Trade Secrets – THE DISCWORLD GRAPHIC NOVELS

After a long time, let’s get back to talking about trades, collected volumes, and graphic novels with THE DISCWORLD GRAPHIC NOVELS. This volume collects Terry Pratchett’s first two Discworld novels in comic form; The Colour of Magic & The Light Fantastic. And it’s pretty good.

Fantasy as a genre, like its sister genre Science Fiction, tends to branch out into an infinite number of variations and spins. So flexible is the fantastic, so versatile is the impossible, that it can easily hold nearly every other genre within its sphere (with the obvious exception of SF, which nonetheless shares this distinction). Once can have fantastic westerns, fantastic romances, fantastic war, etc.

You can even have fantastic comedy. Such is the case with the works of Terry Pratchett, namely his Discworld novels.

Beginning in the early eighties, the Discworld novels are set in the titular Discworld, a land balanced atop four elephants that in turn stand atop a massive, planet-sized sea turtle flying through space. And depending on what area of Discworld one comes from, it’s either a civilized paradise with advanced magic/technology, or a crapsack medieval world hovering somewhere around a low fantasy setting. But when I say low fantasy, I mean it is in the civilization surrounding Ankh-Morpork, the main city in the stories. However, fantasy elements run the entire spectrum in Discworld, be it the wizards jealously guarding arcane knowledge, to druids who build stone complexes the way we would build computers (with similar mentality), to a simple gingerbread house of fairy tales.

See, Discworld is both a celebration and a satire of the genre. The best way I could think to describe the Discworld novels is that they are fantasy’s answer to Douglas Adams’ series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Once one realizes that, grasping the nature of what we’re in for becomes much easier.

This volume includes graphic novel versions of Pratchett’s first two Discworld Novels: The Colour of Magic (which OpenOffice seems to think is misspelled, proving the program is woefully anglophobic), and The Light Fantastic. These tell the misadventures of Twoflower, Discworld’s first tourist, and his guide Rincewind, inept and jaded wizard with a magic word of power lodged in his brain. They run hither and yon across their world, encountering danger at every turn, and generally having little idea what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how any of it matters in the long run.

And it’s hilarious.

As I read through both parts, I became more convinced of the aptness of my comparison to Hitchhiker’s Guide, because the two share a lot of the same traits, principle among them subversion of classic tropes within their respective genres, as well as a penchant for using them as a metaphor for real world issues. Twoflower is not just a tourist, but also a risk analyst and insurance agent. When you add that to Ankh-Morpork, some ignorant bar owner, and a generally unlucky set of protagonists, and you have a city up in flames. And that’s just in the first few chapters. Add to that a Conan the Barbarian analogue named Cohen (who happens to be like eighty years old) and Death, who literally stalks Rincewind, and you have a story that can both love its chosen genre, and completely take the piss out of it at the same time.

As for the adaptation to the graphic medium, I can’t say for sure how good the conversion is, having never read the original novels. What I can say is the art style makes rich use of color and shading. Panel placement is inventive, and only rarely did I ever have trouble identifying who someone was if I was meant to know them. It sort of reminds me of another comic adaptation I read, that of Hitchhiker’s Guide if you can believe it. But that one was terrible, whereas this one less so.

Seriously, stay away from the old, three-issue, pre-film graphic novel of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s…not very good…though it contain everything I guess.

As for the Discworld graphic novels, I most certainly recommend it/them. They’re fun, well designed, and portray a world of chronically antagonistic magic and black humor. And it’s British, so it has to be at least slightly good.

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