Humayoun Ibrahim’s adaptation of science fiction short story sings
– by Shawn Conner
For this fairweather SF fan, Jack Vance has always been a name on the covers of cheap-looking paperbacks from the golden age of science fiction. What was there to separate him from Clifford D. Simak, Lester del Ray and Poul Anderson, to name just three other examples of oft-recurring authors?
Carlo Rotella’s “The Genre Artist”, a piece originally published in the New York Times Magazine in 2009 and which serves as an introduction to this graphic adaptation of a Vance short story, resoundingly answers this question. Humayoun Ibrahim’s art and obvious love for the original work seals the deal.
For those new to Vance, “The Moon Moth” is full of marvels. As Rotella points out in his profile, one of the American science fiction author’s literary heroes is British humourist P.G. Wodehouse, and this comes across in the language, at once elaborate and deadpan, of the characters as they jockey for status.
All communication on the planet Sirene is conducted through singing and musical accompaniment through instruments Vance has invented for his story; another very cool idea is that everyone wears masks, the quality and cut of which also denote the wearer’s status.
Against this backdrop of a convincing other-world, Vance sets up a good old-fashioned mystery/chase, and ends “The Moon Moth” with a twist.
Brooklyn artist/illustrator Ibrahim has set his sights high in this, his first graphic novel. I would imagine that the original prose version of “The Moon Moth” would offer a number of obstacles, including ways to depict the musical language as well as the masks. Ibrahim is up to these challenges, however – he is especially inventive in contrasting, via word-balloon designs, the high-falutin’ lyrical dialogue of high-status Sirenians with the clumsily sung and played words and music of low-status off-worlder Edwer Thissell.
Where Ibrahim has difficulty, I think, is in depicting the action in wordless sequences – I was confused more than a couple of times as to what was happening in the story, though this was always cleared up by the dialogue that followed.
Nonetheless, The Moon Moth (First Second, softcover, $19.99 Cdn) is a thoroughly enjoyable read. I can’t think of a better way to be introduced to Vance’s work – except perhaps by stumbling across one of those cheap-looking paperbacks, opening it with low expectations and then finding a friend for life.