30 Days of Night, Again, and Again, and Again

June 8th, 2009 Comments Off

One midnight a short time ago I picked up 30 Days of Night, a vampire graphic novel I was looking forward to, after having read some great reviews. (In 500 Essential Graphic Novels, for example, Gene Kannenberg calls 30 Days of Night a “livid, modern-gothic triumph.”)

I finished the first volume by 1am. Was I too scared to sleep afterward? No way. The only thing that kept me up was trying to figure out why I was so underwhelmed by the comic.

The series begins with a great premise—vampires go on a thirty day feeding spree in Barrow, Alaska, during the darkest part of winter, when the sun will not rise for another thirty days—and at first glance Ben Templesmith’s graphics look stunning, crowded with expressionistic Nosferatu vampires against brushed and splattered grey-black backgrounds.

But on both levels—narratively and visually—30 Days of Night is unrewarding.

The problem with Steve Niles’s writing is its flatness. Aside from a few pages early in the book (when the sheriff spots the vampire swarm approaching, each panel a closer shot than the one before, ending with a horrific close-up of the vampires looking like Edward Gorey’s creatures on steroids)—aside from a few sequences like that, the pacing is flat. There is no rising tension, no build-up of suspense. We know everything we need to know by the end of the first few pages.

The graphics likewise have a plodding sense of sameness about them. However vivid, frenzied, and edgy they are, it’s the same panel, over and over and over. There’s no sense of motion. Even when a panel depicts a vampire in the act of gutting a human, blood splattering all over the page, there’s a still-life sense about the scene. Visually, it’s beautiful, the fast strokes and scribbled outlines recalling the Muromachi Period in Japanese painting in the 14th and 15th centuries. But such dark beauty fails to create visual tension between panels. The images are too frantic, too much of the time, and the effect is a grinding repetition that, however much it may resemble the bleak sameness of the northern wastes of Alaska, sacrifices storytelling for the sake of artistry.

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