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15 November, 2008

Review: 'Neverwhere' (graphic novel) (Neil Gaiman/Mike Carey & Glenn Fabry, 2006)

I only have a very vague memory of watching 'Neverwhere' when it was first shown on TV in 1996, but I recall thinking its concepts and story far exceeded the (usual) low-budget BBC execution of it.

I didn't know it at the time, of course, but that was my first exposure to Neil Gaiman's work. Years later, I read 'The Sandman', having frequently heard it recommended. No, I didn't read it, I devoured it; the attraction didn't diminish to mere 'reading' until at least the third time. In the considerable wake of that, I discovered that Gaiman had been responsible for 'Neverwhere' (with Lenny Henry, of all people), and that he'd subsequently released it as a novel, which I loved too.

Hence, I was excited to see that there's a graphic novel adaptation of 'Neverwhere' – and disappointed. As I've implied, I have a certain emotional investment in Gaiman's Londons (yes, plural), and have well-defined visualisations of the characters. I was prepared to be challenged, but not this much: the characters look nothing like I'd expected and, more importantly, nothing like Gaiman described.

The linked image shows Croup, Door & Vandemar, L->R.

I'd expected Croup & Vandemar to be sinister yet anonymous; I'd imagined neat, if seedy, black suits. I hadn't expected a frock coat and top hat, nor a Fifties quiff and sideburns. Gaiman describes them as like "a fox and a wolf", not a rat and a bear, and specifically as wearing greasy black suits of a modern cut.
From the TV series, not to mention Lenny Henry's involvement, I'd expected the Marquis de Carabas to be black (Gaiman merely specifies he has extremely dark skin), but not literally, inhumanly so, a Regency dandy with long white hair and only eyes & mouth visible in an utterly black face.
Worst, I just don't see the need to depict Door as a lingerie model. Gaiman describes her as a girl (i.e. a teenager) in multiple layers of bulky clothes, which is somewhat contradicted in Fabry's version by legs bare but for suspendered stockings (miraculously unladdered). Somehow Gaiman fails to mention a gravity-defying cleavage, too. I'd have thought that rather memorable.

That's rather the point. Fabry's highly-detailed renditions are far more visually distinctive, even dramatic, than Gaiman's and in their own way are equally valid creations (Maybe. Croup & Vandemar's squalid ordinariness is part of their horror, and I just don't see the necessity of 'sexing-up' Door.). As Mike Carey says in the introduction, changes had to be made in adapting the novel to graphical format, in terms of narrative and subplots, and one shouldn't expect 'the comic of the book'. That's entirely valid (though it's a pity to lose Gaiman's prose), but I can't help thinking this deviates a bit too far from the original, even contradicting it.

Oh; and the Americanization: "favor", indeed, and a US phone number on the 'missing' poster. Tsk. It's odd, as there are several very British cultural references in the backgrounds; even a specific brand of teabags in one panel.

I think I recommended the graphic novel, but very, very emphatically not as an alternative to the book, which I recommend far more and which should be read and absorbed first, before the alternative visualisations intrude into the richer world inside one's own imagination.

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