I’ve been sick the last two days and no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to read. In a last ditch effort to do something other than watch TV and movies, I pulled out M by Jon Muth. M is a graphic novel adaptation of the classic German Expressionist movie M, by Fritz Lang and Thea Von Harbou. I love M, as well as Fritz Lang and Thea Von Harbou in general. I saw this book back in late Dec/early Jan. Originally it was released in four volumes in 1990, but was recently put together in a single hardbound volume. The artwork is much like Shaun Tan – not in style, but in structure – which lets the picture tell the story more than any words on the page. In fact, the pages with words (done in cheesy, early-computer-style bubble format) actually detracts from the story in my opinion.
M is the story of a pedophile and child murderer in early 1900s Germany. Kids disappear in seemingly random places throughout this town, only to be found murdered later. No one knows who the murderer is. The police are worn out but determined, citizens are panicking, and the underground network of criminals are irritated that this murderer is giving them a worse name than they already have. Everyone is out looking for this man in their own way.
I can hardly talk about the graphic adaptation without talking about the movie as well. While it’s not my favorite of Lang’s movies – that honor belongs to Metropolis – I was very impressed the first time I saw it. Peter Lorre plays the child murderer, and unlike all his English-speaking roles, he isn’t just a goofball with funny eyes and a weird voice. My favorite part of the movie is a long monologue he gives towards the end (I won’t tell you what about or the circumstances surrounding it). It’s brilliant, and it’s what really stood out for me in this movie.
The pacing is very different than modern day crime/psychological thrillers. I know this wouldn’t be a movie everyone would like. It lacks a score, so that sometimes long scenes are shot without any sound at all. M was Lang’s first non-silent film, in the era where talk films were just beginning to be produced.
The graphic novel was a tribute of sorts to the movie. Muth used people he knew to shoot photographs in similar scenes to the movie, and then he painted the panels of this adaptation from those photographs with an elaborate set of tools. The entire process is described at the end of the book. Most of the pictures are in black and white with subtle sepia hints, there are a few places where he adds color to highlight specific points of the panel. While I don’t think the adaptation captures the same emotional flow of the movie (though that could be because I was really, really sick when I read it), the artwork is gorgeous. Some of the most beautiful paintings I’ve ever seen. This is definitely a book I want to keep and read over again.
I watched the movie again this morning. Jason got it for me for my birthday, and it was nice to sit down and see it for the second time. It was especially nice to watch it right after reading the graphic adaptation. I would definitely encourage people to watch the movie and if they enjoy it, to read the adaptation as well.
And now it’s time to go take a nap…