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Return of the Knave
Drink It Black
Wednesday, 30 March 2005
Quaff
In order to look at fiction in comics and comics in fiction it is necessary to obtain some distance. It isn't particularly helpful to say that the Rawhide Kid is more or less realistic compared to the so-called 'science heroes', or that Red Sonja is a character who works across different media.

No, what we need to do is go back in time to 1905.

Plenty of things were fiction then: heavier-than-air craft carrying people across the world being one startling example. Imagine a world where one cannot get anywhere in a hurry! The task one hundred years on, in interpreting a work of fiction from that era, is to imagine a world that no longer exists and where the characters have yet to imagine space travel and lebensraum - past history to us.

Our specimen text is a short story in a series of such featuring the same main characters; just as in Sherlock Holmes, only with a twist

"A Thief in the Night: Hornung's third book about Raffles, the gentleman burglar. (Short Stories, 1905, 182 pages)"




2. The Chest of Silver
Like all the tribe of which I held him head, Raffles professed the liveliest disdain for unwieldy plunder of any description; it might be old Sheffield, or it might be solid silver or gold, but if the thing was not to be concealed about the person, he would none whatever of it. Unlike the rest of us, however, in this as in all else, Raffles would not infrequently allow the acquisitive spirit of the mere collector to silence the dictates of professional prudence. The old oak chests, and even the mahogany wine-cooler, for which he had doubtless paid like an honest citizen, were thus immovable with pieces of crested plate, which he had neither the temerity to use nor the hardihood to melt or sell. He could but gloat over them behind locked doors, as I used to tell him, and at last one afternoon I caught him at it. It was in the year after that of my novitiate, a halcyon period at the Albany, when Raffles left no crib uncracked, and I played second-murderer every time. I had called in response to a telegram in which he stated that he was going out of town, and must say good-by to me before he went. And I could only think that he was inspired by the same impulse toward the bronzed salvers and the tarnished teapots with which I found him surrounded, until my eyes lit upon the enormous silver-chest into which he was fitting them one by one.

"Allow me, Bunny! I shall take the liberty of locking both doors behind you and putting the key in my pocket," said Raffles, when he had let me in. "Not that I mean to take you prisoner, my dear fellow; but there are those of us who can turn keys from the outside, though it was never an accomplishment of mine."

"Not Crawshay again?" I cried, standing still in my hat.

Raffles regarded me with that tantalizing smile of his which might mean nothing, yet which often meant so much; and in a flash I was convinced that our most jealous enemy and dangerous rival, the doyen of an older school, had paid him yet another visit.

"That remains to be seen," was the measured reply; "and I for one have not set naked eye on the fellow since I saw him off through that window and left myself for dead on this very spot. In fact, I imagined him comfortably back in jail."



Even though this has moments of high dudgeon and fabulous protagonists, it proves difficult to adapt. How would this slice of story work visually?

The second paragraph would work better in sequential art narrative as you could show not tell the whole exchange of Raffles explaining the locking of doors behind him as he does it. You could do it well in two or three panels.

Why not the third paragraph as well? Only because of the quaint expression "..., standing still in my hat" Maybe the waning popularity of headgear sent this vernacular out of vogue some time back. Were I the artist for this exercise (we're making believe the whole way here), I'd have the twin problem of not knowing how to render someone crying, standing still in their hat; and of not wanting to lose so quickly the novel archaism. But how to have 'Bunny' crying "Not Crawshay again?" and have it obvious by his poise or position that he is standing still in his hat when he does so?

Paragraph four poses the same dilemma as my formal screenwriting training covered: how the hell do you convey in performance (or graphically) that 'tantalizing smile'of Raffles'? I mean, look at it, it's not only tantalising, it's enigmatic; sometimes signifying nothing, other times being highly significant. Aaaand, we have to convey on this occasion that Watson - I mean, Bunny - knows instantly which it is. Through nothing but penny dreadful ink on paper we will find ourselves envisioning something phenomenologically as though we were Bunny. It's a popular method of writing fiction - to use the offsider's first person narrative to relay events. But we don't need his intercession in a comic book, we can see what's going on. And we have no way of showing him, unless he appears in narrator pose a la The Watcher, and that's naff.

Serialised short stories rely as much on dialogue as scene description and so the challenge is to include this without crowding panels with word balloons.
I might have good characters but will they have much to do that I can show in pen and ink? Or will it be an awkward marriage where Raffles' 'measured reply' takes up too much space and slows the story.

Posted by berko_wills at 3:01 PM EADT
Updated: Saturday, 2 April 2005 6:20 AM EADT
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