It is 2007, a year in which many things happened. One of them is that Mauritania illegalized slavery, and it is pretty damned shocking to learn that there was a country in the world which hadn’t already done that by 2007, and even more shocking when you find out that Mississippi didn’t do it until 2013.
Or, rather, it would be shocking if I wasn’t writing this in 2017. Never mind. We’ve got songs like “1234” by Feist and “Bubbly” by Colbie Callat and “Umbrella” by Rhianna. This year gives us The Big Bang Theory, Yo Gabba Gabba!, Super Why, Mad Men, Pushing Daisies, and Flash Gordon. We say goodbye to Stargate SG-1, Gilmore Girls, 7th Heaven, and Veronica Mars. This year’s Power Rangers is Operation Overdrive, and I’d tell you about it except that the one good thing I have to say about it is “I can’t really remember anything about it.” Except that it’s the second season to feature a ranger who had previously been one of the kids on the Kiwi Post-Apocalyptic Tween Soap Opera The Tribe. Doctor Who airs from March through July, featuring David Tennant and Freema Agyeman as the Doctor and Martha Jones. It also brought us the animated miniseries “Infinite Quest”, which, oddly, ties into an arc on The Sarah Jane Adventures a year or two later. And it gives us the minisode “Time Crash”, wherein David Tennant gets to fanboy over Peter Davison, who is, fun fact, his father-in-law. The Christmas Special is “Voyage of the Damned”, which guest stars Kylie Minogue, who I gather is actually properly famous in the UK, and not just “The chick who did the 1988 cover of “The Loco-Motion”.”
Anyway. Here in the present, it’s Thanksgiving week, and I don’t have time to do anything difficult, so instead, we’re going to cover a comic book. Well, a graphic novel. Well, something.
Saddleback Illustrated Classics is a line of graphic novel-style adaptations of classic works of literature, abridged and using simplified language, to be used as educational resources for teaching remedial English. They apparently have an accompanying audio disc reading the story, but I didn’t get one with my copy.
As abridgments go, it’s only barely serviceable. Turning a book into a comic is going to require a lot of compression in the storytelling, and what they do here is done in the service of teaching people to read way more than actually conveying Wells’s story in a faithful manner. What’s here is accurate, but a lot gets left out. What can be grating is that a whole lot of the “nothing happening” stays in, while some of my favorite parts are dropped. The prose is simple and functional, nothing exciting. No, all we are really going to care about here is the artwork. Since I had fun mocking some of the artistic choices in the two Captain Power comic books and the Captain Power Annual, I thought maybe for some lighter fare, we could take a look at the artistic choices in Saddleback’s illustrated War of the Worlds. Because these choices are… Occasionally interesting.
Our opening shot is this full-page spread of a Martian slowly and surely drawing its plans against us from this kinda “I HAVE THE POWER!” pose.
They retain Ogilvy’s “The chances of anything manlike on Mars are a million to one,” which is nice.
It’s also the hat. I didn’t scan a picture of it, but Ogilvy wears a Greek fisherman’s cap in a bunch of panels.
They spend what feels like an inordinate amount of time in the build-up between the first cylinder landing and the reveal of the Martians.
The Martians finally reveal themselves, and… Not bad. A very retro sci-fi look to them. Reminds me a bit of the test footage Harryhausen did when he was considering making a War of the Worlds film.
The abridged narration doesn’t really carry over the sense of horror at the basic strangeness of the aliens. You could say that, being a graphical format, they can rely on the visuals to do that instead, only, come on; that Martian is clearly evil, but he’s not really all that scary.
There’s something about the way people are drawn in this — I’ve seen this art-style before, so maybe it’s one of the common comic art styles or something? — that sort of looks like everyone is made of wax.
The narrator narrowly escapes the attack at the pit, but once he gets home, promptly decides it wasn’t that scary after all.
As they flee the approaching Martians, there’s an odd decision to illustrate the fact that on the road out of town, “The hedges on either side were sweet with roses.”
There are more panels than we really needed of the narrator’s horse being spooked by a landing cylinder.
At last, almost halfway through, we get to see a tripod, and it’s not terrible. Kind of visually busy, lacking the elegant simplicity of most interpretations. The closest match is probably Goliath, though it doesn’t look nearly so good, nor does it have the allusions to a gas-masked World War I soldier.
There’s a few good panels of the narrator fleeing in panic, though the tripod doesn’t actually do anything overtly threatening. In fact, strangely, there’s very few panels in the book showing the Martians doing much of anything. The “action” sequences are all about humans reacting, usually running away. When we see the Martians and their machines, with a few exceptions, it’s usually them just standing around, taking stock of things.
Other than that first panel of it, the design of the tripod often makes it look like the third leg is actually a really long arm. Moreover, there’s something to it that evokes memories of Baron Von Joy, classiest of the Go-Bots.
And, again, surprising amount of emphasis on the horse.
Two tripods meet up adorably…
And the narrator takes refuge, prompting me to finally notice the guy’s color scheme.
The Artilleryman fills him in on the battle. A big surprise here: this is the only time we meet the Artilleryman; he doesn’t show up again later. This is so utterly bizarre. I can understand his scene being maybe too complex for readers having difficulty with comprehension, but he’s still identified as a main character on the introduction page. Leaving out his return completely changes the character; now he’s just a sympathetic soldier who presumably rejoins his unit once they make it to the next town.
The fruitless battle at Weybridge doesn’t get much detail, but does give us one of the most awesome panels. Frankly, it ought to have been the cover.
The narrator meets the Curate, referred to here only as “a clergyman”. They omit his breakdown mostly, though he does speak of the end of days. There’s no possibly-deadly fight between the two, and therefore no explanation for why the clergyman seemingly just lets himself be carried off without a word.
The Thunderchild scene is also sadly abbreviated. It gets a fair number of panels, but the battle itself amounts to “An iron boat fired its guns. The Martians destroyed it.” They don’t even have Thunderchild successfully taking out a tripod (there’s only one tripod present in their version of the scene).
We finish up in Dead London, where they retain the narrator being driven mad by the solitude and the sounds of the dying aliens, but don’t go so far as to have him deliberately seek them out, looking to commit suicide by heat ray.
With the Martians dead, we get a double-wide panel of collapsed tripods. I think. It’s a jumbled mess and I’m not actually sure what it’s depicting. The next two show a generic scientist at a microscope and Petri dish of bacteria to illustrate the cause of the Martians’ demise. We then get a page depicting life in England returning to normal, represented by a telegraph key, church spires to indicate ringing bells, and a moving train.
Remember how I noted in War of the Worlds Plus Blood Guts and Zombies that the reunion of the narrator and his wife had an awkward moment because they repurpose the bit where the narrator hears his cousin speaking and thinks it was his own voice thinking out-loud? Only in the zombie version, he actually was thinking out loud?
Something similar here, because we see what were originally his cousin’s words, “It is no use. No one has been here,” as a word balloon coming from the narrator.
Our final panel shows the narrator writing, I assume, this book, his wife quietly sewing beside him. He looks off into the distance, musing how, “There is no reason to think that everyone can’t travel in space.”
This isn’t bad. I’m not convinced at how effective it is as a learning tool, though. The basic English rendering of the text is pretty stilted, and there’s some surprising choices of what things to leave in, like the Artilleryman’s metaphor of cannon being “Bows and arrows against the lightning.” That seems sort of advanced for a remedial audience. Aside from some questionable design choices, the art is okay. The highlight is any long shot of a tripod. Like everything else, the details get a little busy when they’re drawn up close, but at a distance, they’re striking in how much they look like tall, lanky humanoids with disproportionately long limbs. I don’t know that it makes a huge amount of logical sense for them to look at, but I don’t care because it’s a really neat look.
I wonder if I could give this to Dylan to get him into the story…
Anyway, I leave you with one last frame of the narrator, at his most “Manic hero in a ’50s Sci-Fi Horror movie warning the public about the danger they’re too stupid to take seriously.”
- Saddleback’s Illustrated Classics: The War of the Worlds is available from the publisher.