Aug 07

Agatha Christie Comics

FT + The Brown Wedge/6 comments • 1,345 views

I am a poor judge of whether or not a bit of PR work will lead to press coverage or not. Take the Agatha Christie comic adaptations story that’s been doing the rounds – this looks like a non-starter to me but everywhere has covered it. I will make a second – possibly bad – prediction and say that all this publicity will not help these comics sell very many copies.

For one thing, I can’t believe comic adaptations of books sell very well. They must make some economic sense because publishers keep doing them, but is there really much of a market beyond a particular type of mentalist collector? Children barely read comics any more, and for the adult reader it’s hard to escape a sense of illegitimacy if you’re reading an adaptation – like, shouldn’t you really be giving the prose version a go?

(Of course, some adaptations boast top-drawer cartooning talent and look terrific – but these are rare.)

Anyway, Agatha Christie seems especially poorly suited to the comics form. Novels of the Christie type tend to involve something quite visual happening i.e. an murder, and then loads of talking about the murder afterwards, before a resolution where the detective tells everyone who did the murder. Very tense and dramatic in prose – but what is an artist to actually DRAW? Comics are a medium which relies on action and visual incident – talking heads in comics can work but it takes a very skilled cartoonist to make them sustain an entire graphic novel. And said cartoonists would usually try to avoid using the talking heads for exposition – but the classic murder mystery has exposition as its climax: thrilling in plot terms but visually? Surely not.

Judging from the art in the BBC site, talking heads and big blocks of dialogue – all in a peculiarly stiff and horrible font – are present and correct, though the art looks good on locale and mood, and the artist can draw faces well (pretty essential for this kind of work). But though it’s hard to judge just on little snippets of art, the figure work looks quite static and it doesn’t seem like there’s much storytelling energy there. I doubt anyone would buy one of these and not come away without some level of disappointment.


  1. 1
    Kat on 22 Aug 2007 #

    I suppose adapting a novel for a comic is just as fraught with difficult as adapting a novel for telly – turning dialogue/monologue into a visual depiction. Though it must be far more difficult for an artist to capture the tension of a verbally dramatic scene statically than a director to film it, it’s surely not impossible? I can’t judge this particular Agathexample obv as I have read neither her nor many comic adaptations.

  2. 2
    Tom on 22 Aug 2007 #

    Yes it’s not impossible but much more difficult than on film, where the nuances of reaction and emotion can come across very well, and where good direction can add a lot of drama to a static scene.

    Of course good artists can do these things too! But the skills needed are a lot rarer for whatever reason – I think probably it’s harder.

  3. 3
    Pete Baran on 22 Aug 2007 #

    I’m not sure I agree with you about the need for ACTION in comics (though it is something that comics can do very well). And there are a lot of good “talkie” comics out there, punctuated by the odd bit of breathless excitement (murder, investigation can involve this – though I agree that the drawing room scenes are not ideal denouements). What comics can do is illustrate the process, show us the crime scenes replete with the evidence. (CSI comics do this exceptionally well.)

    As such Poirot is a poor lead to pick as his little grey cells method is fiendishly obscure to the reader. I think the key point is this issue of adaptation, and semi-redundancy. Is there a comic crossover audience for Christie, or could there be. There is an aspect of serial fiction (which comics does exceptionally well) to Christies recurring characters, but the actual audiences seem too disparate. This being “heritage” comics means the art choices will be competent rather than interesting, and the script will equally remain “faithful”. I have read some terrific hard boiled comics which are just as talky and static but they had the advantage of innovative art and stylistic writing. The death here I’d imagine is in the adaptation, not necessarily the form

  4. 4
    Tom on 22 Aug 2007 #

    I think the tension created by the possibility of action is going to be much more present in a hard boiled comic, though.

    Your point about heritage comics is a very good one – there are a few artists who could do a good Christie adaptation but I doubt they’re going to hire one.

  5. 5
    Agatha Christie PC games fan on 6 Sep 2009 #

    I can’t see the point of doing comic adaptations? Adapting novels to TV or film already loses some of the character depth developed in a book. Reducing a novel even further into a comic doesn’t make sense to me?

  6. 6
    Vee on 10 Jul 2010 #

    interesting article, thanks

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