Book Review | Gris Grimly’s Frankenstein

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I’d been wanting to read this graphic novel version of the classic story by Mary Shelley for ages, and luckily I got it as a birthday present this year! And overall I was not disappointed; Gris Grimly’s Frankenstein is a marvelous interpretation.

Grimly uses the original text of the novel (the 1818 version, which differs in several ways from the more widely-read 1831 version) to accompany his illustrations, though he does not use all the words. Naturally, he instead uses his drawings to tell much of the story, some of the pages telling paragraphs and paragraphs of narration with nothing but images. Grimly is a gifted storyteller, and the plot is perfectly clear even with large portions of Shelley’s text left out. (Personally, I sometimes missed the text, but that is simply me speaking as a Frankenstein fan.)

The artistic style and tone of this book is excellent — every image is rather unsettling and grotesque. The people and settings all have a distinctly tilted, odd, Tim Burton-ish style (or perhaps, Tim Burton has a Gris Grimly-ish style…?), with rather skeletal proportions, wild hair, and sunken eyes. The people have rather punk-ish, darkly Gothic clothes and styles, while the world in which Grimly has placed them has an unexpectedly steampunk sort of feel. The historical elements are stretched slightly (they drive steam-powered cars, for one), but what is within the text is still here, and the change is perfectly believable and acceptable.

Two standouts in terms of character design are — quite rightly — Victor and the creature. The creature is simply horrifying. He really looks like a monster, but not like a version we have really seen before: gone are the green skin tones and neck bolts of Boris Karloff, as are the cheekbones and narrower frame of Bernie Wrightson and Danny Boyle’s interpretations. He is massive (as he should be!), bulging, and only vaguely humanoid. He bears the main features Shelley focused on in the novel — the pale yellow eyes and long dark hair — but he is far more visceral and repelling than many other creatures portrayed in media thus far. Perhaps this is due to the fact that this is not a live action film in which the creature must be portrayed by an actually normal-looking person, but has the luxury of being purely imagination in ink form. Or perhaps he looks this way to fit the aesthetic of Grimly’s vision. Either way, the creature will certainly steal the show but also gross you out at the same time. (As he should!)

Victor, on the other hand, has probably never looked quite so emo/goth before. With his messy burst of dark hair and leather clothes, and his sharp cheekbones and intense gaze, he twists the usual “mad genius” image so often given to Frankenstein. For once, he looks like his canonical age: like the egotistical, damaged twenty-something he is supposed to be, which is excellent. The only time this youthful image departs is toward the end, when he has been through so much and is wasting away. Throughout, his character has some of the best moments in terms of not just plot, but also in Grimly’s skill at portraying him through illustration. Part of the horror of this story, after all, is that Victor is a mortal man like us all but who does terrible things, and the way this book simultaneously humanizes and demonizes him perfectly represents that.

In the end, Gris Grimly’s Frankenstein is an admirable graphic version of the classic novel. While I usually don’t find graphic novels particularly compelling, this one has definitely shown me that they are not without merit by a long run. It would especially be good for reluctant readers of classics or a younger audience. The art is excellent, the storytelling is done extremely well, the selection of original text is complementary of the images, and the overall sense is an odd combination of fascination and repulsion — both of the creature, and of Victor Frankenstein himself. And that is perhaps where we see just how well Grimly has followed Shelley’s original vision; both… dare I say, creators?… leave us asking, who is the real monster?

Overall rating: 8.5/10

Hope you liked this review! If you did, leave a comment! Also, if anyone has a favorite version of Frankenstein, whether film or play or whatever, let me know (asking, uh… for a friend… No, I lied, it’s for me).

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