Ssssssneaky

Snakes are, in a literary sense, cunning, deceitful, and devious masterminds with their own overarching agendas.  That’s why I immediately took note of the seemingly random serpent watching over our heroes in the following panel.

Why did Kevin O’Neill, the illustrator, place this creature in the foreground, pushing the protagonists to the back, out of focus?  An artistic choice, maybe, but I believe there’s more to it than that.

Throughout the novel, “Mr. M” has been there.  Not directly, not in the thick of things, but watching over the rapidly unfolding events from a safe distance.  He slithers above them, unseen but seeing all, as they make and execute their plans.  On page 97, however, we know none of this.  O’Neill consciously, in my opinion, drew this snake to foreshadow what the minimalistic dialogue could not.  It is because of little things like this that I hope the graphic novel never dies.  It is a completely different experience from reading a book, and a refreshing break from the walls of text.

-Deathly Hallowed

Not exactly what Stevenson had in mind

The first time you meet Edward Hyde in Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a scene of terrifying action.  As you can see from the panel below, Mr. Hyde bursts onto the page, shirt torn to shreds wielding a bloody cane.  To be honest, when I turned to this page for the first time, I burst out laughing.  I know what you’re thinking: “What kind of sick human being are you?” (or something to that effect).  Let me clarify.  I was not laughing at the scene taking place in the frame, but rather in the ridiculous manner in which Mr. Hyde is displayed.

I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde less than a year ago, and I assure you nowhere in the novel is Edward Hyde described as an enormous hulking monster.  Instead, this is the description found within Stevenson’s original work: “Mr. Hyde was pale and dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had borne himself to the lawyer with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness, and he spoke with a husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice.”  Now take another look at the scene below and see how the portrayals match up.  The small, timid, pale figure with a weak voice is nowhere to be found, replaced instead by a massive monkey-like animal bellowing at the top of its lungs.  I know Alan Moore wanted to make his work as exciting as possible, but come on, can you see why I was laughing now?

Stumpy367

The graphic novel, in all its splendor

As children, I would hazard a guess that most of us read a comic book at some point or another. Why? Comic books are meant to be entertaining. They don’t need a terribly deep story line or minute references to real people and events or social commentary to achieve that point. But can they?

If you’re name is Alan Moore, you clearly thought that they could. And thus we have the graphic novel (as one would call a long comic book with substance such as this) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Now, graphic novels usually get bad press in the academic world because of their similarity to comics. But a look at just one panel of Moore’s novel shows that it has much more meaning colored and shaded into the frame than a comic and provides as much, if not more, detail as a normal book would.

The The Extraordinary League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

“Wait, that’s the book you were talking about?” Said a friend when she saw The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore sitting on my desk. “That’s not a book; that’s a comic.”

“It’s a graphic nov” I managed to say, before she cut me off—“Tell me when you have some real reading for class.”

Graphic novels aren’t widely accepted as scholarly work. They are usually seen as picture books for kids, or as comics for “nerds” without value. I’m here to tell you that great graphic novels are as substantive and worthwhile as great novels, the same way a a movie can be. Below is a single panel from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The attention to minute details, and the plethora of fantastic allusions made in this graphic novel truly set it apart from a mere comic book.

This is one of four small panels, next to a large, page and a half panel. In this almost inconsequential panel, Moore gives the reader so much.

In the foreground there is a ragged, obviously poor gentlemen and a few boys dressed similarly. The details incorporated immerse the reader—the fingerless gloves, the cigarettes, the wart on his nose, and so much more. His low class and that of his young companions is affirmed from the way they talk. In the mid-ground there is a burning building and smoke. And In the background a flying ship can be seen bombing the buildings of London (the cause of the building fire.) This is what is understood at face value.

Now, onto the good stuff. In this panel on of the young boys refer to the older, ragged gentleman as Mr. Dodger. In the panel above this, the same boy tells Mr. Dodger that he has stole Mr. Quartermain’s purse (or “is tart’s purse.”) This automatically reminds any of us who have read Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist. This Mr. Dodger, is none other then the skillful and cunning Artful Dodger grown up. It seems he has started a gang of pickpocket children as well.

Moore also included another quick allusion. Mr. Dodger refers to one the boys as “Mitchell,” and the other as “Watts.” A quick google search of “Mitchell and Watts London” brought up the EastEnders Wikipedia page. Having never seen the show, I do not fully understand the reference, but the show, taking place in the East End of London, is about the Mitchell and Watts family. Although a bit anachronistic, it makes sense that these two would be in the east end, the sight of the bombings. Maybe these two are the ancestors the two families.

Finally, the flying ship in the background is the quintessential representation of steampunk technology. This great advancement which has the power for so much good, is also the source of so much destruction. This theme of the duality of technology is prominent throughout many steampunk novels.

The above was one panel. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is full of allusions and symbolism that makes it worthy of being called a a true graphic novel.

Gr33n3ggsAndSam