Adaptation is a tricky business and the key to any successful one is in ensuring that the story fits the medium. Many, many novels and plays have been adapted into graphic novels from Game of Thrones to Shakespeare, some successfully, some less so. It’s a shame then, that Leah Moore & John Reppion’s adaptations of MR James’ terrific ghost stories fall very much in the latter category.
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary contains four stories originally written by MR James, and scripted by Moore and Reppion. Each story is illustrated (to varying degrees of success) by a different artist, and it’s important to stress that word – illustrated, because these are not adaptations, or if they are it’s in the loosest possible sense of the word. These are illustrated short stories. It’s a distinction that should be made because it really digs down into the major problem with this book.
In the introduction by Ramsey Campbell, he highlights that one of MR James’ strongest suits is his language, “he is still the undisputed master of the phrase or sentence that shows just enough to suggest far worse.” What Moore and Reppion have done is to strip the story of those wonderful phrases, choosing instead to show the most horrific moments, rather than imply them. It appears to be totally against the spirit of James’ storytelling, and it robs all of the stories of any power that they may have once held.
It’s also a bizarre decision considering just how much Moore and Reppion rely on MR James’ writing for the rest of the stories. A huge amount of his prose and dialogue is reproduced verbatim on the page as narrative captions from an unnamed narrator. A lot of this is useless, and even more of it is a crutch, stopping the artist from ever taking on any graphic storytelling responsibilities. There’s an enormous lack of creativity at play from the artists involved. Like I said, these are not so much adaptations as they are illustrated stories.
It’s also a shame that not all of the art suits the stories. Certainly both Fouad Mezher and Alisdair Wood get the tone right (the latter also illustrates what is perhaps the best of the four stories in the book, ‘The Ash Tree’), but Kit Buss’ manga-influenced art is an awful choice for any MR James story, let alone the story it’s illustrating.
Any Cop?: Not really. Unless you are an MR James completist, you’ll likely not find anything of value in this book. Aside from some decent enough art from some of those involved, there is not much else to recommend. Stick to his prose guys.