Slaughterhouse-Five is one of my favorite books, and is hands down my favorite of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels. I happened upon it in college, with no prior knowledge of its content and no awareness of who Vonnegut was. Something about the book cover just drew me to the novel. I ended up missing class the next day because I stayed up all night reading it. Then once I’d finished, I turned right around and read it again. I may not have learned anything in class the day after buying the book, but Slaughterhouse-5 taught me a lot about what good fiction can deliver to the reader.
Published by Archaia, a division of Boom! Entertainment, Slaughterhouse-Five has now been adapted into an original graphic novel. Vonnegut’s classic anti-war allegory disguised as science-fiction is presented by writer Ryan North as it never has been before. Presenting the story, and its purposely non-linear narrative as a graphic novel is brilliant. Linking visuals to Billy Pilgrim’s time displacement fills out the storylines in a satisfying way. This adaptation is pretty faithful to the original novel. North uses much of Vonnegut’s prose and includes nearly every scene from the novel, even those small scenes casual readers may have forgotten. North does leave out one detail, however, the narrator from the novel, who is meant to represent the voice of Vonnegut himself.
Instead, North provides a bit of his own narration and exposition via text boxes placed throughout the story. In essence, he inserts himself as the narrator. Although these asides occasionally leaned toward humorous, I don’t feel like they added much to the narrative. To be frank, it felt to me like adding lines to a production of Shakespeare. In trying to retell one of Vonnegut’s stories, North effectively cuts him out of the narrative completely, and the representative character out until the very end. There are also some asides during scenes in the German prison camp where North points out Vonnegut (who was actually captured by the Germans during the war). Altogether, I think these asides are meant to mimic Vonnegut’s technique in the novel. Unfortunately, what is a sophisticated meta-textual literary device in Vonnegut’s hands feels more like pandering under North’s.
Along those same lines, I could have done without the seven pages of illustrated introduction. If a reader picks up this graphic novel, and has no idea it’s based on a Vonnegut novel, they should be allowed to enjoy it without pretense. North also gives a timeline of Billy Pilgrim’s “journey” through time, which basically amounts to a huge spoiler for a story that hasn’t even started yet. Plus, illustrating this introduction just felt unnecessary. One page of printed introduction, as is common in other graphic novels, would have sufficed. Or the illustrated introduction could have been tacked on to the end. The context it tries to impart would have had more impact after a reader has finished the graphic novel. Place at the beginning, it seemed like a waste of time for fans of Slaughterhouse-5, and wasn’t a good way to engage new readers.
Albert Monteys artwork is but not spectacular. The best way to describe my feelings of the illustrations is with the phrase “missed opportunity.” Slaughterhouse-five offers an artist the chance to draw battlefields, prison camps, flying saucers, an alien zoo, and the ward of a mental institution. Although Monteys renders all these settings well, they all look too similar. His linework rarely changes and the result is the exotic settings have the exact same look as the mundane ones. He does change his style at a few points, producing some cool visual effects, including: several underwater panels where the reader can see the ripples in the water, the scene where Billy Pilgrim watches a documentary on the war is drawn like a storyboard, and the pages of the Tralfamadorian book are appropriately abstract and psychedelic.
Luckily, Monteys’ use of color compensates for his uniform illustrative style. His color deviations accurately depict the settings within the story. Even without reading Vonnegut’s prose, the reader can instantly distinguish Germany during WWII from Billy Pilgrim’s optometry office in the 1950’s. The colors Monteys uses not only visually sum up the setting, they also convey the tone of each scene.
This graphic novel presentation of Slaughterhouse-Five is a great adaptation, but not necessarily a one-hundred percent faithful one. The story and most of the dialogue and text are purely Vonnegut. Unfortunately, North’s artistic liberties and literary additions don’t add to the quality of the story. In my opinion, North’s additions are actually more of a distraction then a quality accompaniment. Monteys’ artwork is a bit uniform despite the varied settings within the story, but all of his illustrations clearly covey the life of Billy Pilgrim to the reader. For those who have never read Slaughterhouse-five, I highly suggest starting with the novel, then checking out this graphic novel adaptation. Fans of Vonnegut’s work will probably want to add this graphic novel to their bookshelves, moreso to add to their collections than for the quality of the product.
Story: Kurt Vonnegut Written: Ryan North Art: Albert Monteys
Story: 10 Adaptation: 3.0 Art: 8.5 Overall: 7.2 Recommendation: Read
BOOM! Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review
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