when it was published. I’d hoped this was going to be the one story P. Craig Russel illustrated, but it was done by Galen Showman instead. I still loved it. I’m not familiar with Showman’s work, but he did a wonderful job with this chapter; different enough from Russell’s style to be noticeable, but similar enough to fit with the flow of the rest of the book. I loved his take on Liza Hempstock, with all of her teasing and sarcasm and hidden sweetness very plain on her face even when she isn’t talking.
“The New Friend” was my second favorite chapter, just because P. Craig Russell illustrated that chapter himself. I enjoyed every artist in the book, but he’ll always be my favorite.
As a little side-note to the book, I found out something very fun while I was researching it: the last chapter in this volume is called “Danse Macabre” (illustrated by Jill Thompson, who Sandman fans will probably recognize.) It tells the story of a night that only happens once every 80 years, and a dance that most people won’t ever remember. Apparently Gaiman mentioned in a blog that he’d love to hear a version of the song “with a banjo in it.” Béla Fleck read that, and wrote the song. You can find it here, and you should definitely give it a listen. Honestly, you should listen to almost anything Béla Fleck’s ever performed, but I’m a fan, and completely biased.
All in all the artwork was a great match for the story, and the story was wonderful all by itself. And it’s still more than two months before the second, and final, volume is released. But I’m going to guess it’ll be worth the wait too.
Preview page courtesy of Neil Gaiman’s blog.