Tuesday, January 3, 2012

GN Review -- The Alchemist / Paulo Coelho, Derek Ruiz, and Daniel Sampere

It's easy to lose sight of what you feel you're supposed to with your life when you weigh it against the practical demands of the world: other people's perceptions of what's right and wrong, your own personal economic situation, even your sense of responsibility.  When we're children, we often see most clearly what our own personal legends are supposed to be, but as we gain the means to pursue them as adults, we are often shackled by these worldly constraints, among others.  It makes pursuit nearly impossible, and their realization even more unlikely.  But when you can perceive signs demanding you seek out your personal legend, do you sacrifice reasonable concerns to do so?

That is the question posed in the graphic novel adaptation of The Alchemist.

The Alchemist was originally a novel by Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho that has gone on to achieve a level of worldwide acclaim rare among written works.  So it's not terribly surprising that, some twenty years later when the graphic novel format is becoming a more popular medium, we see an adaptation of the work into a sequential art narrative.  Whether or not it compares favorably to its progenitor isn't something I'm able to assess, since I've never read the novel.

The overarching strength of this story is in the writing, and more specifically in its message of the dogged pursuit your own personal legend.  The travels of the main character, a shepherd boy by the name of Santiago; the characters he meets; and his own travails that end up leading him "there and back again" make for an engrossing and intriguing personal and spiritual journey.  It's likely this message of self-exploration and self-awareness that I imagine is the main theme of the novel on which it's based.

I thought the artwork was pretty good, though Daniel Sampere's use of lines to accentuate wrinkles bordered on excessive in some places.  I was somewhat disappointed in how little exposure he chose to give to the climactic moment of the narrative where Santiago turns himself into the wind, but otherwise thought most of the choices he made suited the story being told.

A few things that rang odd:
  • Name display: Coelho's name is the only one prominently displayed on the work.  Unless you check the inside back flap, you won't find the writer who adapted it or the artist.  Now, while I acknowledge Coelho's monumental role in originating the work--hell, I'll even argue that his name should be more prominently displayed than the others--I don't think it's any excuse for keeping hidden the hands who've actually sculpted the work at hand.
  • The "I Always Wanted This" Syndrome: Coelho's assertion that it's been an "old dream" of his to see The Alchemist in graphic novel format.  It may be true, but it seems opportunistically timed, particularly given the setup of how the creative team's credits are (not) displayed.  It's like this particular publication has been all about him alone.
Overall, while this isn't your typical comic book, it's not a bad quest story.  The narrative is unconventional and well paced, the artwork is good.  I wouldn't recommend it to fans of traditional comic book fare, be it Eastern or Western, but I do think those readers looking for stories of a spiritual journey, or graphic adaptations of novels.  Recommended.

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