I can’t say I’ve been paying that much attention to the graphic novellas that Warren Ellis has been putting out through Avatar. Aetheric Mechanics and Crecy have long since been buried under piles of newer books and have gone into the “out of sight, out of mind” closet of my mind. His latest novella Frankenstein’s Womb has a cover that’s hard to miss, a baby with obvious sutures plugged into some machine. Felipe Massafera’s cover is creepy, eerie and highly evocative. From an execution standpoint, I like the work he’s done on Ellis’ Anna Mercury and Doctor Sleepless better but none of them have had as memorable an image as Frankenstein’s Womb.
Like his original Apparat works (see Apparat: The Singles Collection,) Frankenstein’s Womb is built off a fascinating premise; what inspired Mary Shelley to write the novel Frankenstein? Ellis weaves his story around a journey that the future author took with her fiance Percy Shelley and her stepsister Clair Clairmont to Switzerland, as the trio stop by a Germanic castle. As Mary takes a walk to explore the castle, she encounters a nameless patchworked man, visions of his birth and visions of the 20th century, of modern hospitals and skyscrapers. In these visions, she sees her story, the story of Frankenstein’s monster, and of the technological age that her book would herald. It’s a fascinating “what if” story– what if Mary Shelley met a real Frankenstein’s monster– that pursues the question to grab the reader’s attention without over analyzing the premise. Ellis keeps the story short, brief and quick, never giving the reader a chance to lose interest in the book. He’s not trying to retell Frankenstein’s story but he’s trying to explore the ideas and concepts that grew out of Shelley’s novel.
I don’t know where Avatar finds their artists. Joining Ellis for this book is Marek Oleksicki, a wonderful artist whose work looks great in stark black and white. Like the great Warren artists on Creepy and Eerie, Oleksicki creates mood and suspense in the images. His drawings help propel Ellis’ story along. This is essentially a talking head book, featuring Shelly having a long, drawn out conversation with her famous creation. It’s a fantastic idea but, for a comic, it needs to be visually engaging and Oleksicki creates the drama for Ellis’ script.
It seems like it’s in these short, quick projects that Ellis is in tight control of his writing. Without out the room to go off in tangents, he remains focused on what he wants to tell. Frankenstein’s Womb shows how the author can follow a single idea and make an engaging reading experience for his audience. That may be a bit damning-with-faint-praise but, in this book, Ellis quickly grabs the reader and pulls them along as he explores the possible origins of the novel Frankenstein and postulates a bit on the future that the book inspired. It doesn’t matter if this is how it happened; what matters is the future that Shelley’s novel spawned. If nothing else, Ellis’ story makes me want to go and dig out my old copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, dust it off and sit down and read it again.
Written by: Warren Ellis
Drawn by: Marek Oleksicki
Warren Ellis’ Frankenstein’s Womb is available on Amazon.com