Written By: Kurt Vonnegut, adapted by Ryan North
Illustrated By: Albert Monteys
With Color Assistsance By: Ricard Zaplana
Lettered By: Albert Montays
Cover By: Scott Newman & Albert Montays
Publisher: Archaia (an imprint of Boom Entertainment)
Available: September 16, with a cover price of $24.99
And so it goes…
Out this week from Archaia is Ryan North and Albert Monteys’ graphic novel adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s time-skipping critique of war, Slaughterhouse-Five. Available Wednesday at your wonderful LCS, Amazon and ComiXology, this 200-page trade spans the entirety of Vonnegut’s sci-fi/historical tour de force.
Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death, if you didn’t cover it in AP English in high school or American Lit in college, is widely regarded as Vonnegut’s masterpiece and one the great fictional critiques of the senselessness of war, as barren and clear an anti-war novel as has ever been written. Centering on the life of Billy Pilgrim, a one-and at the same-time Army chaplain’s assistant, infant, successful optometrist and alien abductee to a zoo on Tralfamadore who has become unstuck in time, Slaughterhouse examines in particular the impact of the Dresden fire bombing at the end of World War II upon the author and world around him.
It’s also a seriously confusing read. As you might have intuited.
Which makes it a perfect candidate for a graphic adaptation, what with its time-skipping, alien-abducting, non-linear narrative, all provided first person by its decidedly unreliable narrator, Billy Pilgrim.
Thankfully, Ryan North (Adventure Time, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl) and Albert Monteys (Universe!) are here to make it all sensible for us. And they accomplish this unenviable task without dumbing down the source material an iota.
North, a two-time Eisner Award winning writer (for Jughead and Squirrel Girl), captures the black humor, the irony, the gravity and charm of Vonnegut’s characters and story beautifully, and without overwhelming his reader. Far from being a “Cliffs Notes” (you younger readers might have to look that one up) reduction, he is able to choreograph the 224-page novel into a 192-page graphic without losing any of its power, guts or nuance. Maintaining the same non-linear, common-language style as Vonnegut, North provides us an accessible story with sometimes intriguing, sometimes infuriating but always interesting characters. Further, he’s able to pace the tale—despite its jumps through time and space—as well and evenly as Vonnegut’s original.
Capturing the literary tone of the source material for a piece as complex as Slaughterhouse-Five is one (really impressive freaking) thing; finding the right artist and visual approach is another bowl of porridge entirely. Too lifelike, and you risk overwhelming the reader: Pilgrim’s journey through World War II is not a pretty one (there’s a reason—several of them—that he’s later diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Underplay it, make it too cartoon-like, and you risk losing the gravitas of the piece, surrendering tone for comfort. This is a dark comedy, not a children’s book. Enter Albert Monteys.
Monteys, an Eisner Award nominee himself (Universe!), is an excellent choice as artist for the graphic. Employing a deceptively simple comic-serious style that’s one part Gabriel Ba’s Umbrella Academy and one part Dr. Seuss, he utterly nails it. Billy Pilgrim is as plain Jane as Vonnegut presents him as, Roland Weary as sickeningly skeezy and Paul Lazzaro as menacingly creepy (and all the rest of the characters are exactly as they ought to be, as well). The settings are, again, deceptively simple: enough detail to provide us with a strong sense of time and place—though the renderings of Dresden are downright gorgeous and horrifying, depending on which of Billy’s time jumps you’re looking at. And Montey’s colors are at once beautiful and evocative, conveying the feel of the action and setting as much as its look.
And I’ll hand it to both North and Monteys: the layout of this book, the grace and flow of the panel construction, is perfect. This graphic novel should be employed in a master course in the pacing of sequential art.
I have to say, had these two gentlemen been adapting literary classics while I was trudging my way through high school English back in the late ‘80’s…well, let’s just say things might’ve taken a decidedly more pro-literature turn for me, instead of all those silly accounting classes.
I know that Vonnegut was a major fan of the 1972 film adaptation; it’s sad he’s not alive today to have been able to see his work in this medium. I believe he’d be very pleased.
So, whether you are yourself a fan of Vonnegut’s original or completely new to the work, nab this one when you get the chance. Slaughterhouse-Five will be available this Wednesday from your LCS, Amazon and ComiXology, with a hardcover print price of $24.99.
Review by Andy Patch
Contributing Editor, thePullbox.com