You'll notice that there is no "Recommends" anywhere in the title of this post; in a strange way, Yen Press has done me a tremendous service. As reported elsewhere, the lettering in Twilight: The Graphic Novel is very poorly done, meaning that I can't in good conscience recommend it. And yet, if it weren't for the lettering, I would pretty much have to recommend it, and then be tarred and feathered by hordes of Twilight-hating otaku for the rest of my life. Perhaps this inexplicable slip in production values on the part of Yen Press was done solely for my benefit; it makes about as much sense as any other theory I've heard.
Let me reiterate that what follows is NOT a review, because a review should not spoil things and I'm going to spoil things. I essentially have to spoil Twilight, because most of the people denouncing it (and this new version) haven't actually read the series, therefore they don't know what it is that they're denouncing. In order to be remotely fair to this book, I have to point out that Twilight probably isn't what many of you think it is.
Hit the jump for more on my Twilight dilemma; wow, that sounds emo.
My stance on the Twilight franchise is similar to my view of Harry Potter; there isn't much substance, but at least while you're holding the book, it's entertaining. I started reading the Twilight books because I was working at a bookstore and I felt I needed to know what the hell this thing was that we were selling a bajillion copies of. While I don't consider myself a fan- just someone who's read the series out of curiosity more than anything else- I find that a lot of the hyperbole that people use while condemning the series is either a)not at all consistent with what's actually in the books, or b)more 'misogynistic' than the book supposedly is.
Rather than go into too much detail, let me give you a summary of the kinds of conversations I've had with people who constantly knock Twilight.
Them: Twilight is so misogynistic, because all Bella wants to do is marry Edward and have children!
Karen: Really? Wanting to get married and have children is misogynistic? Because that's probably the main thing I want to do right now, so I guess I'm a misogynist to you?
Them: Nah, that's different- it's more the fact that she's totally dependent on Edward. She's not independent at all!
Karen: You know that the whole point of the second book was that Edward needs Bella MUCH more than she needs him, right? When they were apart, she was bummed but she had a life- he just wanted to die.
Them: Oh, I didn't read the books. But anyway, I saw the movie and I hate the fact that Bella needs Edward to rescue her all the time! That's so demeaning!
Karen: So I guess you'd be happy to know that the last battle in the series is totally dominated by Bella, who becomes more powerful than Edward and saves him and his entire family? The only reason why Bella needs Edward to rescue her is because she's human and he's super-human; once she's superhuman too, it no longer applies.
Them: But wait...Twilight...must suck...must...find...REASON....
Karen: Right, otherwise you might have to read it and formulate your own opinion- it's hard work, I know.
I could go on about how many of the arguments for Twilight being misogynistic and/or socially backward are incredibly dubious to me, but that's not really the point; I can't dispel all of the hate leveled at the franchise, and I'm not even that sure I want to. After all, if Twilight ceases being the cool thing for everyone to hate on, people might start hating on something I like more. The point is, a lot of the ideas you may have about Twilight- ideas which lead you to believe that you can assess this book without looking at it- do not actually make any sense. The most popular criticisms of Twilight were formulated by a combination of people who read the books with the intent to interpret them through a certain narrow political filter, and people who have not read them at all. I can't stop you from giving their opinions credence, but frankly, I don't see why you would want to.
Manga Bella: Same classic Bella flavor, no Kristen Stewart
Twilight: The Graphic Novel really is a graphic novel, in the sense that it looks like a novel and feels like a novel and will acquit itself well next to other novels on your bookshelf; too many "graphic novels" seem like comic books trying to put on airs, but this one earns the title. It's a nice-looking package.
The response to Young Kim's artwork throughout the Otakusphere has been fairly positive, and with good reason; while she hasn't made it onto my list of favorite artists, she's a good choice for this series. She utilizes a fairly realistic style (by manga/manhwa standards), and can get across a lot of emotion without having to resort to comical exaggeration. Only rarely does she use manga-style sight gags, and the few incidences in which she does are well-chosen. Comic snobs will scoff at the use of doctored photographs for many backgrounds, but I find I don't care that much- that sort of thing seems like a pointless artistic pissing contest. "Yeah, the backgrounds in Twilight get across the gray, everyday world of Forks very well, but that's not the point- she should have gotten out the T-square and drawn some 3-point-perspective, because it's harder, dammit."
I also can't shake the feeling that Kim's Bella looks exactly like what Kitty Pryde SHOULD have looked like in the problematic first volume of X-Men: Misfits, but that's neither here nor there.
The restraint in Kim's linework corresponds to the overall production; the sparing use of color is done very well. You would think that the book would be filled with shots of Edward looking dreamy for the benefit of teen girls, but I get the distinct impression that Kim wasn't going for sexiness- rather, Edward often looks deep in thought, more perplexed than brooding. I personally hate the Robert Pattinson incarnation of the character, and while Kim's Edward resembles him superficially, she succeeds in portraying Edward as a person, rather than an objectified teen idol. I can't get across enough how impressive that is to me; the fact that I found Edward at all appealing in this book was a surprise.
In essence, the theme of restraint that Stephanie Meyer tried so hard to get across in her books is reflected in every aspect of Twilight; The Graphic Novel. Furthermore, the format excises Meyer's worst habits as a writer (her clunky explanations), and plays to her strengths; making gothic vampire lore palatable to modern readers. Critics of Twilight complain about the melodrama, but neglect to mention the fact that the characters self-deprecating attitudes always counterbalance it; the pair know they're in a ridiculous gothic novel-situation, and they can't quite believe it either. I've seen many references to Edward's dramatic 'And so the Lion fell in Love with the Lamb" comment, but it's pointless without Bella's response: "What a stupid lamb."
A good example of both Edward's pondering, and bad, bad lettering.
If you're in that indeterminate category of people who haven't read the Twilight series but haven't been completely soured on it by the "it's too popular" backlash, this book is definitely worth a look; while not for everyone, the art is solid and surprisingly nuanced, and it's at least as good if not better than the book it's based on (and light years better than the movie.) Simply put, if you want a romance, there's a lot to like here.
And yet, there's that damned lettering. I can't say "go out and buy a copy!", because endorsing the book is like sending a message to the industry that skimping on such a crucial aspect of production is okay. I consider myself a fan of Yen Press, but this was a mistake- a mistake they can make up for by learning from experience, but a mistake nonetheless.
Now, hardcore Twilight fans with their Team Edward t-shirts will eat this up (even if they complain that Kim didn't make him sexy enough) regardless of something as pedestrian as lettering. But for me to recommend this book to non-Twilight fans- people who are interested in Twilight purely as a graphic novel, regardless of pedigree or lack thereof- it MUST succeed as a graphic novel on it's own merits.
Unfortunately, thanks to terrible word-balloon placement that does a disservice to the art, it's just not a good example of the graphic novel format. And yet, this could have been so terrible in the wrong hands, and Young Kim went above and beyond the call of duty on so many levels, it feels morally wrong to say that Twilight "fails" as a graphic novel. Kim, Meyer, and everyone at Yen Press overcame countless hurdles to make this incarnation much more interesting than I thought it was going to be, only to trip right before the finish line- and it's incredibly frustrating.
In short, I do not recommend Twilight the Graphic Novel. But I wish I could.
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