Comic books 15 Jun 2010 10:47 am
Stephen King’s N. (with a period after the “N”) is an enjoyable ride. I haven’t read the original prose piece, which is something of a rarity for me as far as King comics adaptations go, so I’m judging this not based on its fidelity to the original (although I assume it is), but on how well it works as a comic.
And the answer is: Very well, indeed. The conceit here is to take the concept of Lovecraftian horror — that belief in a world of large, gibbering gods and devils existing in an other-dimensional world adjacent to ours — and graft it to modern psychological theory. In other words, can mental illness be contagious, brought about by exposure to standing stones in a field in central Maine?
Since this is a Stephen King story, of course madness is contagious. Writer Marc Guggenheim and artist Alex Maleev do a fine job of showing the descent of the main character — known only as N. in the notes his doctor makes — into madness, first through an OCD fixation on numbers and later through suicidal tendencies.
The insanity doesn’t end with N., however, but moves right along to vex his psychiatrist, as well, who eventually succumbs to something straight out of the Cthulhu mythos. (Does anybody know how to pronounce “Cthulhu”? I’ve seen it as kuh-THOO-loo, but I always want to put an “s” at the beginning.)
Stephen King’s N. began life as a motion comic, according to material in the back of the four-issue series. I didn’t read any of the installments online, but the book’s non-traditional origins haven’t affected its presentation in a standard format here. Maleev’s photo referencing is fairly obvious, but unlike some readers who get into a real snit about the practice, I like it. Not on all books, mind you, but only where and when it’s appropriate. It’s appropriate here.
The best indicator of success with a horror comic (or any kind of horror story, really) is to ask if it’s scary. N. doesn’t smack the reader with head-on terror, but it is disquieting, and I imagine doubly so to those prone to OCD-like symptoms or a full-blown syndrome.
The human mind is the scariest place of all, and that’s where Stephen King’s N. sets up shop for most of its run. I’d like to see more of King’s work adapted in this fashion, especially with the kind of care and concern that Guggenheim and Maleev have lavished here.