Bella, Comic Books, Dark Knight, Edward, Edward Cullen, fan culture, graphic novel, history of comic books, Manga, Movies, popular culture, theory of comic books, Twilight, Twilight Girls, Twilight graphic novel
Those words were the reaction of my 15-year-old son who had read the “Twilight” books when they originally came out but has dismissed much of the hoopla surrounding this vast cultural phenomenon since. I, however, have taken up an anthropological study of the Twilight culture and everything that happens in this world of teen vampires is a wonderful addition to my analyses. But the publication this week of the first book of the Twilight series as a graphic novel is bewildering. Not because I don’t like Twilight or graphic novels or the possibility that they could make sweet love together, but the product put on shelves this week was, quite simply, all wrong.
First, the caveats: I am a huge fan of “graphic novels” of all kinds but I am not a fan, at all, of manga, and Twilight was published in a manga-like style (more on that in a minute). Graphic novels, or longer format comic books (I don’t know, really, that there is an important difference, and I like to call them comic books) can take all shapes and styles, can hold any sort of content. I like Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” and “Promethea” (both of which I will have my class read this fall), as well as “Persepolis” (which the city of Philadelphia chose for its “One Book” program this year), the “Sandman” series (comic books that have been gathered into “books”) by Neil Gaiman, or anything by Art Spiegelman. “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” was the first long comic book that attracted my attention; I even like the 9-11 report in graphic novel format. So when I heard Twilight was coming out as a graphic novel, I thought that sounded like a good idea.
Some people have suggested that this version of Twilight is an attempt to reach young readers. Honestly, I don’t think a young reader, especially someone not schooled in manga, can make sense of the layout and format of some of the pages. Some of it is innovative and exciting, much of it is simply confusing. I think a big part of the problem is the size of the pages. The pages are 8.25 inches high and nearly 5.5 inches wide. That is simply too small and makes it hard to see the details of the fine art work. But the format is also wrong because the book is a hardcover, bound tightly so you can’t open it flat or look at the pages without their being curved. I don’t like to read a comic in which I have to constantly shift the book around to fight off the glare and the shadows in the gutter. Is it small so I can carry it in my purse?
Now on to the Japanese/Korean manga-like style. The style simply just doesn’t fit the story. Did anyone in their first reading of this series ever picture the characters with manga faces: big eyes, heart-shaped faces, tiny noses and mouths (a reviewer for Entertainment Weekly apparently did)? Manga makes all the characters look the same and it doesn’t do justice to the Bellas and Edwards we have conjured in our heads. I am not saying the comic book versions should look like Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart but they shouldn’t be so generically bland and manga-ed that they lose all the quirks and details that make these characters fascinating.
Furthermore, the text, sound effects, captions, and dialogue balloons change style inconsistently and consistency in the formatting is something that makes comics easier to read. For example, sometimes the dialogue balloons are oval, sometimes they are ovals on a slant, and sometimes they are large circles with the tiny text floating inside. Is this supposed to mean something? Many of the dialogue balloons are translucent and that is a really nice effect because it keeps the frames from feeling too crowded. But not all the balloons are translucent, some are solid white; is that also supposed to mean something? Some of the dialogue balloons are crowded with text, and sometimes they are large, overwhelming the panels, but holding few words: is that meaningful? Some (but not all; why?) the dialogue balloons have a squiggly black tail connecting them to their speaker: that could have been a nice, novel effect except that it makes too many of them look like sperm.
The captions, in plain boxes, and boxes with flourishes, and not in boxes, and in their own panels, well, I know it’s telling me something but I don’t get it. We have no previous guide for this sort of shifting and while it may show creativity, it doesn’t show sympathy for the reader. Most of the text has a white outline: Ouch! I haven’t seen that in years and frankly it looks amateurish.
Normally I wouldn’t do this sort of aesthetic/style analysis but in this case it is necessary because these visual choices appear to be reforming this story into a new package that rejects the previous fans, the Twihards, the happy readers of the novels and viewers of the movies. Is this a push to attract the readers who support billions of dollars in manga publications? If so, it seems like a cynical shift, not one that expands the Twilight universe but transports it to a hostile planet. Think of all the different, other styles, this could have been done in and you will realize what an opportunity was missed here.
In interviews about the graphic novel before its release, Twilight author Stephanie Meyer never stated that she pictured her characters this way but instead thanked the artist for bringing her back to her characters in their pre-publication, pre-movie form. Maybe that’s a positive thing that this manga representation gives us: a blank canvas for us to repaint out Edwards and Bellas. But I still would have preferred a more distinguished and accessible work.
These panels illustrate some of the stylistic oddities mentioned in this article: