Saturday, May 08, 2010

Comics: My mash-up pitch? I'm going to put vampires in "Dracula."

It's a shame that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies didn't simply start life as comic book project. The original remix novel, credited to both Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, was, for the vast majority of its fans, little more than a cover. The insides contained too much Austen for your average zombie buff and the book remains one of those strange oft purchased, rarely read hits. For most folks, it's a collectable to be displayed rather than a novel to be read.

The new graphic novel adaptation of P&P&Z actually stands a chance of being read, but it is hard to imagine anybody with such a connection to the original that they'd purchase a second version of it. If they read it, then they've pretty much exhausted the book's central gag (a gag that is exhausted once you've grasped the premise from the back cover marketing copy). If they bought it as a collectable and either abandoned the book or never tried to read it, then they don't care so much for the content that they need a cheat sheet.

Sales concerns aside, the new Tony Lee and Cliff Richards adaptation knows what its audience came for. Writer Lee removes all the Austen you can from the book, focusing far more intensely on the zombies, slaughter, ninjas, and other grab-bag fanboy elements Grahame-Smith jammed into Austen's acid-etched satire of manners.

The downside, I guess, of this is that you lose the aura of punk-ish desecration the original had. Though, honestly, how much of a loss is that for most readers? The power of provocation depends on a violation of accepted values, but was Austen's work so universally admired by fans of zombie pop that it really mattered. The mash-up's "sacrilegious" punch was always more a conceptual than felt thing.

Furthermore, the adapters haven't been able to fix any of the problems that plagued the original mash-up. The joining of Grahame-Smith's modern pop horror tropes (most notably his Buffy-ish take on Elizabeth Bennet) to the crystalline precision of Austen's characterizations is forced and the results are a cast that jerks wildly between extreme personalities for no reason other than that's how the joke works. Nor is the zombie disaster particularly connected to the larger context of the book. Unlike Grahame-Smith's second novel, which uses vampirism as metaphorical way to view the institution of slavery, the monsters here - variously called unmentionables, dreadfuls, and zombies - just show up. Their point is that they're about as far from Austen as you can get. That's it. (In all fairness, this is hardly a unique problem to Grahame-Smith's work; nearly every zombie-in-X book I've ever read basically rewards you for knowing as little as possible about the period in question.)

The upside is the you get a fast-moving period adventure piece that is lightly entertaining, especially if you have no interest in Pride and Prejudice. Even during the conversational stretches, Lee and Richards have the advantage of being able to pack the visuals with allusions to the book's zombie crisis, giving zombie fans something to ponder while the characters re-regurgitate lines from the original-original novel. Further, Richards' art is pleasingly reminiscent of classic heroic cartooning from the likes of Alex Toth. His depictions of the Bennet sisters are genuinely lovely without lapsing into the absurd curves of good girl art.

All in all, not a bad deal for somebody looking for a quick zombie fix, and it comes without all the effort of actually reading a classic. The book's published by Quirk and it's going to set you back about $15.


Pauline said...

"...nearly ever zombie-in-X book I've ever read basically rewards you for knowing as little as possible about the period in question."

Exactly the reason I cant get through two sentences of the *inset explative of your choice*. Doubtless they've a place, but it's a surety they're not hooking anybody into becoming an historical literature "fan", if such there is.

David Lee Ingersoll said...

I probably would have gotten farther in P&P&Z if I hadn't already sat through the BBC miniseries 3 times with my wife (and the new movie once in the theatre). The zombies just didn't change the story enough for me to have any sense of suspense.