Volume 25, Number 01, Fall, 2007

Five for frightening

The Keep: The Graphic Novel

By F. Paul Wilson, Art by Matthew Smith

IDW, 2005/2006, Issues 1-5, $3.99 ea;
Trade paperback $19.99
Reviewed by Anders Monsen
Fall, 2007

The fourth incarnation of F. Paul Wilson’s 1980 horror novel, The Keep, appeared in five comic book format installments before being bound into trade paperback edition in August, 2006. Counting the novel, the other two ways you can experience the story is through a feature film (VHS) and a board game, although Wilson himself has disparaged the film version of his novel, and labored for years to bring a new and truer version to the screen.

What happens when Wilson writes his own visual script and finds an artist capable and willing to remain loyal to the story? First, to reduce a 332-page novel packed with ideas about power and mankind’s self-inflicted horrors mixed with alien designs upon humanity into 110 pages of sketches and brief dialog requires some sacrifices. A graphic novel cannot always convey the same frisson and story as a cinematic presentation. Light, color, shading, music, character nuances and depth are unique to film. Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s recent adaptation of Sin City stuck closely to the artist’s rendering of the original. The movie transcended the pages of the graphic novel, yet also felt deliberately over-stylized. With The Keep: The Graphic Novel, the roles are almost reversed; the stark sketches illuminate the pain of the characters (especially Glaeken and Magda’s father), and the depth of Rasalom’s evil to a much greater degree than the novel. The Nazis, on the other hand, seem almost like caricatures; an evil man, the brutes, and the resigned yet honorable soldier. As evidenced from the cover art reprinted above, Matthew Smith’s artwork stands out as dark and brooding. The interior work is black and white with pale blue shading instead of gray. Each of the five comics offers 22 pages of The Keep story; the remaining 11 pages are given over to advertising other IDW products, as well as letters and other miscellanea. As a dedicated F. Paul Wilson fan I sought out each individual comic as they appeared in stores, but perhaps a better option would have been to wait for the trade paperback volume that contained all five episodes, as this is free of unrelated material. I ended up buying the five episodes from three or four different locations, in two different cities, visiting seven separate comic book stores. I did not secure volume 5 until early September; obviously I lack comic-book buying savvy.

The story opens with a note from a German garrison in the second world war in Romania. “Something is murdering my men,” the commander writes. The garrison is actually an old castle, over 500 years old, with over 16,000 crosses embedded in the walls. The purpose of these crosses baffles the Germans, some of whom believe they signify hidden treasure. During a search for this supposed treasure they find something entirely else, something with a dark and sinister purpose, and shortly thereafter men begin to die. Their actions have set in motion a long-suspended battle between two opposing forces.

When Wilson’s novel appeared over two decades ago, it marked a watershed change in his writing. After three sf novels Wilson changed gears and wrote several horror novels, starting with The Keep. Since then he’s branched out to medical thrillers, alternate history, and supernatural mysteries, among others. Most of his recent stories find their source in the Adversary mythology created in The Keep (although the true origin lies further back—1979’s “Demonsong” introduced Glaeken and Rasalom in a swords and sorcery story).

If you’re not familiar with the story, seek out the original novel; there’s a lot more meat and clarity in the vaster expanse of that text. The graphic novel version is remarkable in that as a pared down, minimalist method it also conveys the essence of the story. The lack of words and pure reliance of images in a critical climactic moment near the end left me somewhat baffled, but aside from that detail I’ve found myself paging through the books again and again, impressed with the art and writing.

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