Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book 37 – City of Glass: the Graphic Novel

By Paul Auster
Adaptation by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli

I had read Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy a few years ago as separate books (City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room). My review did not provide any plot summary, so I don’t remember much except the exquisite atmosphere of dreamy dread that permeated each book.  And that I really liked them. This turned out to be advantageous since the 1994 comic adaptation of City of Glass recently fell into my hands thanks to my coworker via Olman (the copy was the 2004 Picador edition). Reading the comic made me remember everything about the original novella as I went along, so it was almost like re-experiencing the story in a new way.

As Art Spiegelman mentioned in his introduction, I was impressed with how Karasik and Mazzucchelli created such an effective comic out of a strange and metaphysical work as City of Glass, which apparently posed a challenge for many to visualize (there have been a number of unsuccessful attempts to adapt it as a screenplay).

City of Glass starts off as a fairly straightforward detective mystery, though with a pervasive feeling that something is a little off. At some point, the narrative becomes unhinged and takes a turn toward po-mo existentialism, but compellingly so. I always wondered what City of Glass would’ve been like had Auster stuck to genre conventions because I think it would’ve made a great detective story. But that’s crazy talk since part of the story’s power lies in its deconstruction of narrative and character. After all, City of Glass is one of many novels where Auster explores his trademark themes: the disintegration of reality and identity.

Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli were able to take those trademark Auster themes and visualize them in comic form. They utilized everything they knew about the art of comics into City of Glass, but each panel is designed in a very controlled and thoughtful way.  It is a wonderful synthesis of two different but complementary mediums.  For anyone interested in a deeper analysis of how Karasik & Mazzuchhelli translate prose to the comic form, take a look at this blog.

If you haven’t read the original novel or the comic adaptation, then I would recommend reading the novel first then waiting a long while before reading the comic. Like long enough to not remember any details of the novel (say a few years!). But if you lack the discipline and cannot wait that long, then I liked what this Guardian review had to say about this little quandary: 

If you haven't read City of Glass, then you have an intriguing dilemma: not which of the two books to read - you should read both - but which to read first. I can't really answer that question, because setting them against one another, trying to decide which is more successful, seems pointless. Both are wonderful works of art. Both are worth reading again and again. And each complements the other, the comic driving you back the novel, and vice versa.

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