‘Dead Girls’ is a cyberpunk story that started life as British Science Fiction author Richard Calder’s 1992 debut novel, written while he was living in Thailand. Many years later, after converting the book into a screenplay for a planned film that didn’t come off, Calder decided to give the story a new lease of life in the form of a comicbook adaptation. Filipino artist Leonardo M Giron was recruited to provide the manga-style black and white artwork and the story was serialised in the award-winning speculative fiction magazine ‘Murky Depths’. Unfortunately, the magazine ceased publication before the entire story could be told. ‘Dead Girls – The Graphic Novel’ collects together the previously published comic strips, now rendered in full colour by Giron and adds the remaining episodes to complete the story. The graphic novel was launched at the World Science Fiction Convention in London in August 2014, where I was lucky enough to meet the author.
The story is set in the year 2071. London is under martial law, intended to prevent the spread of a quantum virus which turns young girls, when they hit puberty, into half-human, half-robotic vampire sex dolls known as Dead Girls. Primavera Bobinski is one such girl. As soon as she starts to change from human to doll, she is shunned by everyone except her classmate and would-be boyfriend, Iggy Zwakh. He has been infatuated with Primavera for years but the first time they kiss, shortly after her transformation begins, her vampiric bite floods his body with the virus. From that moment on, Iggy is a doll-addict, destined to follow Primavera wherever she leads.
Primavera is not willing to hang around in London until she’s carted off to one of the concentration camps, laughably referred to as ‘Doll Hospitals’. With help from the doll underground, Primavera and Iggy manage to get out of England. They head for Bangkok where the ubiquity of sex dolls means that Primavera will blend in easily. However, since Primavera isn’t interested in selling her body, getting a job is another matter. After a period in the slums, Primavera is recruited by Madame Kito, one of the bosses in Bangkok’s sex industry. Kito needs an assassin and Primavera’s quantum powers make her an ideal candidate.
When a hit turns sour, though, Primavera and Iggy find themselves on the run from the CIA, the rather odd Pikadon twins and many others besides. If they are to escape, Primavera will need to use all her quantum magic to find out who it was that betrayed them and why.
The story of ‘Dead Girls’ is frenetic, larger than life and lends itself naturally to the medium of comics. Having read the 1992 novel in parallel with the 2014 graphic novel, I can only praise Calder and Giron for what they have done to bring the novel to life in this new format, capturing both the sleaziness and the innocence that the original story displays at different points.
Leonardo M Giron is a very fine artist and his contribution to this project is considerable. His manga-inspired style varies with the mood of the story, veering from realistic portrait shots and ultra-detailed crowd scenes to cartoon-like caricatures. His use of colour to create different moods is one of many impressive elements of the internal artwork. I should also praise the arresting cover illustration by Jim Burns and the excellent gallery of cover art from the serialised version of the story to be found at the back of the book.
If I was forced to find something to criticise, it would be the loss of some of the more reflective, poetic passages in the original novel. However, there are always going to be both gains and losses whenever a story is translated from one medium to another. If the graphic novel loses some of the textual poetry in its search for brevity and concision, it makes up for this through the beauty of the artwork.
‘Dead Girls – The Graphic Novel’ is an impressive achievement from Calder, Giron and the House Of Murky Depths. It breathes fresh life into a twenty year old novel and fully deserves to bring the story to a new generation of readers.
(pub: The House Of Murky Depths. 208 page graphic novel. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-906584-59-7)
check out website: www.murkydepths.com