Saturday, April 5, 2014

'Noah' Graphic Novel is Aronofsky's Fantasy Epic

by Brian Truitt)

(Photo: Image Comics)

Not only is Noah big at the box office, but the Biblical story's also washed up at your local comic shop — though looking much different than the tale probably sounded in Sunday school class.

Adapted from an early version of the movie screenplay written by Ari Handel and director Darren Aronofsky, the graphic novel Noah makes Noah's famous quest — on orders from God, to build an enormous arc housing his family and loads of animals in order to protect themselves from an oncoming flood — almost seem like science fiction, with rocky, alien landscapes and huge, six-armed giants.

That look was the result of many discussions between the writers and Canadian artist Niko Henrichon (Pride of Baghdad) "about how we could give this universe a very distinctive feel from the usual Bible imagery," the illustrator says. "We also wanted this world to evoke past civilizations and wars, like if our story takes place between apocalyptic events."

Adds Aronofsky: "It's similar to the movie, but very different. It's a different artist interpreting the story and bringing it to life. It's a real piece of art and really beautiful what Nico did."

He and Handel wrote the script back in 2006, the director says, "and no one was making biblical epics back then. It was a little ahead of its time."

They had worked so hard on the script that Aronofsky wanted to see it in graphic-novel form in order to get the story out but also because he loves the medium — similarly, the filmmaker had turned his original script for the romantic sci-fi movie The Fountain into a graphic novel in 2005, a year before the movie was released.

"It's always great when you look at other art and the way people interpret a story you're doing. It's always inspiring," Aronofsky says. "You see things that give you ideas about how to do something on film. And we were all racing to the finish line."

Henrichon illustrates the antagonistic tribe of Tubal-Cain, trippy wall drawings and hordes of insects among other things in Noah, and he says he was influenced by everything from 1970s European comic artists of Moebius and Bilal, "who created amazing universes," to polish painter named Zdzisław Beksiński, "a specialist at displaying desolated landscapes and architecture."

A lot of the visuals don't carry over from graphic novel to film, though they both have the same gigantic, boxy take on Noah's ark.

Compared to popular ideas of the Biblical boat, Henrichon admits that their take is "bulky and unrefined. But in some ways, "it feels more efficient. The ark didn't need to be pretty and didn't need to be shaped like a boat.

"There's nowhere to go with the ark — it just needs to float efficiently until the flood is finished."

Ultimately, the settings the creators chose for Noah were simply what they thought appropriate to visualize the mood of Noah's dying world, according to Henrichon.

"I hope it gives the reader an immersive experience like (with) any well-made comics," he says, "but it's always tricky when you deal with religious and well-known figures because everyone comes to it with pre-conceived ideas and opinions."

Contributing: Bryan Alexander