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The Twilight Graphic Novel Review

This week saw the release of the first “Twilight” graphic novel, in which Korean artist Young Kim adapts Stephenie Meyer’s novel for the benefit of the comics-reading public, and I’ve got to admit that I am all for this. If nothing else, the giant stacks of money that Yen Press are going to rake in for publishing this thing will give them the ability to publish more “Yotsuba&!,” and that’s never a bad thing.

As to “Twilight” itself, at first glance, it’s a very slick package that’s obviously meant to justify at least part of the $20 price tag with looks alone. And on that front, they’ve succeeded: It’s a very nice-looking hardcover, sporting high-quality paper stock, a size and design that’ll fit in well on bookstore shelves, and a very pretty cover by Kim of Bella lounging around a meadow that I’m absolutely sure will link up with a similar shot of Edward on the second volume to make a whole image.

Which leads to the art, and again, Kim does a fantastic job with it. She’s not a miracle worker and this is still “Twilight,” and there’s no amount of artistic skill that’s actually going to make Meyer’s story good, but a lot of what’s lousy about the novel plays to the strengths of a comic. There are pages upon pages of “Twilight” that are devoted to Bella standing around, staring longingly and having long, interminably boring internal monologues, but Kim’s good enough to convey much of what Meyer’s writing is trying to get at through the art alone. As a result, a lot of the repetitive, cloying introspection gets dropped to create a more streamlined story, and for what doesn’t get cut, there’s still Kim’s art to look at. By its very nature, “Twilight” lends itself to the shoujo manga style that Kim brings to the book, and for the most part, it works.

Kim also manages to throw in a few nifty tricks, too, like the way that the majority of the book’s done in grayscale or extremely light washes to get the drabness of Forks, breaking out into color for dreams, intense moments and the infamous “sparkly” scene. Even the occasional bits of physical comedy that fall so flat in prose are done well:

Unfortunately, once you actually start reading the book, it all falls apart completely.And it’s all because of the lettering.

That might seem like a small thing to pick on, but that’s because like coloring, when lettering is done well, it doesn’t draw a lot of attention to itself. As a result, a lot of people who are new to comics or who don’t spend a lot of time thinking about them don’t understand that lettering is an extremely complex art form unto itself that’s evolved over the past 70 years into something that integrates with the art and dialogue to tell a story in a very specific way… when it’s good. But like coloring, bad lettering is very, very easy to spot.

And “Twilight” has the worst lettering I have ever seen.

I’ve had a few issues with Yen Press’s lettering in the past, mostly in the completely unnecessary change in the “Yotsuba&!” logo when they picked the series up from ADV, changing it from something fun, poppy, and professional into something that looked like it was made in five minutes with stock fonts in PhotoShop…

…but the lettering in “Twilight” hits new lows. It is garbage.

Even if you can get past the fact that they lettered an entire graphic novel in Times New Roman – which I assume was a choice meant to make it look more like a novel and less like a comic — they still managed to get everything wrong. To start with, the balloons themselves, which are clearly the product of the Ellipse tool in Photoshop, and which manage to be both gigantic and poorly placed. So gigantic and poorly placed, in fact, that they not only complicate simple art problems of speaking order (see panel 3 above and the weird criss-cross of the tails), they’re also occasionally reduced to transparencies to avoid obscuring the art any more than they already do.

I don’t have the hate for transparent balloons that some people do — Thom Zahler uses them pretty well in Love and Capes, though to be fair, I can’t think of another good example — but the fact of the matter is that if the lettering wasn’t absolutely atrocious, they wouldn’t even be necessary.

For example:

Whoever lettered this thing put a stupidly gigantic word balloon on top of a character’s face, despite the fact that there’s a huge open spot just slightly to the left of where it sits now. And considering that the background looks on close examination like it might be a photograph of a hallway that’s been run through a few filters, I think it’s safe to say that it could’ve used a little covering up. Instead, the problem was solved with a transparency, which at best makes Mike here look like some kind of cyborg, and at worst makes it look like we’re reading his dialogue through a glass of water.

Either way, it’s jarring, which is what bad lettering does: It pulls you out of the story and puts an obstacle between the reader and the content, and considering that “Twilight” has a very good chance of being the first comic a lot of people read, that constitutes a pretty huge problem.

There’s no letterer credited; the only credits go to Meyer for story and Kim for “art and adaptation,” and while I suppose Kim could’ve done it, I’d have a hard time believing that any artist would go to such great pains to screw up her own work. The one thing I’m sure of is that there is no way in Hell that a professional letterer worked on this book, as any professional letterer worth his or her salt wouldn’t have just popped open Photoshop, slapped some Times New Roman down in a ridiculously huge ellipse, added a few horrible and inconsistent tails that look more like fried worms than anything I’ve ever seen in a comic, and called it a day.

And that’s the most galling thing: The “Twilight” GN is almost guaranteed to sell well. There’s a fanbase that’s demonstrably loyal and hungry for even the most tangential “Twilight” products. It’s as sure a thing as comics have, and yet they couldn’t be bothered to hire an actual letterer for it. Of all the corners Yen Press could’ve cut in this book, they chose something that is so fundamental to the reading experience.

The most important aspect of any story is whether or not you can actually read it, and while I’m sure the target market for the “Twilight” graphic novel is probably familiar enough with the story that they could follow along without any words at all — which would’ve been a marked improvement, given how nice Kim’s art is when it’s not cluttered up by the lettering — the end result is something that makes the entire boo
k look as rushed and amateurish as possible. If Yen’s goal in creating something that looks nice on a bookshelf — complete with lines about how it was “meticulously reviewed” by Stephenie Meyer — was to offer up a product that doesn’t look like a shoddy cash-grab, then they’ve failed.

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