The Girl Who Was Let Down:

Examining Volume I of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Graphic Novel Adaptation

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has become a very recognized international brand. It started when a Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson wrote a few manuscripts that he intended to get published. It’s said that he had plotted a book series of ten books that dealt with the main characters Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkivst, but he only completed three of the novels (referred to as the Millennium series) and most of a fourth before he died of a heart attack in 2004. All three novels were published posthumously starting in 2005. Since then, they have taken several countries by storm and have been translated from their native Swedish to English and several other languages. But what is even more amazing than the fact that this graphic and feminist mystery novel has been adapted in nearly every major media that exists.

Now that this literary work has become a franchise, it has been internalized and adapted to fit into the different media. This happens all the time; writers will take source material and adapt and amend plot points and characters to fit better into what they are trying to create from it. So, while the movies and graphic novels are not so much carbon copies of the original novels they are derived from the source material. The truest derivation from the novels that most resembles them is the Swedish film series that came out in 2009. They follow the books closely and introduced America to Noomi Rapace, who is a fantastic actress. Renowned director David Fincher (Fight Club, Seven) brought a film to American audiences in 2011 which brought actress Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig together in the main roles. David Fincher’s version of the film differs from the book but retains the mood and aesthetic as well as the overall themes and feel of the novels in an artistic way and honestly, it’s just a better film overall compared to its Swedish counterparts.

The books and films are very graphic and brutal as they deal with abusive rape and feminine oppression. This makes audience reaction to the films even more interesting as rape is unspeakably ugly and evil to think about let alone see on film or in books. But in spite of these horrible occurrences being portrayed, the franchise is still consumed on a massive scale.

Recently, Vertigo released a graphic novel adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It is written by Scottish crime novelist (and Hellblazer writer) Denise Mina and drawn by artists Leonardo Manco and Andrea Mutti. Unfortunately, devoted fans of series main character Lisbeth Salander as well as comic book fans alike will find nothing but severe disappointment upon reading Volume I.

The adaptation itself leaves entirely too much for readers to figure out on their own. There are multiple sets of pages ranging in length from 3-6 pages that have absolutely no dialogue or internal monologue whatsoever. Only readers that are intimately familiar with the storyline of the novels and the movies would understand what it was they were looking at on the page. Pragmatically, it’s infuriating. All there is to go from are simply drawn panels with no real life to them at all. It’s as if the printers ran out of ink and the reader purchased a preview that is incomplete. Any reader that is familiar with any sort of graphic novel would be outraged by this insane lack of work. Six consecutive pages in a row without any sort of writing is essentially a poster. And unfortunately it occurs several times.

In addition to this severe lack of work, it’s sloppily drawn. While looking at the wordless pages and the pages that do have the written word on them, the switch in artist is abruptly obvious. The art itself is unoriginal and does not validate the press coverage the graphic novel has received (commercials that aired to bring Larsson fans into the graphic novel medium). The artist renderings of Mikael and Lisbeth look as though they were trying to combine the appearances of the Swedish and American actors. This does not endear the reader to the artists at all. It could be that they thought combining the looks of Rapace and Mara as well as Nyqvist and Craig would somehow appeal to fans that prefer one version of the film over the other. Instead of appeal; however, it has created a level of unoriginality that cheapens and brings no value to the industry or art.

The writer has also changed the personality of the antagonist, Nils Bjurman. Instead of being a sadist that hates women, Mina has added a delusional aspect of mild mental illness. This addition to his character profile diminishes his heinous act against Lisbeth. Instead of it being a sadist that makes a conscious decision to horribly abuse a woman in his charge, it’s a man with mental delusions and a woman that was unfortunate enough to be at the wrong place during his mental break. This takes away from a theme in the source material: there are bad people out there that simply choose to be bad, not because they have an excuse such as mental illness.

This addition to Nils character does not in any way make his character redeemable or understandable. The character is still very much of a villain. It takes away from the idea that the Nils character is a criminal that should be put to death or imprisoned for life as compared to a criminal that belongs in an asylum for the criminally insane.

There is another issue that needs to be addressed and it pertains particularly to the decisions by Vertigo. It was released that the company was going to be adapting all of the books into two volumes which means that there will be six graphic novels by the time it’s all done. This does not make any sense, since if you read Volume I (that parts that actually have words anyway) it’s a very quick read and a short graphic novel. There is no reason that there need to be two volumes of these graphic novels. It’s obvious price gouging. While we all want to make money by selling fine products or services, this is rather low. Vertigo has turned this franchise into a cash cow that has yet to render milk for them. Instead of having three whole graphic novel adaptations for approximately $25 each, they are going to have six graphic novel adaptations for $20 each. This costs readers $120 to collect the set as compared to the more reasonable $75.

If these graphic novels were better, readers would more than happily pay the more expensive price. But the level of quality that Vertigo has produced does not equal what they are asking readers to spend. Comic book readers and fans have always spent money on the things they love. But they expect a reasonable level of quality that comes along with that. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Volume I falls short. The only outstanding thing about the graphic novel is the cover…without the dust jacket. The aesthetic of the book is right on par with the mood of the story. It’s a discreet black with a dark green lettering and cover pages. On the outside it’s a very pretty and well organized package until you open it up.

The Millennium Series is a bestselling and interesting story that has one of the most interesting female characters of all time. Vertigo has let that character down. Examining the book, the writing, and the panels at length shows a rushed and shallow job. Instead of taking their time and producing a strong and high quality produce they sent out a shoddy imitation of a recent mystery genre franchise.

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Nathan J. Harmon is a graduate of Missouri State University and teaches English in southwest Missouri

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