October 27, 2010

Frankenstein: The Legend Retold
A Guest Post by Martin Powell

Above, the striking original cover art — sans overprinting — by artist Patrick Olliffe for Martin Powell’s adaptation of Frankenstein, first published in 1989.
I asked Martin to tell us how he came to Frankenstein, and how he came to write his celebrated graphic novel. Here’s what he had to say…

When I was a boy, visiting relatives in the country, I often sat in the dewy night grass and stared at the blackened woods, wondering what nameless monsters lurked and haunted behind the tangles of ivy and oak. My older brothers (and several imaginative cousins) were quick to impress such fanciful phantoms upon my youthful gullibility, and I was always eager to hear more, collecting each spooky story like other boys accumulated gum cards.

I suppose everyone has thrilled, at one time or another, to a ghost story, relishing a sense of ghoulish wonder at what really may be awaiting us in those darkened forests.
Mary Shelley certainly did.

Of all the classic authors, she’s certainly been the most influential to me, especially through Frankenstein, Or the Modern Prometheus. It has always seemed remarkable that Mary composed the greatest of horror stories while still in her teens. A very tough act, indeed, for any writer to follow.

The very first time I read the novel was a life-defining moment, changing me forever. I must have been about nine years old when I excitedly saw Frankenstein, as a paperback, on the top of my cousin Charlotte’s dresser. I’m sure I must have audibly gasped with astonishment. Charlotte kindly gave me that book, which I stared at during the entire long drive home, mesmerized by its enigmatic Karloffian cover. Already, I was hooked. I would read the book many times during the years to come, each time finding rich new layers that I had never dreamed of before, falling under its phantasmagoric spell again and again.

Ultimately, I was inspired to write my own graphic novel interpretation of Frankenstein. The powerful story had long haunted me, accumulating as a dream-project that was actually conceived when I was still in high school. My project proposal almost seemed to compose itself, and it’s more to Mary Shelley’s credit that my submission immediately found a publisher.

Next to Mary’s initial inspiration, it was the art of Patrick Olliffe, whom I was most fortunate in recruiting, which made the endeavor a success. It was perfect casting. Pat’s wonderfully moody and enigmatic black and white illustrations established a tangible atmosphere within a single panel. I remember having many lengthy, enjoyable phone conversations with him, in those days before the instant accessibility of the internet, as we planned our translation of Mary’s classic tale of terror. Early on I’d decided against stressing the popular “technology out of control” theme in favor of focusing on what I felt was the true soul of the story, that of an unwanted child.

In particular, I recall an in-depth discussion concerning what our Monster should look like. Pat and I obviously needed to avoid the famous design created by Jack Pierce, and owned by Universal Studios, and we relished the awesome possibilities that lay before us. This was a being, we reasoned, fashioned from the available raw materials of the late 18th century. Neck electrodes, square head, and over-sized boots suddenly seemed strangely out of place, even if they had been allowed.

Instead, Pat rendered a gnarled, towering, patch-work horror. His creature is wholly original, bringing Mary Shelley’s tantalizingly vague descriptions into the stark and terrible light. It is wondrous, pitiful, ghastly, and weirdly charismatic. For me, Patrick Olliffe’s visual depiction of the Frankenstein Monster is absolutely definitive.

Since its first publication in 1989, our Frankenstein graphic novel has never been out of print. Recently it was published again in a Spanish language version, and a brand new special edition looms in the near future.

That’s amazing and very gratifying.

Special thanks to Frankensteinia for inviting this warm remembrance, and to the gentle ghosts of Boris Karloff, Forrest J Ackerman, and Mary Shelley. I’d be nowhere without them.
— Martin Powell
October 24, 2010

Minnesota-based writer Martin Powell has hundreds of published credits for comic books and prose fiction. His Sherlock Holmes/Dracula graphic novel, Scarlet in Gaslight, was nominated for an Eisner Award. Earlier this month, his book, The Tall Tale of Paul Bunyan, illustrated by Aaron Blecha, won the Gold Medal in the graphic novel category of the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards. Martin is currently scripting new adventures for such classic characters as The Phantom and the pulps’ The Spider for Moonstone Books.

Patrick Olliffe is an accomplished illustrator and comic book artist who has contributed to a who’s who of superhero characters, the likes of Spider-Man, Spider-Girl, The Atom, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, for Marvel and DC. He is now taking on The Mighty Samson for Dark Horse comics. Of his collaboration with Martin Powell on Frankenstein, he says, “Although early in my career, it remains one of the projects I love the most.

No comments: