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Friday April 5, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
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by hari kesuma
Hauntingly life-affirming, this two-in-one graphic novel is a unique storytelling experiment not to be missed.
The Red Diary/The Re[a]d Diary
Writers: Teddy Kristiansen, Steven T. Seagle
Artist: Teddy Kristiansen
B-SIDES and remixes – how antiquated! Then again, to some, comics and graphic novels are prehistoric. In that sense, The Red Diary/The Re[a]d Diary – a flipbook experiment by Teddy Kristiansen and Steven T. Seagle – is a perfect fit.
This is not the first time Kristiansen and Seagle have collaborated. They were also behind the critically acclaimed Vertigo graphic novel It’s A Bird, for which Kristiansen won an Eisner Award in 2005 (for best interior painter/multimedia artist).
Published by Image Comics, The Red Diary/The Re[a]d Diary began life as Kristiansen’s Le Carnet Rouge, which was published in French back in 2007.
Seagle fell in love with the Danish comic book artist’s artwork but – as he justifies in a shaggy dog story – a mere translation was not sufficient to justify a reprint in English, so he decided to do a “remix” of the original story instead.
This led him to use a technique he apparently invented when he was in college: “transliteration” – a translation method based not on meaning but on spelling and sound.
For instance, if we try Seagle’s technique on Bahasa Malaysia: “gila” will not be converted to “crazy” when transliterated, but substituted with words close to it in spelling and sound, such as “killer” or “gill”.
Yeah, it was a stretch for me too. Theoretically, this is an interesting concept, no doubt, but can you imagine transliterating War And Peace?
Seagle follows this whimsical method throughout the book, sticking strictly to the frame already provided by the illustration and word bubbles to reconstruct the narrative.
As a result, we get two completely different stories with the same visuals and characters, each going off on its own tangent.
Don’t sweat it if this linguistics experiment doesn’t seem to do it for you. Just dive straight into the yarns, which are intriguing page-turners.
Kristiansen’s original tale (The Red Diary) revolves around a biographer called William Ackroyd.
While piecing together the biography of a poet, he comes across a red diary belonging to the poet’s old friend, an aspiring painter living in Paris in the early 1900s, just before World War I broke out.
Instead of his assigned subject, Ackroyd gets caught up in the painter’s story, which leads him to more diaries, this time coded in blue and green to mark the different phases of his existence.
The mystery is riveting and like our biographer, you can’t wait to peel away the layers of secrets shrouding the painter’s life.
Seagle’s version (The Re[a]d Diary) is a bit more linear, with a completely different spin, based on the same artwork. In his take, William Ackroyd is the painter, but owing to his battle injuries, is unable to remember his life in Paris before the war, or how he ended up on the front line.
The diaries are the key to unlock his memories and, as he delves into his past, he learns more than he wants to about the man he used to be and what made him the man he is now.
As insolent as it may sound, I must admit that I am drawn more to Seagle’s reworked copy, maybe because the journey of discovery is more personal and poignant there. The original, while in no way inferior, reads more like a whodunnit mystery with a plot that is unfortunately let down by a slightly anticlimactic resolution.
The different paths that the writers take interestingly lead them to the same point – the question of identity. In Kristiansen’s tale, the artist who tries to create a new life by taking on a new identity, realises that he simply cannot escape his past.
In contrast, Seagle’s artist cannot come to terms with his present self without embracing his past identity.
Significantly, the re-dialoguing exercise works, thanks to Kristiansen’s art, which manages to catch even the subtlest of details. With war, a looming shadow, dull, dark colours carry the sombre tone from beginning to end. The bleakness is broken mainly by dashes of red, which gives a new meaning to “blood tinged”.
Essentially two books in one, this is certainly a worthy purchase, and the artwork alone is worth experiencing more than once. Hauntingly life-affirming, The Red Diary/The Re(a)d Diary is a unique storytelling experiment not to be missed.
■ The Red Diary/The Re(a)d Diary is available at Kinokuniya Bookstore, Suria KLCC.
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