by Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell (HarperCollins, 2008)

P. Craig Russell, the artist for the wonderful Sandman #50: Ramadan, teams up with Neil Gaiman once again in Coraline, the graphic novel adaptation. Originally released as a prose novella in 2002, Coraline was praised as a modern masterpiece, with many critics comparing it to Alice in Wonderland. A stop-motion film based on the novella is coming out in 2009, featuring the voices of Teri Hatcher as both Mothers, and Dakota Fanning as Coraline. It will enter cinematic history as the first movie ever to have been filmed entirely in 3D. There is also a video game coming out, as well as a musical.

Coraline's safe, rather unexciting existence is turned upside down when she and her parents move into an apartment that's part of a grand old Victorian-style mansion. Lonely, bored and longing for attention from loving but somewhat preoccupied parents, she turns to exploring the grounds of her new home. There are sprawling gardens hiding interesting secrets, neighbors who are more than a bit odd and, more importantly, there is a door in the middle of the living room, all bricked up, that apparently leads to nowhere.

Of course, it turns out that it definitely does lead somewhere. Through the seemingly impenetrable door, Coraline finds a mirror world. There's another Mother, another Father, another home, everything a complete copy of her first world; however, all is not as it seems. There's a sinister force at work that wants to keep Coraline in that world forever, something very ancient and very dark that likes children and never wants to let them go. It also doesn't like to lose at games. Coraline has to use every ounce of cunning she possesses to free herself and her parents from the enchanted world in which they've been trapped. Along the way a talking cat and the ghosts of three children the creature has "kept" before help her out.

I once had the extreme pleasure of listening to Neil Gaiman read the story in its entirety during an appearance in Chicago that just happened to be on a dark and stormy night. Could there have been a more perfect setting? As far as I am concerned I have already experienced the best possible version of Coraline, in the author's own voice in the way stories used to be told, from storyteller directly to the listener/audience. It lent authentic flavor to a modern-day fable already compared favorably with Lewis Carroll and C. S. Lewis.

Since then the tale Gaiman told that night has obviously carved out quite a niche as a contemporary classic. A graphic novel adaptation was inevitable, as it was the only thing missing, apart from action figures and comic books (which will probably come along shortly), from the cottage industry that's sprung up around this very well-written little story.

As visual adaptations go, it's pretty good, though curiously unexciting. Russell's highly intricate artwork is always a pleasure, but here his typically arabesque style seems somewhat more straightforward. Still, the illustrations put a good framework on the prose. This can be very helpful for a reader of the novella who might have trouble envisioning what the characters look like or how all the action plays out inside of one large, rambling magical home. The art, if unoriginal, provides a good, basic visual play-by-play.

If you're a parent and want to check out the novella/movie ahead of time to determine if this is age appropriate for your kid, then this is definitely for you. At 163 pages, it's a fast read, which is helpful if you're in the same boat as most time-pressed parents. If you enjoyed the prose version and simply want to put visuals to places and faces, then this format is also highly recommended.

review by
Mary Harvey

24 January 2009

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