Saturday, March 17, 2007

One Story -- Three Formats

Does hearing a story read count as reading? How about reading an comics adaptation of a book? Or a comics adaptation of a movie? Is it the same experience, or is it different?

I don't know anybody that would argue that reading a book and watching a movie are the same thing, but does the way you get the information change the information itself? I started thinking about this lately, specifically as it relates to one of my favorite writers, Neil Gaiman, and Neverwhere.

The story behind Neverwhere goes something like this. A very ordinary young man, Richard Mayhew, finds a wounded girl on the streets of London. Against the wishes of his fiancee, Richard decides to help the strange girl. Door, as the girl is called, is part of "London Below" a subterranean world of magic and mystery, and she is on the run from two vicious killers who slaughtered her family. By helping her, Richard becomes invisible to everyone but those who dwell in London Below. He must journey with Door and the mysterious Marquis de Carabas in an attempt to get his life back.

So the story is pretty simple -- a nice little urban fantasy. But this is a story that has been through three different formats, and changes each time it gets told.

Neverwhere started life as a BBC mini-series, conceived of by Gaiman and comedian Lenny Henry. Despite some really good actors working with some really interesting material, this is... not very good. Really. It was shot on the cheap, and it shows. The lighting is weird, the effects are awful, and without giving away too much of the plot -- be prepared to be underwhelmed at the big battle at the end. A lifetime of watching Doctor Who has taught me not to expect too much from the BBC's special effects team, and even I was disappointed by this. Got to love that Dave McKean designed DVD cover though.

Evidently, Gaiman was so upset about the way Neverwhere looked onscreen that he wrote Neverwhere the Novel. This is sort of like a director's cut of the mini-series. Scenes that were cut from the mini-series are included from the novel, so its bigger, the details are more filled out and the whole thing just makes more sense. The best part about the novel is that Gaiman writes wonderful descriptions, and novels have no effects budgets, so the cheese factor that almost ruined the mini-series is gone here. Don't let the kind of boring cover fool you - its an excellent book.

The novel has a lot of fans, including some of the executives at comics publisher Vertigo. Last year, Vertigo published a Neverwhere comic mini-series, based on the novel, written by Mike Carey. Carey wrote the Sandman spin-off Lucifer and has worked on Hellblazer, featuring John Constantine, so he's pretty comfortable using Gaiman's characters and working in a magic environment. He does a pretty good job with the material; compressing of Gaiman's work into a 9 issue series must have been tough. Glen Fabry, from Preacher, handles the artwork, and I have to say, I'm not a fan. His uber-realisitc style seems to be mismatched to the magical material, and I don't like what he did with the Marquis de Carabas, who was my favorite character from the TV series and the novel. I did like the look he gave Door though, and the final battle that he and Carey show is a lot better than the TV miniseries.

It's interesting to me how the story changes between each version, with different things getting compressed and expanded each time. I would say that the novel is the best version, with the comic coming second, and finally the mini-series. We have all three at GPL, so you can read and watch and read and decide for yourself. A full length audio book is coming out this year, and I can't wait to listen to that, to see how the story changes again.

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