Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Is he man or monster?



When I was a teenager I drew all the time. I tended to respond to anything I saw or read by doing a drawing or two. These were often no more than doodles. I remember doing something a little more finished for Frankenstein though - it was an ink drawing with a colour wash over it and it was heavily influenced by that Signet Classics cover.

The creature was in silhouette against a night sky with a full moon behind. I don't have access to that drawing now - it is in one of many folios that remain in storage - but interestingly, I revisited the image when I came to do roughs for the cover of Redwulf's Curse - the third of the Tom Marlowe mysteries. My original idea was to have the mysterious guardian of the barrow standing alone in the marshes. I was persuaded that this was too stark at the time - but I still prefer it to the one I eventually did.

By the time the cover reached the finished version it had gone through so many tweaks that it had lost the quality it had at the beginning. A lot of the book plays on the fear of desolate places and the image had lost sense of that somehow. The book was eventually repackaged with a completely different cover anyway.

This is the drawing of the creature that graced the frontispiece of the 1818 edition of Frankenstein. It shows the moment where Victor looks at his work and recoils in horror. Note the skeleton under the creatures legs. And the lack of stitches.

The great American illustrator Lynd Ward decided to show the scene where Victor wakes to find the creature looking down at him through the bed curtains. His illustrations were published a few years after the James Whale movie, but as you can see, his is a very different creature from Karloff's, again with no signs of having been cobbled together from spare parts.



Bernie Wrightson used a very similar image in this more recent illustration for the novel. Wrightson's creature is even more muscular than Lynd Ward's and not surprisingly comics had been quick to see the potential of Frankenstein.


Stan Lee's The Incredible Hulk is a clever cross between Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Frankenstein, but the latter probably had the bigger influence - not only in its fear of science but also in the way Jack Kirby was clearly influenced by the movie representation of Frankenstein when he came to draw Bruce Banner's alter ego.


In the early 1970s - when I was discovering Frankenstein as both movie and novel, Marvel even used Mary Shelley's story as the basis for a series of comics with the creature as the main character - Monster of Frankenstein (later Frankenstein's Monster).

When I was on the Foundation year at art college, in 1976/7, we had to submit a proposal for a graphics project and mine was to do a graphic novel treatment of Frankenstein. I was told - quite rightly - that it was too big a job for the time allowed. It was more of a 2nd Year project. And by the time the 2nd Year came round, I had other things on my mind.

A big part of my desire to do that project was the urge to tell the story exactly as Mary Shelley had written it. Now - thirty-odd years later - I'm not sure that I have the same need to be true to Mary in that way.

I tell my own stories now and though my fascination with Frankenstein has never dimmed - and the idea of of doing a graphic novel of the book still appeals, I find I want to respond to the book in a more oblique and personal way.

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