29 September 2011

A Tantalizing New Perspective on Tantalize

A lot of successful novels are being turned into comics these days—usually straightforward adaptations. Sometimes that change amplifies the book’s strengths (e.g., Artemis Fowl), and sometimes it dampens them (Bartimaeus, as I’ll discuss one day). Sometimes a comics spin-off is a slipshod effort to milk all the cash possible from a franchise.

The graphic adaptation of Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Tantalize brings something new to the table. For this new format, Smith retold her novel, narrated by a teen-aged girl, from the point of view of a different character, that girl’s half-werewolf boyfriend—hence the comic’s subtitle, Kieren’s Story.

As Smith told Newsarama:

I wanted to give something new to the existing reader—new scenes, a new perspective. I also strongly felt that Kieren had a story to tell. In fact, he was the original protagonist in the earliest drafts of the prose novel.
In another interview, Smith admitted, “I switched to Quincie’s [point of view] in large part because I was intimidated by the idea of writing a novel from a male perspective.”

Smith scripted her adaptation like a screenplay, which provided an extra challenge, and extra freedom, for Ming Doyle, the artist whom the publisher brought onto the project. Comics scripts usually specify the page turns and number of panels per page, and thus the pacing of a story. Doyle had the job of breaking down Smith’s continuous action into those graphic units. She told Smith in an interview:
By reading the “stage directions,” there was a lot of room for me to flesh out actions in my head and decide how to arrange each page, instead of being bound by the more standard comic book script format of drawing the actions as they are described panel by panel. . . .

After reading the script through once to get a feel for the major story beats, I then went back and reread it with an eye for pacing, marking off where I thought each page should start and begin.

Making sure I had the exact right number of pages for publication was a little tricky, but once that was all figured out, I dived right in to digitally thumb-nailing the entire graphic novel, composing panels and distributing text and dialogue so I could see how the finished product might look.
I understand that Smith cut back on dialogue as she saw what Doyle was expressing in the art, and how much of that art a big word balloon could cover. The result is a collaboration aimed at getting the most from the graphics format.

Will a retelling in comics form also bring more young male readers to this series? Not only does Kieren’s Story have a male at the center, but its format emphasizes action and visuals, such as the hero’s partial transformations. Strangely enough, while some male teens would be wary of a book featuring a hunky guy in a tight T-shirt, the long traditions of mainstream American comic books mean that the same cover offers no worries as long as there are many more pictures of the same hunky guy inside.

Ming Doyle will be signing Tantalize: Kieren’s Story at 2:00 P.M. on Sunday, 2 October, at the Brookline Booksmith. Attendees can participate in a vampire/werewolf costume contest.

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