Twilight Graphic Novel Review.
Here’s the last page of this story! Ignore the massive art error in the last panel (Thomas is driving from the wrong side of his car). Especially since I’m about to massively criticise someone else’s art.
The picture you’re looking at is from the Twilight graphic novel. It’s part of my ongoing horrible relationship with the Twilight franchise.
Twilight, for those who don’t know is a vampire novel written by Stephanie Meyer, that spawned a massive franchise, and kick-started a huge interest in the vampire romance genre. It didn’t start the vampire romance genre by any means, no matter what people would like you to believe. But it sure did go a long way towards pussifying it.
I was introduced to Twilight when the movie came out. I heard a review of it on Triple-J and it sounded like a campy vampire flick, mixed with teen drama. So Hobart and I went to see it expecting a vampire film. How wrong we were. How wrong we were.
I watched the movie, I’ve read the book (Hobart bought it for me as a joke present) and now my Mum decided I needed the graphic novel and bought it for me. Oddly enough, I came to own this book only a few hours after reading an article about it on the interwebs, over at Comics Alliance! The article sang the praises of the art and absolutely lambasted the lettering. You can find the article here.
I can tell you right now, the lettering truly is epically bad. But you know what else is terrible? The art. I’m not going to talk about the story — we all know what Twilight is about by now — I’m just going to talk about the art. The book is drawn by someone named Young Kim, who I’ve never heard of before, but that’s understandable. It’s not really my genre of books.
I guess that’s enough background. Actually no, there’s one other detail you need — this graphic novel only adapts the first half of the Twilight novel. It climaxes with the sparkle sequence where Edward reveals himself in the sunlight. Anyway… let’s get on with…
An illustrated guide on how not to make a comic book.
STEP ONE: LETTERING
Lettering in a comic book should be one of those elements you don’t really notice. It should be simple, direct, and help to tell the story. Not in this book. Go click the link to the Comics Alliance article, and come on back after — it covers the lettering in exhaustive detail. What do I have to say about it?
It’s really, really inconsistent. Seriously I counted at least seven different types of narration box for Bella’s narration. This is really unprofessional; because the style isn’t consistent it doesn’t feel like the words are coming from the same source. The regular speech bubbles are just as inconsistent. Somtimes they’re slanted, sometimes they’re way too huge, sometimes they’re transparent — and then there’s the tails.
The tails of the word balloons are terrible. They’re never the same shape. Sometimes they’re a black line with a white line under it, sometimes they’re just a black line, sometimes they don’t even have tails at all even though the scene desperately needs them. And sometimes, well, a lot of the time actually, the tails look… well… uhhh. God dammit they look like sperm impregnating the speech bubbles. There is no other way around it.
I wonder if that’s a metaphor.
STEP TWO: STORYTELLING
Storytelling is the crux of the comic book art form. It’s a storytelling medium. So, here’s the thing… that means you actually have to be able to tell a story. You have to be able to convey, through the characters’ actions and through the combination of words and pictures, what the hell is going on.
Fortunately for the Twilight graphic novel it’s in an utterly unique position. Nearly anyone who is reading it has already read the book it’s based on. In fact the audience for this thing is both intimately familiar with the novel, and probably not familiar at all with comics. So the graphic novel doesn’t bother for a second with storytelling.
Lots of lovely portraits of the characters that the teen girls who love Twilight swoon over? Sure, you’ve got tonnes of them. But, basic storytelling tools like good framing, establishing shots, synergy between words and pictures, etc. Forget it.
Forks, the central location where this entire story takes place, never gets an establishing shot. From moment one we’re not given any sense of geography. Where is Bella’s house in relationship to the school? Where are the forests in relationship to the house? How big is the school? Where does Bella park her car at home? No idea. There are entire sequences where there is literally no way to know where they take place unless you’ve already read the novel. It’s sloppy, it’s really confusing. I’ve read the novel and I regularly got lost.
Storytelling isn’t just about establishing shots, though. It’s about conveying what the characters are doing and what’s going on in a sequence. Take a look at this — no fair if you’ve read the novel or seen the movie — take a look at this and tell me if you have any clue what the hell is meant to be going on.
This is the level of visual storytelling that Twilight fans are going to associate with the comic book medium. Think about that for a second.
STEP THREE: ACTION
Okay, here’s one area where Twilight could really, really benefit from the comic book medium. The action sequences. The sequences where super heroics take place, or the vampires are being frightening. Comics are extremely good about having a character transform, about having a character change from a man into a super-man or a monster. Those sudden turns in Edward’s behaviour, his suddenly more violent and savage appearance, could really have been conveyed wonderfully in a comic.
I’ll grant that the sparkle scene is done well. The art suddenly transforms from black and white to glorious colour. But what about him stopping a car, or his savage anger at the rapists, or the changes in behaviour towards Bella? Unfortunately there’s nothing there. His anger isn’t very violent, his changes in behaviour aren’t very clear or readable. And the action sequences are just laughable.
Here, take a look at this splash page.
This is Edward holding up a car to save Bella’s life.
No, seriously. I am not kidding you. I’m not cropping out the art so you’re missing an establishing shot. This is it, this is the splash page of Edward saving Bella from a car.
STEP FOUR: DRAWING EVERYTHING
One of the hardest parts of comic book art is that the artist has to create every single element of the world themselves. They literally have to be able to draw everything. If there’s a wolf in a sequence, the artist has to be able to draw a wolf. If there’s a high school, gotta draw a high school. If there’s a cup, or a pizza, or a car, or a bird, the artist has to draw all of those things. They have to create the environments the characters stand in, they have to create the clothes, they have to draw the people from head to toe.
It’s hard — you literally have to learn how to break down anything you see into its basic elements so you can draw anything. Fortunately, Young Kim doesn’t bother with that nonsense. She draws people. Well, no. she draws portraits and hands, and sometimes shots of main characters’ entire upper bodies. Forget about drawing things like environments, or props or feet. Why bother when you can do this?
Okay, for the uninitiated I’ll explain what’s going on here. Basically what you’re looking at is one of the few long shots in the book. Bella is sitting in a hospital, on a hospital bed. Unfortunately the hospital, the bed, in fact the entire environment is actually a photograph that has been run through multiple Photoshop filters, making it grey scale and giving some of it a more pencil-tone texture. This is not an utterly terrible technique. Jack “King” Kirby did photo-comping art.
The problem is that Young Kim relies on this technique for literally every single aspect of the book that isn’t a portrait shot of one of the characters. Take a look at this establishing shot of an environment:
This is, according to the narration boxes meant to be the most beautiful place she’s ever seen. Except what we have here is a terrible, terrible photoshop comping. There’s no sense of space. No sense of environment. There’s a lot of green, I guess. Yay.
This would have been fine as a generic background, but this is actually meant to be the establishing shot for this environment. Based on this shot we’re meant to understand the geography of the upcoming scene. Thanks to this shot we’re meant to feel grounded in reality — a beautiful reality that’s about to become hyper-real when Edward goes all sparkly. This is meant to be a beautiful forest glade! A special place Edward has brought Bella… it’s a glow effect and some vague leaves!
This could be the worst piece of art in the entire book. It could be except for one thing. The pizza.
Okay, now your eye is trained to look for photo-comped pieces of art you can tell me what you’re looking at here, right? That’s right. That’s a comped in piece of pizza.
She. Couldn’t. Draw. A. Slice. Of. Pizza.
JUST DRAW THE GODDAMN SLICE OF PIZZA, WOMAN!
I… I hate this book. It’s like a 15 year old girl’s anime sketchbook turned into a comic.
For god’s sake, if you’re thinking about creating a comic of your own learn from this monstrosity. Pull back the camera a bit, try to establish environments, and just… draw your own damned pizza.
(Okay, I’ll be fair… she does actually appear to draw the pizza in the lower panels. Go Young.)