Jack Vance and the Fine Art of Graphic Novels

Two pieces of news crossed my RSS feed in the last twenty-four hours that caught my interest. Both involve science fiction authors of high regard and comic books. Now, this combination isn’t all that new. Orson Scott Card wrote Ultimate Iron Man for Marvel Comics a few years ago, and I was introduced to Neil Gaiman through his Sandman series from Vertigo Comics. Michael Moorcock has tried to publish Elric in comics form several times.

These two appear to be new to the comics scene, though.

First off, China Mieville will be writing a new comic series. Now, this guy is known for his big concept science fiction. I’d expect something similar in his comic writing… but, no, he’s going to be writing a comic entitled Dial H. It’s a superhero series:

But now British fantasy horror writer and leftwing activist China Miéville is to write his first ongoing comic, one of six new DC New 52 titles launching in May. Dial H, based on the sixties DC comic Dial H for Hero. Art by Wolverine‘s Mateus Santoluoco and covers (as above) by Brian Bolland.

The original comic saw people able to dial up super powers for a limited amount of time, a different power and identity each time.

DC have described the series as “a bold new take on a cult classic concept about the psychological effects on an everyman who accidentally gains powers to become a hero.”

source, formatting in the original

It seems… I don’t know. A waste of talent? It would be like asking Charles Dickens to write Hallmark greeting cards. Now, I’m a comic reader. I’ve got a large stack of superhero comics. Right now I’m reading Spider-Man: The Complete Clone Saga Epic Volume 4, which is not exactly the highest form of art. But… I don’t know. It just struck me as odd.

The other piece of news which will interest a certain other writer on this blog is the adaptation of a Jack Vance classic. First Second Publishing will release The Moon Moth. I’ve not read a lot of Vance, so I’ll simply copy-paste the story description:

A fascinating blend of murder mystery and high-concept science fiction, The Moon Moth has long been hailed as one of Jack Vance’s greatest works. And now this intricately crafted tale is available in glorious full color as a new graphic novel. Edwer Thissell, the new consul from Earth to the planet Sirene, is having all kinds of trouble adjusting to the local culture. The Sirenese cover their faces with exquisitely crafted masks that indicate their social status. Thissell, a bumbling foreigner, wears a mask of very low status: the Moon Moth. Shortly after Thissell arrives on Sirene, he finds himself embroiled in a an unsolved murder case made all the more mysterious by the fact that since everyone must always wear a mask, you can never be sure who you’re dealing with.

Source

I love the quote on the cover, though:

Read this graphic novel. If it leaves you marveling… you will have gained some idea of Vance’s stature as a writer, a thing I cannot possibly convey.

The graphic novel, apparently, is designed… to get people to read Jack Vance.

I’ve not read the original story. I have no idea if it lends itself to a graphic representation. Some stories do that well; others don’t.

So, there’s the news. Jack Vance and China Mieville have joined the comics scene… one by writing superhero comics, another by having an adaptation of an earlier work. I’ll be interested to see reactions from both the strictly prose science fiction community as well as reactions from the hardcore comics community.

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5 thoughts on “Jack Vance and the Fine Art of Graphic Novels

  1. It should be noted that this is not the first of Jack Vance’s work to be adapted into comic book form, but it is the first time it’s happened in America. In France le Cycle de la Tschai (adapted from The Planet of Adventure series) was the first Vance comic book adaptation, and since then the same artist did a number of other adaptations of shorter Vance stories. Of course, I don’t expect you to be savvy on the French comic book scene, so no worries.

    But thanks for the news, I’m very excited about that! The Moon Moth is really a fascinating story. I think it’s a good choice for an adaptation, because all the masks will make for some really interesting imagery.

    1. I stand corrected! It still seems like an odd match-up to me, but if he likes it and wants to do it — the problem I have is I’ve read far too many of these interviews from various people involved in the artistic process, from writers to artists to actors. And they generally always sound excited. I think Mieville’s from enough outside the “normal” comic spectrum, though, that his comments can really be taken at face value — he wants to do this, he thinks it’s fun, and it will probably be a fun ride.

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