Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer(s): Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell
Artist: Scott Hampton
Release Date: 15th March, 2017
American Gods is one of my all-time favourite books, and this Dark Horse Comics adaptation stays loyal to the original so I’m not going to find fault with the plot or dialogue which is all lifted directly from Gaiman’s prose. Instead, I’ll judge the graphic version on how it lives up to that high bar.
The artwork here is by Scott Hampton, who I’m a fan of from his work on Lucifer (another Gaiman derivative, albeit taken to new places by Mike Carey) but while on that title his style worked to give an awkward sense of the supernatural, it just doesn’t click for me here.
Hampton’s sparse frames and muted colours leave the bulk of this issue feeling like nothing is happening, only really picking up towards the end when more overtly otherworldly events start occurring, and even then, the best frames aren’t exactly ones I’d want to frame. I suspect that’s intentional, setting out to create a visible contrast between the grey mundane world and a vibrant supernatural world.
To my mind, that’s entirely the wrong way to look at the world of American Gods, where the supernatural walks amongst us, and in America, which is poor ground for deities, their glory is dimmed compared to the Old World. In my mind’s eye, American Gods should be gritty and realistic, punctuated by small flickers of divine flame, more glamours than miracles, hints at underlying truths rather than epic revelation (at least until the end of the story) and I’m just not feeling that here.
Aside from that wholly personal and subjective opinion, this issue suffers from being the opening chapter of a comic series relying on the opening chapters of a book. The pacing of the different media are markedly different, partially contributing to the uneventful feel of the comic.
It’s early days and I know that the story which is yet to be told is a great one, but if I didn’t already know that, this first issue would likely not inspire me to buy the second. That said, my faith in the prose and the impressive track record of the artist means that I’ll still be keeping an eye out for it.
The hardest part (I think) about adapting beloved literature, such as American Gods, into something visual, is that readers of the book already have preconceptions about how things look in their heads. They each have their own idea of what characters look like, what places look like, and how everything intermingles in between.
American Gods falls into that trap. It’s no surprise (or secret) that I am a big fan of the novel, reading it annually to a point where “this too shall pass” is a personal mantra. So when I heard it was being adapted, I was understandably nervous.
The thing about American Gods is that it’s not a quick story. Neil Gaiman has said it himself that it is a road novel, in that it spirals and twists round itself, seeming more meandering the more you read it. So when it comes to this first issue, it’s a relatively slow paced affair with not a whole lot happening. However, when something does happen, P. Craig Russell smashes it, instantly snapping your attention back and reminding you of just why the book is so well loved.
Props to the art team as well, taking such a heavy burden as adapting a novel can’t be easy, and I have to agree with others that there are aspects of the first issue that aren’t quite how I imagined them. That being said, when it works, it works hard, bringing a smile to my face. The painted style of Scott Hampton, while not necessarily suited for more ‘normal’ aspects of the story, fit perfectly when the more otherworldly aspects of American Gods kick in. With the “somewhere in America” backup, Lovern Kindzierski straight up kills it. I had no idea they were actually going to go for it with this, and go for it they do. No spoilers here, except I was pleasantly surprised with how it turned out.
Overall, not a perfect first issue by any means, but knowing where it’s going, I can’t wait. I only hope new readers are willing to strap in for the long run, as it should definitely be worth it.
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