Edgar Allan Poe was one of the, if not the single greatest short story writer of all time. He blended poetry and horror into some of the most recognizable stories and horror elements today and helped establish literary significance for short stories. This feat has made a huge impact in the comic realm, for it not only sets the standard for the genre of horror, but it created a format for which comic issues could be adapted from. Spirits of the Dead has adapted some of Poe’s most notable works and transformed them into a comic as an homage to the literary genius. So is it good?
Spirits of the Dead HC (Dark Horse Comics)
What makes Poe’s stories and poems so chilling is a combination of two elements, both of which are unfortunately lost in Richard Corben’s graphic novel. The first element is the actual writing and language of the story. When I first received a copy of Spirits of the Dead, I thought each story would have the actual text from Poe’s novels and simply create perspective out of the panel art. However, while it does include some quotes from the derived tales, the majority is altered for the convenience of speech bubbles and reduced story length. The novel also featured a narrator, some old man or woman (at that age sex becomes ambiguous), who guides us through each short story and is sometimes even featured in it. With the inclusion of this character and exclusion of Poe’s exquisite storytelling, the terror of the novels are diluted. Some stories are compacted into as few as eight pages which can’t properly demonstrate the essence which Poe was attempting to convey.
The recreation of Poe’s poems and stories can’t simply rely on plot, which is where the other element comes in. Poe’s tales are terrifying at their core because of the concept matter. This is the man who describes the slow, torturous death sentence of The Pit and the Pendulum or the haunting paranoia of The Tell-Tale Heart. The beauty of pairing these plots with exquisite writing is that the reader creates the illusion in their head which makes it all the eerier. However, when these stories are illustrated it makes the task of shocking the reader more difficult. Corben also has a very distinct style of art which doesn’t lend itself to macabre scenes.
The longest story featured in this collection is Poe’s infamous The Fall of the House of Usher. It’s at this point that the art takes an odd turn and begins to look almost like clay-mation which (and I’m sure I don’t have to explain why) doesn’t suit this style of literature at all. The characters appear bulbous and awkward and there’s one panel in particular with graphic nudity that actually makes you want to laugh because it looks so awkward. I couldn’t take the rest of the story seriously from that point on.
Is It Good?
This collection is very different from what I had in mind, so let me try to describe a target audience. This is not for fans of Poe’s work who also happen to enjoy comic books. You will just be disappointed by the story adaptations and the lack of authentic Poe literature. I want to recommend it for a young adult audience who is interested in an introduction to Poe because the simplified stories and text are a great beginning point rather than jumping into advanced literature. After about a third of the book I truly thought this book was for adolescents, but there are multiple panels with explicit, comically drawn nudity which aren’t acceptable for kids. So if I were to hazard a guess, this book is probably best meant for young adults who are vaguely interested in Poe, but other than that you may be disappointed.