In which we break from the big ol’ book reading and read some comics.
I came late into comic books. Most of what I knew about comic book characters came from watching the movies and reading a lot of Wikipedia articles on the subject. I started reading manga when I was a senior in high school, but aside from the odd glance at work, I never really sat down and read a lot of Western comics until the last year. I wouldn’t go and say that I’m a comics geek (the majority of my comics shelf is largely Neil Gaiman) but I do have titles that I like and enjoy.
Recently, I’ve picked up more graphic novel adaptations. I’m not a person who sits here and rages about how “books should never be adapted into a visual medium! It never replaces what I’ve pictured mentally!” (Unless they really cock it up—then my rage is mighty.) There are actually some really cool adaptations floating around, and with the right artist and script, there’s been at least one or two series I’ve rebought purely for the “Pictures are PRETTY!”
(Tangenting again, but same goes for movies. I actually don’t like exact adaptations, and I will give a movie a free pass if it works better. Going off Stephen King, tell me if there is one person who does not hear Morgan Freeman when they read “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.” You can’t unhear it, can you?)
The first I had heard of Marvel’s adaptation of The Stand was going into work one day and browsing our meager comics section. We had gotten in a copy of the first volume, Captain Trips and I flipped through it, mostly to see how it looked and where volume 1 ended. And I thought that it was okay. I really wasn’t going to jump into it, and it was more out of curiosity than being a Stephen King fan. This was in 2009, a few months after the first hardcover had been released. When I went for my comics run this last month, I noticed that the last issue of the whole adaptation had been released. And as I was looking for something to do for an intermission, I thought, “Oh, why not.”
For those of you unfamiliar with the comic adaptation (or never knew about it), it was adapted by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and drawn and colored by Mike Perkins and Laura Martin respectively. (And honestly, if you’re more familiar with any of their work, please tell me. I can name most of the big comics names, but there’s a lot I tend to go “Who?” at.) I picked up the first two volumes: Captain Trips, which roughly covers the first half of book 1 (Campion’s break from the Project Blue facility to the introduction of Randall Flagg and the death of General Starkey); and American Nightmares, which ends the first third of the book (Stu meeting up with Harold and Frannie).
I actually like a lot of the artwork in both volumes. The characters are more or less how I pictured them. I absolutely love the little Easter eggs Mike Perkins throws in—a lot of very ominous scenes are punctuated with the image of a crow observing the action, which I think helps introduce the more supernatural element early on.
The other good thing is that you do go through a lot of the story very quickly. As I mentioned, the first two volumes cover the first third of the book itself. What also helps is that Aguirre-Sacasa does move around some chapters. One of the best examples is Chapter Five of Captain Trips, where the introduction of Randall Flagg is mashed together with the growing panic of fear and panic. (Chapters 22 and 26 respectively in the book proper.) One of the good things I’ve liked about visual mediums, especially for something like The Stand is that there’s no need for a lot of expository description; it’s presented to you right there in the few seconds you can look at an establishing shot. The only thing that I didn’t like is that Aguirre-Sacasa does lift a lot of the narration—not that he didn’t write his own script, but that I felt that the narration felt too repetitive. There’s just some times that I didn’t need to read the details, and just see what’s happening on the page. It’s more apparent in Captain Trips, as it’s not as prevalent in American Nightmares.
Would I recommend this to a Stephen King fan? Well, it depends. I’m probably not going to pick up the other volumes (Goodreads lists 6 volumes thus far; as I mentioned, the last issue came out sometime last month), because while I do like the adaptation, it’s nothing something I feel like I must absolutely own. I thought the art-style was good, but nothing truly spectacular. (And oh God, some of the close-ups were worse than the illustrations in my copy. I mean, there’s only the one that really wigs me out, but man. Mike Perkins goes out of his way for the disgusting factor. ) I will say it’s worth checking out if you already haven’t and if you are a big fan of The Stand, it might really interest you. It’s really on a case-by-case basis. I’m not too wild on it, but I didn’t think it was bad.