Paul Auster Reading Week: City of Glass, the Graphic Novel

Adapted by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli

If you’ve read City of Glass, the first of the three novellas that comprise Auster’s New York Trilogy, (more on that here), you’ll realise that it isn’t an easy text to adapt to a graphic form. There’s not much action really, a lot of sitting, watching and especially walking, plus the metafictional aspects of the story to convey. That said, K&M (as I shall abbreviate their names to), have achieved something special in their 1995 adaptation – which would take a decade to be produced in the UK by Faber, who publish all of Auster’s work here.

It was Art Spiegelman (creator of the breakthrough comic Maus) that commissioned the work, keen to improve the literary standing of comics, but without the literary tag! Spiegelman has written an introduction to this edition which begins with a spirited defence of the word ‘comic’ as opposed to ‘graphic novel’ and outlines the work’s genesis. (These days, ‘comic’ tends to refer to a periodical, and graphic novel to a single work.)

Auster supplied a previously published framework rather than a new text, which K&M used in their adaptation, using large parts of the novel, but also freeing them to present lengthy parts in a few pictures. The work is presented in monochrome, based upon a portrait-oriented grid of 3×3 frames, which gives the flexibility for images to flow through the grid, for the grid itself to become a window frame, or simply for pictures to take up more than one frame when needed. I loved this full page drawing on the left of the protagonist Daniel Quinn walking on a map of Manhattan, implying movement, distance and purpose in one picture.

Naturally, the black and white gives the book that essential ‘noir’ feeling too. I wrote in my earlier survey of Auster’s themes, that the New York Trilogy reminded me of Edward Hopper’s paintings in words. Indeed you can’t get more ‘noir’ than Hopper’s 1921 etching Night Shadows (which I saw at the Ashmolean’s Cool Modernism exhibition a couple of years ago – see it here), which would feel totally at home in this novel, when Quinn is following his quarry Peter Stillman.

The first page of drawings

It begins though exactly as in the novel, with a line of text,

“It was a wrong number that started it…”

Auster himself appears in the novel later, when Quinn goes in search of the detective whom the call was for. K&M have done him proud, making the author a handsome fellow with designer stubble. Quinn and Auster have a long (for a graphic novel) discussion about Don Quixote.

I also loved the way that K&M continue the novel onto the back cover. Quinn is still walking, as the last lines of the novel are written into the frames in a typewriter font.

City of Glass, the graphic novel, was comfortingly familiar to me having read the novella several times, but it was delightfully different as well, the adapters having used some new metaphors to express the themes within, which resonate with repetition when they reoccur. If you enjoy graphic novels, this would be a great introduction to Paul Auster’s work, and I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t want to read the original novella afterwards. (9/10)

Source: Own copy from the TBR

City of Glass by Paul Auster, adapted by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli, (Faber, 2005), softback, 144 pages.

BUY at Amazon UK or Blackwell’s (affiliate links, NB: Blackwell’s is cheaper than Amazon for new copies!)

5 thoughts on “Paul Auster Reading Week: City of Glass, the Graphic Novel

  1. Rebecca Foster says:

    I would be really interested in reading this. I didn’t manage to reread The Handmaid’s Tale late last year as I meant to, but I did read the graphic novel version and I thought it was even better than the original — it really captured the atmosphere, and the use of colour was wonderful.

  2. buriedinprint says:

    Oh, I didn’t know there’s a graphic novel of this one: how interesting! I’ll have to see if I can find a copy. I love the image you’ve included, with the city map behind (at least I think that’s it). And I second the recommendation for the graphic novel of THT, but I can’t imagine it substituting for the original, unless you’re really most interested in the story/plot of it all rather than the subtleties that exist in the full narrative.

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