Not since Walt Disney cast James Mason as Captain Nemo in the 1954 film version of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” has Jules Verne’s classic 1870 adventure novel undergone such a radical adaptation like the one from artist Sam Ita. He’s turned the work into not only a comic book, but a pop-up one that takes full advantage of the difficult, fold-and-flap format.
Ita “ who give Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” the same charming treatment last year “ remains faithful to Verne’s timeless story, but streamlines it into eight double-page spreads, not including the various panels that unfold and unfurl from there, continuing the tale. Dialogue is simplified and played up to keep things light (sample: “This is our ticket back to France, my boy!” “Hooray, croissants!”), and Ita’s colorful cartoon style keeps the panel flowing like an ocean current.
The pop-ups are, in a word, amazing. This isn’t your usual kids’ gimmicky pop-up (for one thing, don’t let them anywhere near it, lest you want it ripped up and destroyed), as the 3-D aspects are complex, massive and crafted in detail, plus do more than merely illustrate the story. When that ungodly giant squid attacks, its tentacles pour off the page, and even one allows readers to maneuver it. This startling, semi-scary scene comes directly after one can turn a dial to open the submarine Nautilus’ window, revealing the creature’s hungry eye.
Graphic novels provide some of the more cutting-edge stories in fiction today, yet this one impresses not in the plot, but the presentation of such. Ita takes a tale that’s grown iconic, and manages to make it into something that feels entirely new … and is way, way too much fun.