by Neil Gaiman,
Mike Carey & Glenn Fabry
(Vertigo, 2007)

As any avid book-lover will tell you, concrete images of the characters invariably form in the reader's imagination as a story unfolds. Defined by the author only by adjectives and actions in stark black-and-white, their appearances will still become solid reality that, in some cases, cannot be jarred.

My wife is pretty unshakeable on the subject. Once she gets a picture in her head, she doesn't want any casting director or comic-book illustrator to muck about with her imagined view. So she approached the new comic-book adaptation of Neverwhere -- her fourth favorite Neil Gaiman novel, she told me, but the one she's read most often -- with extreme reluctance. She put it down a few pages in, disheartened by unavoidable differences in perspective.

I know how she feels, but I'm a little more fluid in my view. For me, Simon Jones and David Dixon made the perfect Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect in BBC's 1981 adaptation of Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and yet I was still able to enjoy the very different look in the 2005 Hollywood version starring Martin Freeman and Mos Def in the roles. Similarly, Gary Bakewell and Laura Fraser, while they didn't match my preconceived view of Neverwhere characters Richard Mayhew and Door, were perfectly acceptable in the roles in that BBC miniseries. And I'm equally comfortable with artist Glenn Fabry's interpretation in the new comic-book collection.

Call me wishy-washy if you must, but I'm adaptable. Take the thuggish Croup and Vandemar, the truly evil pair that dogs Door's heels for much of the story. The BBC series and Fabry's artistic rendering couldn't be more dissimilar, and yet they're both right, in the greater context of the story. Both versions seem to suit Gaiman's vision, if not my own.

And for me, that's what matters. I don't care if they match my view of the characters, but I do care how well the story is told. And this story, adapted from Gaiman's original novel by Mike Carey and illustrated by Fabry, is told well.

Hell, it's great. Carey successfully boiled the novel down to its most necessary elements, retaining the flavor and flow of the story with far fewer pages to work with. A lot has been lost, sure, but he's retained the essence of Gaiman's narrative -- and the novel is still out there for anyone who wants to read the full work. (If you haven't already, you really should. Really.) And Fabry has given the characters a believable appearance: Mayhew begins the tale with a vulnerable, trod-upon look that slowly builds in confidence; Door is strong, exotic, yet vulnerable; Croup and Vandemar are aptly cruel and strong, relentless and vicious; the Marquis is dark and inscrutable.

It may be a bit ironic that Gaiman, who first achieved fame as a comic-book writer, is now seeing his novels adapted into comics by others in the field. I can only hope he's as pleased with this adaptation as I am.

by Tom Knapp
10 March 2007

Buy it from