Neil Gaiman’s ghostly creations get the graphic novel treatment


To celebrate Halloween, we look at two very different stories by Neil Gaiman that both deal with the spooky world of ghosts.

The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel: Volume 1
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Adapted by: P. Craig Russell
Illustrators: Kevin Nowlan, P. Craig Russell, Tony Harris, Scott Hampton, Galen Showman, Jill Thompson, Stephen B. Scott
Publisher: HarperCollins

GRAPHIC novel adaptations of beloved books are tricky creatures: hew too close to the original, and they risk becoming boring; veer too far and they risk losing sight of the very story that caught readers’ imaginations to begin with. Not to mention having to overcome the (sometimes well-founded) scepticism that its very existence may simply be a cashing-in exercise.

When I heard that Neil Gaiman’s wonderful The Graveyard Book (2008), winner of the Carnegie Medal, Newbery Medal, the Hugo Award For Best Novel and Locus Award For Best Young Adult Book, was being adapted into a graphic novel, I felt a chill run down my spine that had little to do with its macabre subject. The children’s fantasy book is, in my opinion, near perfect, and I feared that an adaptation would merely be a pretty but superficial reprise.

A few pages into the graphic novel, however, I was happy to lay my doubts to rest. The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel is as close to a perfect adaptation of Gaiman’s story as one could hope for, and one that offers its own unique and delightful pleasures too.

In living colour: The rich, warm hues of the human world fill the panels when Bod meets a living girl named Scarlett in The Graveyard Book.

A large part of the credit goes to P. Craig Russell, who has taken Gaiman’s prose and distilled it to its most essential and effective, letting the stellar visuals tell the rest (Russell has previously adapted Gaiman’s work with Coraline and Sandman: The Dream Hunters).

The story is both straightforward and nuanced. A toddler’s family is murdered by a mysterious man named Jack. The child, however, manages to survive by crawling into a graveyard, where he is adopted by a kind pair of ghosts, Mr and Mrs Owens, who christen him Nobody Owens (Bod for short).

Granted the Freedom of the Graveyard, Bod grows up learning the way of the ghosts, with the enigmatic Silas as his guardian. We are taken along on Bod’s adventures as he grows up, and eventually confronts the mystery of his parents’ murder.

Russell makes some bold decisions in the process of adapting. For instance, The Graveyard Book is known for its arresting opening line: “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” The graphic novel, however, does away with this line completely, and begins instead with a stark, full-page illustration of a gloved hand holding a bloodied knife – equally chilling in its own way.


Russell also chooses to bring a favourite character, Bod’s guardian Silas, to cold, vivid life, and it is an excellent decision. The novel only alluded to Silas’ true nature, but in these pages, he is drawn in full-blown classic vampire mode, which only makes his beautifully-realised expressions all the more affecting.

And with each chapter drawn by a different illustrator, they is no shortage of images to draw you in, with each artist’s style perfectly matching the respective story arc. Russell’s own chapter, The New Friend, where Bod befriends a girl named Scarlett, is gorgeous in its realism and the contrast of the rich, warm colours of the human world against the pallid hues of the graveyard’s night.

The Hounds Of God, by Tony Harris and Scott Hampton, switches from classical to surrealist illustrations to tell of a sinister land Bod finds himself in. Danse Macabre by Jill Thompson, meanwhile, could well be one of the most beautiful chapters, with its richly-detailed pictures of one magical night where ghosts and humans dance together.

The graphic novel ends on a tantalising note about Jack, and with the fantastic work put into this first volume, I will be waiting for the second with bated breath.

Review copy courtesy of MPH.

Dead Boy Detectives Vol. 1: Schoolboy Terrors
Writer: Toby Litt
Illustrator: Mark Buckingham
Publisher: Vertigo

THE Dead Boy Detectives first made their appearance in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman #25 (1991), and have seen brief resurrections in various Vertigo storylines and publications over the years. Earlier this year, the ghostly gumshoes finally got their own monthly series, the first six issues of which are collected in this volume.

It is an idea with huge potential: Edwin and Charles are the ghosts of two dead schoolboys, who investigate supernatural happenings around the world. While separated by time – Edwin died in 1916, Charles in 1990 – they both have their place of death in common, their boarding school. After their deaths, both choose not to go into the afterlife, and instead stay on in this world to have adventures together.

The main problem with Schoolboy Terrors (written by Toby Litt) is that, instead of re-introducing these fascinating characters within their own series, it presumes that readers are already familiar with their backstories. Jumping right into the middle of their adventures, the stories can be quite confusing, and often downright frustrating. Add to this the fact that the volume includes stories that are either standalone or continuing storylines, and it becomes really difficult for all but the most die-hard fans of these characters to follow the plot.

The artwork in Dead Boy Detectives strikes a perfect balance between old-school comic-book aesthetics and modern realism.

Which is a pity, because the series has a lot going for it. The illustrations by Mark Buckingham, for one, are fantastic, a perfect balance between old-school comic-book aesthetics and modern realism.

Edwin and Charles are great characters, distictly characterised and yet entertaining as a team with their back-and-forth banter. I particularly enjoyed their separate diary entries, with Todd Klein’s superb lettering, which highlights each boy’s personality and the era he lived in.

Added to the mix is Crystal, who makes her first appearance in The New Girl, and is an interesting modern-day foil to the boys. A “special” girl who can somehow see Edwin and Charles, she starts off as someone they try to help and ends up a part of their group.

These elements are enough, for now, to keep me interested in Dead Boy Detectives a while longer; perhaps, with the introduction of Crystal, the series is on its way to creating its own identity without having to stay so rooted to its origins.

Review copy courtesy of Kinokuniya.

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