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Storyboard prose

Storyboard prose
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First Published: Sat, Jul 07 2007. 12 20 AM IST
Updated: Sat, Jul 07 2007. 12 20 AM IST
Sometimes, the best graphic novels are not graphic novels at all. By now, Ajit, who mans what is arguably the best bookshop this side of the Vindhyas, knows what I like and what I don’t. You won’t catch him proffering a new Murakami or Pynchon to me. A reissue of an old Ballard, maybe. And Chabon, most definitely.
A few years ago, at a time when I was reading only books with pictures (or graphic novels/comics to call them by their rightful name), Ajit preferred The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco. Now, like all engineers, I have been through an Eco phase, but I didn’t exactly feel like indulging in a strenuous mental workout figuring out Eco’s twisted allusions just then. “Take it,” said Ajit. “It’s the closest you’ll get to a graphic novel in prose.” I did, and it was.
Like The Mysterious Flame..., The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brain Selznick is not really a graphic novel, but that’s where the similarity stops. Selznick’s book is part prose and part illustrations done in a sequential storyboard kind of way.
What do I mean by storyboard?
Well, imagine a movie that opens with the shot of a crowded station. The camera pans the crowd from a distance and then closer up. It focuses on a boy. It follows him as he opens an iron grate set in a wall and slips into the hole it opens up.
Now, imagine a series of illustrations that do this.
That’s Selznick’s technique.
The story itself is a charming one about the early era of movies and French movie-maker Georges Méliès. Hugo is a little boy who lives literally inside the walls of a railway station. There’s a mystery in his life that he believes he can solve if he fixes a mechanical man (an automaton) in his possession. He does, and I am not going to give any more details away.
Selznick’s prose is easy and his illustrations are wonderful. They have a certain flip-fast-and-you-can-see-a-movie quality to them that I have only seen in the best manga, and those books were made for flipping.
The Invention... is a pleasant fantasy and I have a feeling that apart from adults, children will love it.
That feeling is further reinforced by the fact that Amazon has a combo deal going for people who buy it and Travels of Thelonious (The Fog Mound), a book that featured in this column not so long ago.
I anticipate a rush of books that seek to emulate Selznick’s effort. They have a tough act to live up to.
Write to Sukumar at cultfiction@livemint.com
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First Published: Sat, Jul 07 2007. 12 20 AM IST
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