It’s a well-known fact that I harbor no love for the Twilight saga. To put it succinctly, among a host of other reasons, I am not a fan of the teen paranormal romance genre in general, I find Stephenie Meyer’s writing abhorrent, I prefer vampires who don’t sparkle (and pasty-faced Rob Pattinson doesn’t do anything for me, either, not that I would spend good money on any of the movies), and I consider Bella Swan one of the worst characters I’ve ever read in print (Twi-hards, please don’t spam me with hate messages!).
That said, I didn’t have high hopes for the Twilight graphic novel, which my boss lent me to review. I was curious for two reasons: local bookstores are having price wars to drive the sales of the books (there are even billboards for the book!); and I wanted to see how it was adapted visually, given its base material.
I also had a chance to review Maggie Stiefwater’s Shiver, which, despite my apprehensions, turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
I won’t touch the story anymore because it is what it is (and it ain’t what it ain’t, hahaha), so I’ll focus more on this “graphic novel’s” visual aspects. Illustrated and adapted by Korean Young Kim, the Twilight Graphic Novel is an ambivalent cross between shoujo manga — or maybe more aptly, the Korean manhwa — and a graphic novel. Well, it claims it’s a graphic novel but I think I might have been more forgiving had it been marketed as shoujo instead.
Even outside of the narrative, I still have a lot of issues with this “graphic novel” (emphasis on the quotation marks), so let me warn you I’m going to be nitpicky about this and it’s not going to be pretty.
Illustration-wise, Kim is sufficiently skilled (clean lines, correct anatomy, fair shift in perspective, and the mostly black and white printing camouflages quite a lot) and I do appreciate that she’s a fan of the series, but if she wants to be taken seriously as a graphic novelist, she has got to add more edge to her work, and perhaps take a course on the visual narrative if she wants to pursue the genre.
The characters are all amateurishly pretty-fied — girl, boy, young, or old, they seem to be composed of pretty genes: perfect bone structure, pearly white smiles, shampoo commercial hair, and lean, long-legged physiques.
There also seems to be a Photoshop rampage going on through the book — backgrounds are photos run through the sketch filter on Photoshop with the foreground drawn in, anything that appears to be moving is run through the motion blur, and she simply went overboard on the use of custom brushes (overkill on the branches) and stored patterns.
And then there’s the book’s actual visual narrative. Kim attempts for variety in her panels, but she jumps rather arbitrarily from neat rectangles to a variety of geometric shapes until it spirals out of control into full montages that don’t look like they’re from the same graphic novel.
The text is utter bedlam. First of all, I don’t know whose brilliant idea it was to use a mix of — hold your breath, and drum roll please — Times New Roman (dialogue) and Monotype Corsiva (narration) for the text. Hideous! I mean, really, they could at least have sprung for a more sophisticated font, if not a professional letterer. And then the splash text — dramatic words like ‘creak’ or ‘clatter’ and ‘don’t move’ are in this graffiti-like font that’s not even very legible.
The narration is a mess; sometimes floating on top of a very cluttered background with a white outer stroke; sometimes framed in a plain white opaque rectangle; sometimes in a transparent rectangle on top of a very cluttered background, and sometimes — for the life of me I don’t know why!!! — framed in an ornate border that doesn’t serve any purpose (or does being an eyesore count?!?).
Ohh, and the speech bubbles! They make me want to cry. A mix of opaque and transparent ellipses (ellipse tool, no doubt) and an irregular polygon thrown in occasionally, they float disturbingly in between frames, muddling the visual narrative even more. Kim pops them in the most illogical places (some are so intrusive that they cover the art) that she has to draw in pointers to distinguish who’s saying what.
Obviously, the illustration was planned with very little thought to where the text would go, which really doesn’t work for a graphic novel.
All in all, I was really disappointed in this graphic novel adaptation, as I thought I could like it more than the novels, but I actually think it made my whole Twilight experience worse. I shudder at the thought that it’s only volume 1 — it stops after Edward’s “sparkling” revelation — and that there are others to follow. Essentially, this book is more fan art than graphic novel, and the Twilight fans will buy it for their collections but anyone who’s read any of the popular manga or graphic novels will be able to tell that there’s not much more than fandom riding on this book.
With Twilight’s extensive fan base (and purchasing power), I think they’d have been better off getting a big-name artist (or are there no Twilight fans among them?) for a visual adaptation that would make even those who raise their eyebrows at Twilight want to read and buy the graphic novel. Actually, even just getting a comic book editor would have helped. Kim has all the heart, for sure, but the art leaves so much more to be desired.
On a totally different note, and to my surprise, I liked Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver from Scholastic Press, also the publisher of Hunger Games (my review of Shiver came out in today’s issue of Manila Bulletin).
Grace is a 16 year old girl living in snowy Minnesota with a special affinity for a certain yellow-eyed wolf that comes and goes in the woods behind her house. When one of Grace’s schoolmates suffers an attack, the community is alerted to the threat of wolves. Grace attempts to distract the hunters to buy time for the wolves to escape, and then finds her wolf gasping for breath on her front porch… except that he’s not a wolf, but a human!
Sam is a boy stuck between two lives, living most of the year as a wolf, until the warmth of the spring allows him to return to his human form. He’s loved Grace from a distance for years now, both as a boy and as a wolf, and now that she knows his secret, he realizes there’s a fighting chance for their love to survive.
Shiver offers a fresh take on lycantrophy, detaching werewolves from the ever-popular association with full moons, silver bullets and an animosity towards vampires. In the novel, temperature triggers the transformation, and young werewolves transform as the weather gets colder, remaining in their wolf form each winter, until they become full werewolves.
Time is running out for Sam and Grace, as Sam has been more wolf than human of late. Sam must fight to stay human, while Grace must fight to keep him, and together they must face dark memories, evade the hunt for the wolves, and hold on as their future hangs in the balance.
Shiver vs. Twilight
Off the bat, there are some similarities to Twilight – small town kids, unsuspecting adults, a forbidden love affair between a teenage girl and a paranormal being, and a story driven more by romance than plot. Twilight lovers, especially Team Jacob fangirls, will surely get a thrill, but Shiver packs more punch, even for those not impressed with Twilight.
Stiefwater writes with fluid, almost musical prose, a vast improvement over Meyer’s limited vocabulary and often awkward writing.
Who would have thought I’d find one of the best passages about books in this novel? This particular passage wowed me:
“As the hours crept by, the afternoon sunlight bleached all the books on the shelves to pale, gilded versions of themselves and warmed the paper and ink inside the covers so that the smell of unread words hung in the air.”
Like Edward and Jacob from “Twilight”, Sam is the stuff teenage girls dreams appear to be made of – a guitar-playing teenage boy with longish hair, rippling muscles, a love for Rilke, and a repertoire of half a dozen songs dedicated to Grace.
Meanwhile, Grace trumps Bella in the heroine department – Grace manages not to fall over her feet every few pages, and ends up rescuing Sam more than she herself needs to be rescued. The point of view that shifts between the two characters lends a pensive touch to the novel, fleshing out the characters and making the chemistry between them more believable.
“It was six years’ worth of kissing, her lips coming to life under mine, tasting of orange and of desire,” Sam describes the first few kisses he shares with Grace. “For once in my life, I was here and nowhere else. And then I opened my eyes and it was just Grace and me — nothing anywhere but Grace and me — she pressing her lips together as though she were keeping my kiss inside her, and me, holding this moment that was as fragile as a bird in my hands.”
I also found this cute (tee hee hee):
“I stood on my toes and stole a soft kiss from his lips. “Surprise attack,” I said.
Sam leaned down and kissed me back, his mouth lingering on mine, teeth grazing my lower lip, making me shiver. “Surprise attack back.”
“Sneaky,” I said, my voice breathier than I intended.
Plot is often the pitfall of teen paranormal romances, and “Shiver” is no exception, as the novel largely focuses on the dynamics of the relationship between the young lovers. With not much conflict other than lycantrophy, the plot wears a little thin at times, but it is saved by a beautiful love story that captures the romance without the feeling that the words have been purposely engineered to make the reader gush over the protagonists.
“Shiver” sets the stage for the next two books in a paranormal trilogy that shows a lot of promise, giving “Twilight” a good run for the money as well as its captive audience. It’s still not my cup of tea, but I liked it well enough to make me want to read the next two books in the series.
Twilight graphic novel, borrowed copy, 1/5 stars
Shiver, hardcover with dustjacket, 3.5/5 stars
books 57-58 for 2010