10 January 2007

Making Excuses for Abadazad

J. M. DeMatteis and Mike Ploog launched Abadazad as a comic book, and then turned it into a hybrid of novel and graphic novel--small trim size and paper-over-board covers, like the Lemony Snicket series, but full-color printing and a variety of page designs inside.

That shift seems to have prompted the DeMatteis and Ploog to explain how all the book's elements came together. A somewhat hysterical note to readers from the narrator (well, she's fourteen, so of course she's hysterical) says:

...things are going to get a LOT strange. Like with the pictures. I'm not talking about the old photos I've taped into the book...y'know, the ones of me with my brother or mother or Gramma Esther. I'm talking about those OTHER pictures. THE ONES NOBODY EVER TOOK. THE ONES THAT JUST APPEARED THERE LIKE MAGIC.

You think THAT'S STRANGE? Wait.

You're gonna see--REALLY SEE--a lot of the things that happened to me. Kind of like watching a TV show or a movie of my life jumping across the pages. And not JUST the stuff that happened to me. Every once in a while you're gonna see stuff that happened when I WASN'T EVEN AROUND.
In other words, Abadazad is going to tell its story as comic books have been doing for decades. Comics always include pictures, of course. They also commonly shift scenes, like movies, to reveal things that their heroes don't know. Thought balloons let comics creators reveal the thinking of several characters at once (not that they always use that technique). Folks who read comics are so used to those conventions that we don't really notice them.

Of course, novelists could do the same things, too, and many have done so. But since Henry James or so, our fiction has become more and more narrow in point of view. That trend is especially strong when it comes to stories narrated by one character--we readers are never supposed to read anything that the narrator doesn't know. It's possible for a narrator to remark on things he or she learned later, but that shifts what I call the perspective of the story and might give away upcoming events.

I doubt Abadazad's apologia is really necessary. It just isn't that "STRANGE" for young readers to find pictures on a page, or to see comic books revealing what the villain is up to. And the claims raise as many questions as they answer. Why, for instance, do the "photos" Kate has pasted into her diary appear in exactly the same style as those magically appearing "drawings"? Why does her diary never describe the events we see in the magically appearing comics pages? If they're independent narratives, they should overlap. Those questions wouldn't occur to most comics readers without the authors' attempts to explain the hybrid form.

If characters and story are compelling enough, I think, most readers accept the form(s) in which they come to us. And if we see more comics/novel hybrids like Abadazad and Agent Boo, then readers will get even more used to that form's conventions and possibilities.

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