by Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola
I heard about this “illustrated novel” when I read Baltimore: The Plague Ships during my comic book glut a few weeks ago. I wasn’t quite sure what an illustrated novel was, but figured that since I liked illustrations and novels, it was probably for me. Also, while I enjoy comic books, I actually like novels better, so I figured that if I really liked Baltimore the comic book, I was going to love Baltimore the novel. You’ve probably already figured out from this lead-up that I did not.
There were a couple of issues, and I think the main one is that there is a reason that comic books/graphic novels and novels are two distinct mediums. They have significantly different narrative structures, and it is the rare author who can work in both (even more kudos to Neil Gaiman, then). In graphic novel Baltimore, the art and text worked together seamlessly and each provided content that the other lacked.
In illustrated novel Baltimore, the illustrations were small, simple black-and-white woodcut-style illustrations that kind of floated in the text on every few pages. I had imagined that they would be full color, full page reproductions of paintings, something even more impressive than the art in the graphic novel, something to distinguish it from the graphic novel and justify having a medium called an illustrated novel. (Thinking it over, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children better matches my idea of the definition.)
I can’t be entirely impartial on the written content because it was in a style that I find particularly difficult to read: characters telling stories. The majority of the novel consisted of three friends of Lord Baltimore sitting in a pub, telling stories about themselves and their relationship to Baltimore, while waiting for him to meet them. Sometimes, while telling stories about their past, their past self would then tell a story! It all got very convoluted, and that kind of flashback narrative lacks a sense of action and urgency to me.
It read like almost the opposite of a graphic novel, which has to be mostly action-oriented in order to support engaging illustrations. This came as a bit of a shock to me, but in retrospect, it kind of makes sense. For a dedicating author of comic books and graphic novels to try his hand at writing a full-length novel, the author must want to try something different, to write something that couldn’t be supported in a comic book structure.
Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola’s effort feels like what it probably is: an amateur attempt at an unaccustomed medium. They didn’t know a whole lot about writing novels, but they knew that novels were different than comic books, so they wrote something as different as possible.