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Sunday Slugfest: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? #1

Posted: Sunday, July 19, 2009
By: Thom Young

Philip K. Dick
Tony Parker
BOOM! Studios
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is scheduled as a 24-issue series that will publish the complete text of Philip K. Dickís 1968 novel accompanied by comic book illustrations with dialog formatted in word balloons. This is not an adaptation of the book or of the Blade Runner film.

Karyn Pinter:
Paul Brian McCoy:
Matthew J. Brady:




Karyn Pinter:

Many sci-fi fans recognize the title Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; everyone else knows the title of the film Blade Runner that was based on the novel. This review is for the former--the original version without the ruggedly handsome Harrison Ford. This is Philip K. Dickís original story (and words) put into a comic book format. Itís the novel, but with pretty pictures.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep follows Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter of sorts who hunts down and ďretiresĒ runaway androids or ďandys.Ē The androids are pretty much slaves, created to be companions and workers for humans who emigrate from a nuclear radiation-damaged Earth. Some androids, however, sneak back to Earth to escape their chattel-esque lives.

What really stands out in this installment of the novel is not the artwork, but Philip K. Dickís writing. It really is the star of the show. I found myself wholly engrossed in the words. In so many novel-to-comic adaptations you read the story and look at whatever dazzling art has been set out for you, and you oooh and ahh at how well the artist did at translating the visual aspects of the story.

Iím certainly not knocking Tony Parkerís work; itís very good, and it captures the dark nuclear fallout world in which the story takes place. However, the story itself is just so outstanding that you tend to forget there are pictures. It would be like having a giant piece of chocolate cake sitting on a very lovely dish. The dish is there, itís supporting the cake, itís very colorful, but itís the cake youíre eating, not the dish.

Dickís novel is such a great story of humanity--which is strange since the androids tend to come off as more human than the humans, who rely on technology to feel human. The book really is brilliant, and itís almost a shame that Blade Runner couldnít convey the emotion the book has.

Luckily, BOOM! Studios has brought us the novel, but with pictures so we donít have to strain our brains trying to figure out exactly what Philip K. Dick is talking about while trying to imagine the scene. Rather than an everyday comic, this project is more like one of those illustrated classics in that it is the straight-up story--unedited sci-fi awesome.

Itís difficult to properly judge this issue because the art is good, but the original story canít be outdone. Nothing new is really brought to the table on this one, but maybe thatís a good thing.

Anyhow, it gets a high score from me because a classic wasnít butchered. If youíve ever wanted to read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep but couldnít get past all the dense writing (and it is dense), hereís your chance to finally read the sci-fi classic with pictures that can help you understand the dense writing.

I have to say, youíve done well, BOOM! Studios.




Paul Brian McCoy:

This project from BOOM! Studios is an odd experiment.

What we have here is about the first twenty-five pages of the classic, 1968 novel by Philip K. Dick--word-for-word--accompanied by Tony Parker's illustrations. It's a strange marriage of the novel with the comic book format that works at times and doesn't at other times.

Reviewing this experiment is something of an odd experience in itself.

I was born the year Dickís novel was published, and I first encountered it in 1982 when Ridley Scott's Blade Runner was released. In my memory, I bought Marvel's adaptation of the film from a local 7-11 while on the way to see the movie.

That's probably not how it happened, but that's how I remember it.

Like many kids that age, Harrison Ford was my idol. After playing Han Solo in Star Wars and Return of the Jedi, Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Tommy in The Frisco Kid (I told you, he was my idol--I saw everything he was in that I could), I was ecstatic to find out he was going to be in another science fiction film--this time directed by Ridley Scott, who had scared the crap out of me with Alien.

Did I mention I was ecstatic?

So I couldn't wait until after I'd seen the film to read the Marvel adaptation, which happened to be written by Archie Goodwin with fantastic photo-realistic art by Al Williamson. And my early-teen mind was blown.

I thought the movie was brilliant, although I was a little put off by Ford's voice-over. It immediately became one of my favorite films of all time--easily knocking the Star Wars films down a few notches and only challenged for dominance by Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Ah, 1982.

Anyway, that film changed my life in many ways, not the least of which being that it inspired me to go out and find the novel upon which it was based.

The first time I read the book, I wasn't sure what to make of it. It really wasn't much like the movie at all. I can't remember if I liked it right off the bat, but I know I went back and re-read it again and again.

Hell, since 1982, I've probably re-read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? more than any other book in my personal library, except maybe for Camus' The Stranger and Hesse's Steppenwolf. All three were instrumental in making me who I am today, and all three were revisited over and over for different reasons.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? inspired me to collect and read dozens more of Dick's novels, and was a huge influence on me as a writer and scholar.

I kept returning to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? because every time I read it, I found something new in there--some new level of symbolism, philosophy, or just plain madness. Forgetting that this comic book edition was coming out, I even listened to the audio book version just two weeks ago while working at my day job.

So, what about this comic, you ask?

Like I said at the top, it's an odd experiment that isn't entirely successful.

The places where it falters are more conceptual and related to the medium than to Dick's text (although whoever was responsible for the proofreading for this release didn't do a very good job of it--unless I missed the part in the book where people used "monkey" to pay for things rather than "money").

Parker's art isn't bad, but it only rarely adds to the narrative. Sometimes itís actually distracting.

Ultimately, I'm just not sure if I really need to buy this project--especially when we're talking about $3.99 per issue of a twenty-four issue series; that's nearly a hundred dollars for functional-but-not-impressive illustrations that merely show me what the text is telling me in the first place.

I'd actually be more inclined to invest that kind of money for either an actual adaptation written by someone with some insight into the original novel, or perhaps an art book with someone like Bill Sienkiewicz doing full-page paintings with the text overlayed or alongside.

I can't, however, in good conscience recommend buying this edition of the novel for $95.76 (not factoring in tax nor any store discounts) when you can get the actual novel for under eleven bucks new--and for under five bucks used.

It's the novel that you should be reading anyway--if you haven't already.

I will say that the backmatter by Warren Ellis significantly adds to the value of this single issue (and other writers will be providing short essays in future issues, as well). Like me, Ellis was born in '68 and shares a fondness for Dick.

Stop snickering, that was the manís name.




Matthew J. Brady

Well, this is certainly an interesting project. Being one of Philip K. Dickís most famous novels (due to it being adapted into Blade Runner), Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a fascinating read--full of Dickís signature ideas and musings on the nature of reality and humanity.

A comics version of the book is a great idea, but Boom! Studios is taking an unorthodox approach publishing it as something in-between an illustrated novel and a comic. That is, the full text of the book is being printed here, in captions, with art in panels representing the action. Itís a sort of an overly respectful way to present the story that doesnít make the best of either genre--prose novel or ďgraphic novel.Ē

The main problem is the sheer amount of text on the pages. Every panel is crammed full of words, words, words--with many of them consisting of descriptions of what the art is already showing us, and distracting us with captions that contain text like ďHe saidĒ in the middle of a conversation. Dickís prose is excellent, of course, but one wonders if it might have been better to edit some of it out and let the artist help with the storytelling rather than just supplement it--or pick up the pacing a bit since most of this issue sees page after page of conversations between characters rather than advancement of the plot.

Worse yet, the art occasionally contradicts the text. One example has a caption describe Iran Deckard (the protagonistís wife) springing out of bed and walking across the room while the art has her still sitting down wrapped in a sheet.

When itís not distracting, the art by Tony Parker works rather nicely to tell the story, with plenty of shadows covering the Darick Robertson-like faces of characters that are invariably grim and unhappy. The futuristic cityscapes and technology look nice, with some inspiration taken from the Ridley Scott film--and the story still reads like a comic, just a slow-moving comic due to all the text-heavy captions.

The story itself is a fascinating one, of course. Dick introduces a great setting, a dying Earth populated by an ever-dwindling number of people who are either too damaged or too lazy to move off-planet along with most of the human race. Those who remain live out their lives with the possibility of radiation poisoning and a cultural imperative to care for animals or their facsimiles.

There are some other crazy ideas as well--like ďmood organsĒ that ensure people only feel what they want to feel, or the religion of Mercerism in which people can use technology to connect their minds to a virtual reality program of man trapped in a desert and who is perpetually trying to climb a mountain while being barraged by rocks. Dick lays out these concepts compellingly--making them seem real through down-to-earth reactions from characters, and undercutting them through skepticism and ennui.

This issue is only the first of 24, so in the future weíll get to experience much more of Dickís world. Weíll follow protagonist Rick Deckard as he hunts androids that pose as human while he deals with questions of morality and humanity in a dead world.

It might be better to just read the novel, but illustrating it and presenting it in comics form adds an interesting layer to the story, and the ďbackmatterĒ should prove interesting--with essays about Dick and his works from the likes of Warren Ellis (this issue) and Matt Fraction (next month).

If you havenít read the novel before, this isnít the worst place to start, but itís definitely not the ideal edition.



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