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One of the big trends of the past five years or so has been adapting prose works into graphic novels. It’s the sort of thing that seems like it can’t fail, since you pick up both graphic novel fans and the audience for the original work, but it has two major pitfalls with these books; one is publishers who rely too much on the writing and hire mediocre artists for the illustration, and the other is fans of the author who order the book online, not realizing it’s a graphic novel, and then complain about it.
Dark Horse’s Troublemaker, written by Janet and Alex Evanovich and illustrated by Joelle Jones, suffers from the latter but not the former. By all accounts, the book is doing well; it is getting good reviews, and it has been the number-one book on the New York Times graphic books best-seller list for the second week in a row. It’s not doing so well on Amazon, though, where the average customer rating is one and a half stars.
What gives? This excerpt from a one-star review, currently rated “most helpful,” pretty much sums it up:
This is no ‘novel’, graphic or otherwise. It’s a pathetic comic with a hardcover that takes less than 20 minutes to read. The artwork is beautiful. The story is beyond lame.
The reviewer also complained that the entire book had only 1,500 words in it, and others are unhappy that it’s not a complete story—there’s a second volume on the way. This is simply how graphic novel adaptation works—on the one hand, you need fewer words, because the pictures convey a lot of information. Some reviewers thought that was a plus with the Twilight graphic novel, as it eliminated Stephenie Meyer’s long swaths of descriptive prose. On the other hand, pictures take up more space than words, so adaptations are often longer than the originals in terms of page count; I believe Raina Telgemeier’s Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels had about twice as many pages as the originals.
Interestingly, even the haters liked Joelle Jones’s art, but for readers who calculate value by the number of words, Troublemaker clearly fell short. For their part, Dark Horse made a couple of miscues here. One was splitting the work into two hardcover volumes, each priced at almost the cost of a full-length prose novel; a fatter paperback with the complete story would have aroused a lot less indignation. The other is a simple bit of marketing: When you are doing a graphic adaptation of the work of an author as popular as Evanovich, the cover should telegraph that it’s a graphic novel. That way, online buyers get fewer unpleasant surprises. The cover of Troublemaker is too subtle; in a small format, the drawing almost disappears, and it looks like just another Evanovich novel.