Friday, December 23, 2011

Old Sinner: Campfire (2010)

I’m not fond of the art in Campfire’s line of adaptations and the first page of A Christmas Carol is a good example of the problem. Scott McCullar is the writer responsible for adapting the novel and he does a nice job with the opening scene. There’s a splash-page prologue with Scrooge standing in profile and Marley’s burial going on in the background behind him. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell from Naresh Kumar’s art if these are two different images or if Scrooge is attending the burial but is stand-offish about it. The text reveals that though Scrooge was Marley’s sole executor, friend, mourner, etc., he “was not so dreadfully upset by the sad event. Instead, he continued with business as usual on the very day of the funeral…on Christmas Eve.” Scrooge could be attending the funeral, but standing back from it, eager to get on to business. Or he could be out conducting business with the shadow of the simultaneous funeral looming behind him.

The introduction to Scrooge’s personality continues on the second page where we’re informed about the sign. McCullar’s text follows Dickens’ closely, but he’ll occasionally modernize the language or tone down its Victorian sound. He loses a lot of the humor that way, but not all. And it’s obvious that he intended for some of that to be picked up again in the art. For instance, McCullar doesn’t use the line about blind men’s dogs, but he wrote in a panel where a dog is in fact pulling its blind owner away from Scrooge. It’s not as funny as it could be because the dog’s overly intense eyes make it look like it’s chasing a squirrel instead of trying to get away from the main character, but I can see what McCullar was trying to accomplish.

The sign itself at first appears to be another problem, but there’s a way of reading it that could say something purposeful about Scrooge. Though the text explains that Scrooge didn’t paint out Marley’s name, the art makes it look like he’s tried to do just that. Scrooge’s name on the sign is bold and black; Marley’s is splotchy with the sign’s background color breaking up the black of the letters. Either it’s been half-heartedly painted over or it’s faded in a way that Scrooge’s hasn’t. Since the first option directly contradicts the text, it must be that Marley’s name has faded. But then why hasn’t Scrooge’s? In most adaptations, Scrooge and Marley’s names prosper or suffer together, but here it looks like Scrooge has spent some money upkeeping his side of the sign.

I don’t remember if I noticed this before, but Dickens never explicitly states that Scrooge kept Marley’s name as a way of saving money. That can be implied from the rest of Scrooge’s character, but all Dickens actually says is that Scrooge kept the name of the firm intact. Could he be proud enough that he wants his name legible? It’s impossible to tell from these couple of pages, but Kumar does draw Scrooge as tall and straight. He has a weak chin, but a strong mouth and piercing, intelligent eyes. If those traits are intentional, we’re seeing a haughty Scrooge in line with Alastair Sim and George C Scott’s.

By the bottom of Page 2, Scrooge is in the counting-house watching his clerk, who appears to be wearing some kind of half-blanket against the cold. The blanket disappears in the next panel where the clerk appears to be opening the coal scuttle. The text mentions that it’s cold and that the fires are small, but says nothing about the clerk’s wanting more coal. I imagine that Scrooge is meant to be glaring at the clerk as he goes for the scuttle. That would fit what McCullar tried to do with the dog earlier; letting the art tell significant parts of the story. In fact, the next panel has the clerk back at his desk, warming his hands at his candle, so this quick interaction between Scrooge and the clerk could have been clever and funny had the art been up to it.

Unfortunately, like with the dog, the art doesn’t do its share. Rather than glaring at his clerk, Scrooge simply appears to be engrossed in his work, so as far as we can tell the clerk got some coal (actually, you have to know already that that’s a scuttle he’s dipping into; you can’t tell otherwise) and then went back to his candle. It doesn’t make any sense.

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