Thursday, October 27, 2011

Twilight: The Graphic Novel - Volume 1 Has Moments Of Charm, But Fizzles.

The Good: Enhances the story for a fan of the cinematic Twilight, Some imaginative panels, Moments of character.
The Bad: Poor sense of movement, Characters are melodramatic/contradictory, Inconsistent artwork.
The Basics: Not exactly inspiring me to read the novel Twilight, Twilight: The Graphic Novel - Volume 1 enhances my appreciation of Twilight, but is not a great book.

As I, like many out there, prepare for the release of Breaking Dawn Part 1 in the theaters, I thought I would look back at the Saga. I've not read any of Stephanie Meyer's books from the Twilight Saga save The Short Second Life Of Bree Tanner (reviewed here!). But, as my wife has pushed me to read Twilight, my docket has gotten quite full. So, I thought I would compromise and read Twilight: The Graphic Novel - Volume 1. It did not take long and the book by Stephanie Meyer and Young Kim was good, but not great. The book enhanced my appreciation of the cinematic Twilight (reviewed here!), but it still contained some of the serious issues both with writing and characterization that plagued the film. More than that, the artwork was erratic, which lowered my appreciation of the book as a graphic novel. There are truly great graphic novels, but alas, Twilight: The Graphic Novel - Volume 1 is not one of them.

I'm not exactly sure what the difference between Manga and graphic novels are, but the artwork in Twilight: The Graphic Novel - Volume 1 seems frequently more representational and Asian than truly representing American characters. As a simple example, Angela and Jessica look virtually identical in these pages, as do Michael and the other boy in Bella's class. The book has similar conceits that are not present in any of the many graphic novels I have read, so I suspect that this book is written in more the Manga tradition.

Twilight: The Graphic Novel - Volume 1 tells the story of Bella Swan. Bella Swan is a sixteen year-old who moves from Phoenix, Arizona to Forks, Washington when her mother gets remarried. Set in the rainy and clouded over Forks, Bella feels isolated at her new school until she meets Edward Cullen. Edward is a strange boy who seems repulsed by Bella, which makes her more intrigued by him. Edward is part of a family of adopted children for the local doctor whose five adopted children seem to be in relationships with one another. Edward and the other Cullens disappear frequently. Edward tends to push Bella away, but that only makes her more intrigued by him.

Bella slowly becomes obsessed with Edward, despite him telling her he would be bad for her. After a visit to the beach in La Push, Bella gets a solid lead. Jacob Black, a Quileute Indian, tells Bella a legend about the Quileutes and the Cold Ones. He informs her that the Cullens made a pact with the Indians over a hundred years ago and Bella confronts Edward with her belief that he is a vampire. Unafraid, Bella goes off with Edward alone.

The fundamental problem with Twilight: The Graphic Novel - Volume 1 in the characters is that they are not defined in reasonable or rational terms. So, for example, Bella begins the book by declaring both her need to leave her mother and how miserable she was going to be in Forks. If Bella is supposed to become more mature in the course of the book, it does not come across in the graphic novel. She is youthful and melodramatic at the outset, but then the reader is supposed to believe in the serious, mature love she comes to have by the end of the book. The problem here is that the character does not actually have a journey. Bella agonizes over why Edward doesn't like her, oddly ignoring the four peers of hers who actually like her, but she waits around for others to fill in the blanks for her. It is not her hard work, curiosity or determination that lead her to answers, it is Jacob suddenly appearing and telling her everything. The main protagonist, then, suffers from being utterly indistinct. Even her legendary clumsy quality is downplayed in Twilight: The Graphic Novel - Volume 1, with only two or three panels - usually her in gym class - showing her getting hurt. For a medium where it is easier to show than tell, the fact that no one comments on her being a klutz downplays the one actual character trait Bella Swan is supposed to have.

Edward is given a little more character, but no clear sense of motivation. Edward is explicitly trying to resist being around Bella. He saves her life when a fellow student almost runs into Bella but then declares several times that he is trying to stay away from her. An interesting detail not in the film, but in the graphic novel, is that Edward tried to leave Bella after their first meeting by running all the way to Alaska. It's an interesting detail, but it does not explain why Edward suddenly does a reversal on his stance. He says the two should be apart, but then decides that he is not going to play by the "old rules" any more. He is not going to avoid Bella, but instead test his feelings for her, but what turns him around on her is not made clear.

As I noted with the film, the fundamental character problem in Twilight: The Graphic Novel - Volume 1 is that Edward does not have a clear, distinct reason for loving Bella. Sure, he cannot read her mind, but that is not a great reason to turn on his vow to keep his distance from potential prey.

As for the artwork, the best aspects come with Edward. His discomfort is made clear by panels that clearly illustrate him constantly clenching his fist when Bella is around. That is an interesting detail and makes his sense of conflict very real. That uses the medium quite well and Young Kim does a decent job with that.

But Young Kim's artwork is problematic in the coloring. Most of the book is in black and white. That's fine, but where there is color is awkward. The first use of color is for Edward's topaz eyes. That's a neat detail and brings to life Bella's fixation on Edward. The problem, then, is that the next time there are color panels is a dream sequence. Color, could have indicated emotions or imaginary moments, but then comes the third use of color. In that sequence, Edward exposes himself to Bella in the sunlight. This scene includes color to illustrate the intensity of the reality of the moment. And yet, as the two move toward a kiss, a moment that ought to be both emotional and hyper-real, the book is back in black and white. My point is, the book uses color poorly. If there is a reason for using color, it is not consistent. So, it seems like a pointless gimmick or just lazy.

Twilight: The Graphic Novel - Volume 1 sets up the romance between Edward and Bella. There is no menace other than Edward hinting at his nature, no real antagonist in this book. It leads into Volume 2 and were it not for the already loyal following Twilight already had, there would be little reason to look for that or continue beyond this book.

For other Twilight-related reviews, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Twilight trading cards
2011 Bella, Edward And Jacob Hallmark Ornament
Tonner Bella Swan Doll


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© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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