Big Book of Horror
Written by Steve Niles; Illustrated by Scott Morse, Ted McKeever, and Richard Sala
More this week about horror and all-ages comics, because I’ve found my next bedtime storybook for my son. The boy loves monsters, but he’s appropriately freaked out by serious horror. IDW’s collection of Steve Niles Little Books of Horror is the perfect middle ground.
Niles adapted three, classic horror stories for children, each with a different artist. They’re not comics so much as picture books, but comics fans will recognize the talent Niles worked with. Scott Morse (Soulwind) illustrated Frankenstein, Ted McKeever (Metropol) did War of the Worlds, and Richard Sala (Delphine, Cat Burglar Black) painted Dracula. Each page is a giant, gorgeous illustration overlaid with Niles’ text that summarizes the story.
He varies his level of faithfulness to the source material. Frankenstein, for instance, is very faithful. From a writing standpoint, it’s my favorite in the collection. There’s not enough room to include everything – the blind hermit’s gone, for example – but Niles makes other cuts that I imagine were meant to make the story easier on kids. I certainly appreciated for my son’s sake that he left out the detail that Frankenstein’s murdered brother was just a young boy. None of these omissions change the focus of the story; it’s a great adaptation.
Morse’s art is beautifully designed as Morse’s art will be. I love his stuff, but I’ll be interested in getting my son’s reaction to the busyness of it and how heavily stylized it is.
McKeever’s work on War of the Worlds is powerful and dramatic. It’s full of shocking, searing reds and stifling oranges that make you feel the heat of the Martians’ rays. McKeever also uses double-page spreads throughout to make the invasion feel huge and epic. Niles doesn’t pull many punches with this story, but it would be hard to, wouldn’t it? The whole point of Wells’ writing it was to make us empathize with less-developed cultures that we would subjugate. Any adaptation is going to have to convey the terror of being conquered and exterminated, even one for kids. But neither Niles nor McKeever is graphic about it. Instead of describing the vivid details, the gorier aspects of the story are ironically tamed somewhat by sensationalizing them (“I watched a man die a shrieking death only to witness the hideous things digest the dead man’s blood!”).
The least faithful adaptation is Dracula. I’m not sure why that is, because the changes don’t seem to be for the purpose of taming the story, but for simplifying it. Maybe space was a bigger challenge here than for the other stories, but Lucy’s gone as are all of her suitors. Dracula attacks Mina directly when he arrives in England and Van Helsing is called in by Mina’s dad. He and Mina hunt Dracula alone and the end of the story owes a lot more to Tod Browning than Bram Stoker.
Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with that; it was just a surprise after the authenticity of the first two stories. Having adjusted to it, I can just enjoy Niles’ twists and Richard Sala’s work. He was the perfect choice to illustrate it, with his dark, but humorous style. My son’s going to love it.
Discussion Question: What’s your favorite comics adaptation of Frankenstein, War of the Worlds, and/or Dracula?