Russell is a brave man. He was willing to cut the very first sentence of Gaiman’s Newbery-winning novel, even though it’s one of the most memorable lines in children’s literature: “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.”
By cutting out most of the descriptive text in this first of a two-part adaptation, Russell calls attention to the drama and wit of the language in each sentence. His graphic storytelling is faster-paced than the original book, but it’s always faithful, and a few readers may even prefer this version. Though he shares illustration duties with a team of graphic-novel luminaries—every artist gets a favorite monster or creature to draw—Russell’s fans will recognize his elegant, distinctive layouts even in the chapters he didn’t illustrate himself. The pictures also clarify one plot point. The original book was amusingly coy about whether a character named Silas was a vampire, but here he’s given the full Bela Lugosi treatment, and it’s beautiful. In Kevin Nowlan’s drawings, he has impossibly high cheekbones and a face like pale stone. One scene has even more impact than in the original: Ghosts join hands with the living and begin to dance, and readers see every dancer in the square.
The real achievement of this adaptation is that readers will want to jump back to the novel and then leap back again, time after time. (Graphic adaptation. 8-12)