“You’re travelling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of the imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead – your next stop, the Twilight Zone!”
Written by Rod Serling, Adaptations by Mark Kneece
I was expecting very little from The Twilight Zone books. In fact, before sitting down to them I had a few paragraphs in mind about them. How disappointed I was that Bloomsbury had gone for a safe option. How it felt rather akin to the development of the graphic novel in the 80s post Maus and Watchmen, where everyone was jumping on the bandwagon and bringing out their own original graphic novel. Most of these missed the point entirely and just recycled ideas, flooding a market with bland, direction-less books that did nothing to promote the medium. It’s oh so easy to go with the familiar and this is exactly what i thought these Twilight Zone books were going to do.
But then I sat down and read one. Then another, and another, and another. And you know what? They’re not bad at all, rather entertaining page turners in fact. I’m putting this down to Mark Kneece’s adaptations of some classic Twilight Zone stories. Kneece is a professor of Sequential Art at the Savannah College of Art and Design and has gone back to the original scripts and has worked hard to stay true to these originals, to the extent of adding in some of the deleted scenes that were cut from the filmed episodes. With roughly 80 scripts by the great Rod Serling to choose from, Kneece has cherry picked the very best of them. And because the source material is so good, these adaptations manage to get every bit of Sterling’s clever storytelling into these graphic novels.
Because I think it’s easy to forget how good some of Serling’s Twilight Zones were. He was a master of the small scale, closed cast story. Since the budgets were small and there were no special effects to really call upon, Sterling had to create his sense of unease, of fantasy, of amazement, of outright fear by playing upon some very basic human emotion. He became an absolute master of it; taking some fantastical event such as a plane jumping to and fro in time (The Odyssey of Flight 33) or using the unknown to spread fear and violence through a town without ever seeing the true cause (The Moinsters Are due On Maple Street) and then instantly narrowing his focus upon his small cast, instantly creating that sense of contained fear, that claustrophobic tension that works it’s way through all four of these books.
Art by Robert Grabe
A perfect example of the sense of containment and closed room stories Serling did so well. Take a fantastical event; the sudden and mysterious time travel of a commercial jet and then focus in on the passengers and crew as they struggle to deal with what’s happened to them. A genuinely good page turner follows.
Art by Rich Ellis
Another classic Twilight Zone premise; with a small town thrown into confusion following an unexplained series of events. What follows is a nasty little story of human weakness and the crowd mentality to turn upon anyone even slightly different. (On reading it I realised that Russell T Davies must be a fan as he used the same setup in the “Doctor trapped in a shuttle” episode Midnight).
Art by Dove McHargue
Another familiar theme, with a salesman taking a wrong turn and landing not just in his old hometown, but his own past. As he tries to make a difference to his younger self, he finds out the hard way that time is not something you can really mess with. This is credited as being a very personal story to Serling, but it rather misfires and never really surprises with everyone reading it being able to see everything coming a mile off.
Art by Rebekah Isaacs
The weakest of the four but with the best art; a tale of a shopper lost and confused in the department store who slowly realises she’s far more than your usual shopper and, as her memory comes back to her, realises that she’s far more a part of the store than she realised. It’s just a litttle too rambling though and just failed to engage me.
So hats off to both Serling, for the brilliant scripts and to Kneece, for having the sense to leave well enough alone and do a very true adaptation, keeping all that was great about the original Twilight Zone.
The art is, how shall I put it?, as vanilla as it comes really. Not that it’s particularly bad, just that in all four of the books, the art just did absolutely nothing more and nothing less than tell the story. I know that’s one of the main purposes of comic art, but art should also have a little something about it. Instead, the artists here stick to a very bland style throughout. Since all of the artists are recent graduates of the Savannah College Of Art & Design Sequential Art Department and obviously got the gig as part of the book deal with their Professor writing the books I should be able to forgive them some amateurishness I suppose. But it’s not the amateurishness that’s the problem. In fact, the books don’t look amateurish in the slightest. They look like the work of one artist, rather than four individuals. I wanted something more than blandness from these youngsters. Of the four only Rebekah Isaacs’ art on The After Hours has even the hint of something more about it. A little less concentration on getting everything to work and a little more experimentation and feeling going into the artwork would have been nice.
With this push into publishing brand name books I think Bloomsbury may be a little guilty of trying to chase the familiar market instead of continuing with the publishing strategy they had, of publishing new and original works. I hope it works out for them, I really do. Purely so that they continue their graphic novel publishing. Because in the UK that means we’ll have the chance to see something a little less familiar, a little more unusual and a little more interesting. Like Gary Northfield’s excellent Derek The Sheep (Review here). Or the various Gaiman children’s books / graphic novels they deal with. (Why I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish, Wolves in the Walls, Coraline).