Lior Zaltzman's adaptation of The Giver is an interesting concoction. The cover illustration hangs askew, rocked to the side, a panel depicting Jonas and the Giver at odds with two mannequins bandying about a stiffly pointed woman. Its style seems a child-like surreality, the figure's features pointed into odd lines and grotesque motions. It certainly evokes the feel and intention of the work, but the adaptation's own merits as a comic are hard to nail down.
For those who haven't read the original, The Giver follows Jonas, a young member of a seemingly utopian community, who stumbles into the lost history and reality of his world when he's given the mysterious job of receiver. Apprenticed to the elderly giver, Jonas slowly discovers what his people have had to give up in order to achieve peace and harmony.
Most distinctly, the narrative presented in this adaptation feels fractured. Instead of a page-for-page adaptation, Zaltzman has instead opted to present the events in an abridged version of the plot, offering readers the opportunity to use her artistic lens to examine the original work's themes. It's a complicated load to balance, and while I feel the adaptation suffers in the plot department, struggling to find impetus for the reader to relate to and propel the story, it succeeds at reexamining the original text with new eyes, offering readers the opportunity to examine its themes under a different light.
While I felt the comic did an excellent job of exploring the original book's narrative and moral heft, it's more difficult to say that this adaptation concisely justifies its existence. Sure, I could wax endlessly about the motives and conflicting philosophies at play in the story, drawing parallels and points out of the adjusted narrative, but it's difficult to pinpoint all that in a concise manner and use it as a sticking point when recommending it to others.
While the adaption's plot feels listless, I do have to say that the art sticks with you, with distinctly obtuse and disturbing imagery highlighting the emotional pain Jonas must explore and endure. The book feels like the artist had just finished inking it herself and handed it off to you. Speech bubbles look like ink stains, each word handwritten in a distinct style to convey character and personality. The figures remind me of childhood toys and books, the organic lines seemingly thickening and weaving with little regard for comforting imagery. The backgrounds are spartan, loose, and evocative of watercolors, which help develop contrasts between the story's heavier themes and the more child-like sense of freedom the community offers.
My biggest complaint would have to be that the book's original ending is largely absent, with the adaptation focusing more on the uplifting, open-ended scenes that precede the dark, ambiguous turn of the original. It left me with an odd feeling as well, which I couldn't quite put my thumb on. This was neither a terrible nor great work, but I found it fascinating all the same, essentially because it left me considering life, death, and the cultural fear of conformity.
Perhaps the unofficial status has something to do with that odd feeling. Adapted without Louis Lowry's consent, the book looks and feels like the work of a friend, assembled from parts she had at hand with a fluid art style that carefully balances the darkness and ambiguity of the tale. I definitely dug it, but I'm not sure who I'd recommend it to. Fans of The Giver, certainly, but I'm not sure how wide the disconnect between comic lovers and hardcore admirers of the book would be. If anything, the adaptation refreshed my memory of how good the original was, while simultaneously providing me with some new food for thought.
TL;DR The Giver, abbreviated into a surrealist summary, offering a different sort of insight into the tale. Those who have not read the classic need not apply.
A review copy of this comic was graciously provided to Spandexless by the creator.