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Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Bloomsbury publishes Twilight Zone in the UK

Due for release from Bloomsbury next month are the first four graphic novels in a series adapting episodes of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

The work of artists from the Savannah College of Art and Design and published by Walker & Co. in the US, the graphic novels aren't slavish adaptations of the transmitted original episodes of the cult 1950s show but are based on the original and unedited scripts in their entirety, written by Rod Serling.

A variety of artists from the SCAD sequential art department took on the challenge of creating this new dimension that will allow fans to make the journey from black and white videotape into the world of full-color images in a graphic novel.

"I suspect that my husband, Rod Serling, the 'father' of The Twilight Zone, would wholeheartedly approve of this 'new dimension' of his stories. The adaptations and fine graphic pictures have truly caught the feeling and climate of that wondrous world of imagination," said Serling's widow, Carol.

Emily Easton, publisher of Walker Books for Young Readers, is a lifelong fan and was thrilled to introduce the new series which has been picked up by Bloomsbury. "It's been particularly gratifying to see the maniacal gleam that comes into most people's eyes as I tell them we are launching this graphic novel series - the passion that still exists for this groundbreaking piece of television history is palpable."

SCAD sequential art professor Mark Kneece who co-ordinated the project hppe that, from some nearby fifth dimension, "Serling is smiling at the prospect of these books."

Walking Distance written by Mark Kneece and Rod Serling, art by Dove McHargue adapts what's considered by many to be one of Rod Serling's most personal stories from the show, as business man Martin Sloan takes the journey of a lifetime when his car breaks down within walking distance of his home town. He's shocked to find that he has somehow walked into his own past, but can he find a way to warn the boy he once was to seize the day and save his future happiness?

Given that the original script - and, indeed, the style of TV at the time - is very "talkie" with little major action scenes, Dove McHargue makes good use of different angles to liven the script. That said, some of the finishing on the pages is better than others: while some feature character's shadows. others do not, perhaps something that's the result of the large number of students involved in the colour separation process. Still, the storytelling reflects the haunting mystery of the original story and the interaction between Sloan and his father, confused by his appearance and claims, is well realized.

The After Hours (cover above) written by Mark Kneece and Rod Serling, with art by Rebekah Isaacs finds dissatisfied shopper Marsha White trying to return a purchase to the eighteenth floor of a department store, she is surprised to find out that no such floor exists. Feeling faint, she lies down in the store manager's office and wakes up, hours later, after the store has closed for the night. Wandering the dark and empty store, Marsha hears voices calling her to the eighteenth floor as her unusual shopping trip continues in a very unexpected way.

Isaacs turns in a terrific adaptation of the story, making good use of haunting, large panels to reflect the emptiness of the mystery floors in the story where Marsha begins to suspect all is not right with the store, but unable to grasp quite why. Her depictions of Marsha are particularly strong, and there's some good use of different angles to complement the uneasiness of this bemused -- and later, scared -- shopper. The only fault with the title is the disappointing lettering, which lacks any emphasis for the most part at key moments, and is in places ill-positioned. But this shouldn't detract from enjoying what's is a well-delivered tale.

The Monsters are Due on Maple Street written by Mark Kneece and Rod Serling, art by is set entirely in a suburban street quickly gripped by fear. A shadow passes overhead and a loud roar is heard, accompanied by a flash of light. Neighbours along Maple Street grow confused as they find that the telephones no longer work and there is no power. As the sun sets, they gather together in the street to discuss the matter. Only Tommy, a young boy, sees the situation for what it is - an alien invasion which disrupts his neighbourhood.

A clear attack on McCarthy's witch hunt of communists in 1950s America, the story is a savage indictment of the kind of mass hysteria stirred up by state and media that is as telling today as it was when the original story was first aired. Artist Rich Ellis delivers an adaptation that captures the original script's atmosphere perfectly, with wonderful use of light and shadow and expressive silent frames that do as much to move the story along as those with dialogue. The cunningly engineered disaster that befalls the small town residents is superbly told, and the descent from civillised behaviour to insanity beautifully realized.

The Odyssey of Flight 33 written by Mark Kneece, Rod Serling, art by Robert Grabe finds a plane leaving London bound for New York as scheduled. Not far into the journey, Flight 33 crosses through some sort of time warp that sends it back in time by 100 million years. As they fly over giant creatures which they recognise as dinosaurs on Manhattan Island, the pilots realise they must find a way back into the future...

Of these first four adaptations, Odyssey includes much not featured in the original TV episode, which included stop animation sequences that made it one of the most expensive ever made of the series. Updating the story and taking it into a more modern, 1970s setting proves effective, and despite the claustrophobic nature of the source material, Grabe conjures a believeable and enjoyable graphic version of the tale, with good use of reveals as the plane arrives in different time zones - particularly the distant past - and the sequences of the craft 'jumping' in time are well executed. Once again though, the lack of any variation to lettering is a disappointment.

As with some of the colouring on all four titles, this is something that lets down, if only a little, the finishing of all four books.

Overall, these adapatations are a fine and enjoyable treatment of The Twilight Zone, bringing a freshness to the stories, and the inclusion of unfilmed or cut scenes is an added bonus. If you're a Twilight Zone fan you'll find these an entertaining complement to the original stories, even though some of the selected stories aren't perhaps the best of the show's run.

It's also a shame the 'top and tail' text material is similar across all four books -- I personally I would have preferred a little more on the making of the original episode than that supplied -- but this doesn't dampen my enthusiasm for these new versions of some classic SF stories. It will be interesting to see how the series develops over time.

• The first four Twilight Zone graphic novels are published in the UK by Bloomsbury on 16th February
Rod Serling and the Twilight Zone: The Official 50th Anniversary Tribute
is released in April 2009 from Barricade Books
More Twilight Zone on amazon.co.uk

Upcoming The Twilight Zone titles from Bloomsbury
Deaths-Head Revisited written by Mark Kneece and Rod Serling, art by Chris Lie (June 2009)
The Midnight Sun written by Mark Kneece and Rod Serling, art by Anthony Spay (June 2009)
The Big Tall Wish written by Mark Kneece and Rod Serling, art by Chris Lie (September 2009)
Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up? written by Mark Kneece and Rod Serling, art by Rich Ellis

Savannah College of Art and Design

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