13 November 2007

Shifting Perspective: Alex Rider Goes Comics

The Stormbreaker graphic novel was adapted from the movie, so some of its differences from Anthony Horowitz's original novel might have been influenced by the conventions of commercial films rather than the conventions of comics.

For instance, the villain has become a tall, muscular American rather than a short, stunted Lebanese or Egyptian. I'd think that would make the villain more formidable, but Horowitz has lamented the change.

However, I also think movies and modern comics have a lot in common: combining images and words, developing along parallel tracks about a hundred years ago, and using some of the same narrative strategies.

The novel begins with young Alex overhearing the news of his uncle's death one night. It throws us into his experience of loss, and ties us to his point of view. Several chapters later, the narration jumps out of Alex's perspective for the first time. We then become privy to a brief conversation among a spy agency's leaders about him, a conversation that Alex can't hear.

In contrast, the graphic novel has an early scene of Alex speaking to his uncle by cell phone. Uncle Ian says nothing to Alex about what he's doing, but the comics panels show us: he's involved in a deadly car (and, if I recall right, helicopter) chase. This scene might have been added to the screenplay for a couple of reasons. It would open the movie with an action scene, and would give us more of a sense of Uncle Ian as a character, and thus Alex's loss, than the book does.

Regardless of that scene's genesis, I think it highlights something that comics (and movies) do more often than novels: shifting around among different characters' points of view. Comics routinely show us what villains are up to, spell out several characters' thoughts, and show us what the protagonist can't see. Some novels still do that, of course, but over the past century American novelists have been much more interested in creating a tight focus and maintaining a consistent point of view.

Perhaps comics, with their visual dimension, make it easier for readers to sort out multiple points of view than a prose novel can. One page of typeset prose looks much like another, after all, but a picture of the Green Goblin in his workshop is clearly, immediately distinguishable from a picture of Spider-Man wondering where the Green Goblin is.

No comments: