I’m a fan of giant, conceptual projects that pay tribute to other projects: Maximum Fantastic Four (which blew up each panel of 1961’s Fantastic Four #1 to a page-sized image), Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon's Novel Gravity's Rainbow (which is exactly what it sounds like), and the showing of Psycho that was slowed down to show over 24 hours. So I’m likewise intrigued by a comic book’s attempt to include the full text of a novel. Even the 35 hours that comprise the Lord of the Rings films left out Tom Bombadil.
While comic books have never been a conscious attempt to omit descriptive text from a story, it’s generally accepted that the images in a graphic novel will handle a vast majority of the verbs and adjectives. Rather than attempt to abridge Philip K. Dick’s critical text, Tony Parker illustrates every lexical nuance of the story in total deference to the author. While dialogue falls naturally into a comic format, the descriptive passages are also included in square boxes that pepper the pages. “She smiled innocuously” is paired with an image of someone smiling innocuously, and speech bubbles are often preceded or finalized with a block of “he said” text. While the comic format renders these things completely vestigial, this project is obviously more about the art of the original words, in a kind of meta-text homage.
It’s also unusual to see how these “issues” are divided up, as well as the divisions that define the larger collections. Since the original text wasn’t written in 22-page story arcs (as are most comic scripts), the pacing is more akin to the slow build of a novel, rather than a serial that delivers cliffhangers with every segment. An entire issue might deal with a scene of two people in bed, which might not stand up to reader scrutiny were this any other (non-pornographic) comic. Everything about this is nontraditional, and it’s a very noble experiment.
The art that accompanies this series doesn’t do a whole lot to enhance its presence. It’s flat and serviceable and performs the function of illustrating Philip K. Dick’s novel without overpowering it, more or less hovering dimly in the background while the text continues to dominate the work. The fact that it’s a non-entity seems like a further tribute to maintaining the sanctity of the text, though I admit that it would be exciting to see the artwork really do something great.
Overall, this holds up as a very broad experiment with a lot of creative merit. With Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? being assigned on many local high school reading lists, the material in here isn’t too suggestive in any way. Even when robotic nudity occurs, it’s obscured by convenient blankets and shadows, so this shouldn’t upset any readers --- and for the first time, we can say that the comic adaptation is absolutely as good as the book.
Reviewed by Collin David on August 30, 2011
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Vol. 5