Originally posted on http://www.jtbaptiste.com – 29 Jul 2014
Last week it was announced that Chuck Palahniuk was writing a sequel to his 1996 bestselling novel, Fight Club. However, instead of the usual black font on write paper compressed into book, Chuck Palahniuk is writing his sequel as a graphic novel. Now, Palahniuk’s foray into the world of the graphic novel is not unusual. Stieg Larsson’s ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ has already been adapted into a series of graphic novels and Richard Matheson’s ‘I am Legend’ novels were adapted into graphic novels more than a decade ago.
But I suppose what is different is that these were adaptions. The transformation from one art form to another. Palahniuk is starting from scratch and not just adding pictures to a book that has been knocking around our bookshelves for a couple of years.
So, as a crime fiction writer and someone who grew up with, and still has, a love for comic books, I started thinking about the relationship between crime fiction and graphic novels. It also gave me a good reason to re-read one of the best graphic novels ever produced; ‘Batman: The Killing Joke.’
The Killing Joke is a perfect example of what crime fiction does best. It pitches the protagonist, Batman, against the antagonist, The Joker. There is someone to chase and there has to be a resolution. For a little bit of history, Batman started life 75 years ago at DC Comics and if you didn’t already know DC stands for ‘Detective Comics’. The Dark Knight himself is described as a detective of master intelligence. (Remind you anyone we know? Sherlock Holmes, perhaps). And like Chandler’s Marlowe or Billingham’s DI Thorne, Batman is flawed and driven by inner demons. There is also a desire for justice, but Batman cannot pursue justice if he doesn’t have someone to chase. He needs an adversary and the more psychotic and mentally unstable the better. Like all villains, The Joker has his own deluded reasons for behaving the way that he does. In the parallel universe in his head The Joker believes that he is the hero saving us from ourselves.
How can crime fiction and the graphic novel not be intrinsically linked? The tension in The Killing Joke builds spectacularly as The Joker escapes from prison and commits unspeakable acts of violence all whilst stripping his victims of their dignity. There is one particular scene that always has me turning back the pages and saying out loud ‘There is no way that The Joker did that? He’s f****** nuts!’
The Killing Joke also has that classic trick that a writer uses to build tension. Time pressures as we have the great detective racing against time to stop a psychopathic, homicidal maniac. Batman and The Joker cannot exist without each other and like all endings- the antagonist never just gives up and the protagonist always has to make a choice.
The graphic novel is the prime example of ‘Drama is life with the dull bit’s cut out’** and I can understand why Chuck Palahniuk chose to write the sequel to Fight Club as a graphic novel. Writing a graphic novel is not the easy way out of writing a book. I can tell you now that there is no easy way of writing a book. Whether it’s a graphic novel or an 800 page paperback, a story is being told. A graphic novel is just a different medium and one that is the purest example of what writers always try to remember ‘Show don’t tell’ or as Anton Chekhov more aptly put it:
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
*The Joker in Batman: The Killing Joke
** Alfred Hitchcock