Saturday, September 03, 2011

Review of La Guerre des Mondes (The War of the Worlds) adapted by Philippe Chanoinat & Alain Zibel. (Adonis, 2007)

As a long time fan of French comic book art I was thrilled to discover that the publisher Adonis had produced a graphic novel version of The War of the Worlds. Comic book art is perfectly respectable in France, with vast numbers of titles produced to extremely high standards, and this beautifully printed hardback is no exception, boasting 45 pages of well executed and colourful art in a very sturdy feeling A4 format. I should make clear at this stage that my French extends not much further than Bonjour and Au Revoir, so in terms of the script, I have relied for this review on my knowledge of the story and a very handy app called Google Goggles, which appears to do a reasonably good job of translation.

So let’s start with the art by Alain Zibel, which without fear of error, I can say is amongst the best I have ever seen in service of the subject.  Zibel really seems to get the story, evoking the sense of calm before the storm that so strongly figures in the original H.G. Wells novel, and keeping things clean and simple, most notably in his depiction of the Martian cylinders. Faced with Wells’ description of the Martian spacecraft as “cylinders”, artists in this situation often can’t resist some embellishment;  pods and engines and other such paraphernalia, but Zibel has held his nerve and his cylinder is exactly that, plain and unadorned, and all the more effective for it. He gets the sense of scale right as well, so in our first view of the cylinder crashed to earth and in a panel depicting the sightseeing crowds thronging Horshell Common, the sheer size and raw power of the object is clear to behold.

You may recall that I recently reviewed another War of the Worlds graphic novel, that time from the Indian publisher Campfire, and took issue with the apparent lack of accuracy in the depiction of uniforms and period clothing in general. Clearly I have made a rod for my back, because prior to starting this review, I found myself once again researching British Army uniforms, but here at least I believe I can state that the artist has acquitted himself well. I won’t swear to it, but this looks and feels like an authentic late 19th century English world. In my review of the Campfire version of the story, I struggled to find a word to describe my misgivings, but I think it’s ambience, and in this case Zibel has delivered it with aplomb. The only thing I’m not entirely keen about are the Tripods, which are perhaps a little too plain and whose legs look oddly articulated.

So what can I say about the script. It seems, bearing in mind the limitations admitted above, that Philippe Chanoinat deserves credit for a job well done. The story appears to have been followed reasonably faithfully.  There is, as is often the case with these adaptations, the usual irritating erasure of the narrator’s brother and the Thunderchild sequence, (understandable I must concede for space and pacing considerations) though we are also missing the narrator’s second encounter with the artillery man, which is a shame.  Chanoinat does however give substantive prominence to the portion of the story detailing the burial of the narrator and a clergyman beneath a Martian cylinder, which appears here to work well.

What is also impressive about this volume is the quantity and apparent quality of the supplemental material. The book boasts more than a dozen pages of biographical and historical context to the story, which (language deficiencies again acknowledged) look to be far better than equivalent efforts in other publications. There are extracts from the original novel, in both French and English, plus a glossary in French and a translation table of commonly used words in 6 different languages!  Add to this a CD with the entire novel in English and French, and an audio book of The War of the Worlds in French, and it all adds up to a very useful looking package of material. Alas my daughter has just dropped French in favour of German at school, but I would certainly highly recommend this book to any parent whose children are studying French. On that note, you should also bear in mind that this book is one of a great many from the same publisher, adapting any number of famous novels, all of which I assume fit the same excellent general template.

So in summary, this is a very handsome volume, certainly scoring highly when compared to other graphic adaptations of The War of the Worlds, and even if like me, your French is an embarrassment, I would not necessarily say you should discount it as a purchase. The art alone is worth the cover price and for aficionados of The War of the Worlds, I have no hesitation in saying this would make a very worthwhile addition to your collection.