Dial ‘N’ for nightmare
Well, we should have known better than to review the graphic novel adaptation of Stephen King’s N. Now we’ve developed a nagging suspicion that the fabric of reality isn’t as stable as we hope it might be, and that there are terrors lurking juuussst beyond the edges of our consciousness. Also, we now have an irrational fear of odd numbers.
N is a delightfully unnerving horror story that starts off with a letter. As in, something you put in an envelope, not the letter “N” itself. (This isn’t Sesame Street.)
Sheila, one of the many unfortunate souls to be swept up in the events of the story, writes to her childhood friend to share with him the tragic story of how her brother Johnny committed suicide. She explains that her brother, a psychiatrist, started showing signs of mental instability after treating a patient known only as “N”.
The narrative then delves into the tragic circumstances that drove patient “N” to seek psychiatric help to begin with, as well as the dire consequences of his actions.
The backstory, you ask? N started off as a short story by Stephen King, but before it was even published in his “Just After Sunset” collection, it was adapted by Marc Guggenheim into an animated video series/ motion comic. It was only after that that it was adapted again into a four-issue comic series by Marvel, which is handily collected in this one volume (112 pages of mental meltdown at its best!).
If you’re curious about the video series, you can catch all 25 episodes at http://nishere.com, but frankly, we wouldn’t recommend it. The What if Obsessivecompulsive disorder is a deadly, transmissible virus? printed version, we feel, does a much better job at capturing the dread within the story, as more things – such as the voices that come from beyond this reality – are left to the reader’s imagination.
That’s what makes “N” so unnerving, really – it preys on the imagination. “N” isn’t a horror story where monsters pop out from behind corners going “Ooga booga!”, nor is it a horror story that relies on graphic gore and explicit violence.
King conjures the scary bits not in the shape of cliched monsters, but in the form of ideas that get stuck in his characters’ heads.
And once you get caught up in the story, those ideas get stuck inside your head too.
He takes relatively mundane elements such as numbers, symmetry and repetition, and then twists them into something that hints at something much more sinister.
The patient “N”, in the story, develops a very specific form of ObsessiveCompulsive Disorder which terrifyingly enough is spread to a succession of victims, leading to more and more tragic results.
The artwork from Bulgarian-born artist Alex Maleev (a regular Brian Michael Bendis sidekick) bears special mention, as the dark, almost photo-realistic illustrations adds to the atmosphere of dread cultivated by the narrative. (Was it rotoscoped? We’re not sure, but it works.) The expressions on faces of the story’s numerous victims makes the ambient horror of the story that much more believable, more so than any illustration of monsters can.
If you’re a horror story fan who’s familiar with the works of other authors, you’ll find that N’s themes of madness and terrors lurking at the threshold of existence has a delightfully lovecraftian ring to it.
Stephen King himself denies any links to HP lovecraft (preferring to compare his work instead to Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan) but either way, N proves a very important point: when it comes to horror, sometimes it’s much more effective to have the monsters lurking inside your head than stalking of the physical world.
We’re going to go ahead and give this graphic novel a rating of four (out of five). It has an excellent story and great artwork that puts it way above the average, but it’s a bit too short to be considered flawlessly awesome. More importantly though, four’s a good number. It’s even. n Stephen King’s N graphic novel is available at Kinokuniya KLCC.