“Twilight: The Graphic Novel: Volume One”
Stephanie Meyer and Young Kim, 2010
It sounded perfect, but “Twilight” disappointed again.
Yen Press released part one in a two-part graphic novelization of the first book in the bestselling “Twilight Saga” last month. Comics and “Twilight” really did seem like a perfect fit. Pre-releases of the cover art featuring protagonist Bella Swan lounging on the grass during the infamous meadow scene looked remarkably like an old-school shoujo (girls) manga heroine. The image gives hope that everything that made “Twilight” horrible as a novel. The poor characterization, the lack of a coherent plot, the clunky prose, super-corny dialogue and endless descriptions of Edward’s inhuman beauty — would be instantly remedied by a shameless mangafication of the 700-page supernatural romance, where characterization is normally shallow, plot is optional, corny dialogue is required and beautiful young men are always surrounded by sparkles.
“Twilight’s” appeal for many a female fan is Bella’s self-indulgent narration, which was mostly cut for the graphic novel version. Visuals convey all of Bella’s thoughts, except those select few that move the plot, and it exposes the astounding extent to which Bella is a cipher is for the average teenage girl. Without Bella’s exposition telling you how she perceives herself, she presents as an incredibly flat character whose only interests are Edward and quietly hating Forks, with none of the underlying pathology that made her compelling in spite of herself. Where even the most brain-dead manga heroine has a defining hobby or skill, Bella has nothing but shyness and a streak of self-loathing left completely undeveloped by either author. Meyer got the reader to “care” about the original Bella by leaving room in her character for the self-insertion of the reader, becoming Edward’s girlfriend by proxy. Because Bella is presented as a distinct character in this version, the seductive illusion of the original falls apart.
Losing the original narration thankfully allowed for the omission of umpteen flowery descriptions of Edwards “liquid topaz” eyes and “marble” skin, since Ed is right there brooding, smirking and sparkling for your viewing pleasure, but ultimately Edward’s characterization is also hurt by the change in narrative voice. In the original book, Bella makes Edward out to be some kind of god; Outside Bella’s love-struck point of view, Edward comes off as an insecure, manipulative creeper.
Young Kim, the Korean artist commissioned to adapt the book, created wonderful illustrations of the book’s characters, who all look more like Meyer’s descriptions than their movie counterparts. The actual art style is closer to Korean game illustration than the sparkly 80s shoujo insanity I was praying for; eyes are their normal size and although the characters are all crazy-pretty, their bodies are essentially proportional.
Color is integrated into several pages, especially reds, greens and yellows, and Kim uses them to highlight the difference between Bella in monotone Forks and Bella being romantic with Edward. Some parts of the paneling, backgrounds, shading and expressions remain reminiscent of manga conventions. The panels are varied in size and shape and easy to follow. There are instances of the artist filling the frames with dots or crosshatching to mimic traditional screen-tones. When Mike asks Bella to the school dance, he’s smiling with his eyes closed, one hand behind his shoulder, a subtle “sweatdrop” indicating embarrassment on his brow.
Unfortunately, that’s about all Kim illustrated. The backgrounds are very obvious photomontages utilizing common Photoshop filters and thick outlines in a half hearted attempt to blend the hand drawn characters into their environment. It does not work and looks lazy. It became a game to “find the Photoshop” in the panels, which seemed to include anything that wasn’t a character such as cars, water bottles, food and perhaps even Rosalie’s jeans.
The worst of this Photoshop nightmare is found in the lettering. Someone — not sure who — thought it would be a good idea to put word bubbles over the characters faces and fill in the text with Times New Roman. The lettering is distracting and a big “no no” in a medium where images rather than text are responsible for developing the narrative.
A plus for “Twilight” fans and collectors is the book itself, which is a sturdy hardcover with a lovely dust jacket and thick, glossy pages. The cover art looks like it’s half of a larger painting, the other of which will almost certainly feature Edward gazing back at Bella on the second book of the two-part “Twilight” comic.
This book will probably only appeal to die-hard “Twilight” fans and young, female mangaphiles who have never heard of Tezuka or Hagio. Meyer and Kim put a lot of work into “Twilight: The Graphic Novel.” Unfortunately, it’s a misstep. The story would have been better served embracing the kitsch of manga clichés and by keeping the art consistent. Twilight actually deserved better than it got.