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Review: Snowpiercer, The Graphic Novel

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snowpiercer_vol_1_the_escape_cover

Everybody’s seen Snowpiercer already, right? Or, well, everybody who can see it, considering how it only got a limited release in exchange for The Weinstein Company not taking machete to it? If you’ve seen the film—a sci-fi masterpiece (review here) starring Chris Evans as the leader of a band of revolutionaries in a dystopian future where all that’s left of humanity lives on a single train—you might be wondering about Le Transperceneige, the French graphic novel on which it is based. Thankfully for those of us who don’t speak French, this year Titan Comics put out the first-ever English translations, which includes Part 1: Escape and Part 2: Explorers. Part 1 just came out in paperback in June, and I got my grubby, sci-fi-loving hands on a copy.

The first thing fans of the movie will notice is that Snowpiercer-the-book has none of the same characters as Snowpiercer-the-movie. There are a bunch of military characters who bear a passing resemblance to Tilda Swinton’s Minister Mason—in that they have authority over the train, not that they’re Margaret Thatcher-esque and take their dentures out at one point—but there’s no Curtis (Chris Evans), no Edgar (Jamie Bell), no Nam (Song Kang Ho).

There’s also no revolution in the graphic novel, which was written by by Jacques Lob with art by Jean-Marc Rochette. Instead, the focus is on a love story between Proloff and Adeline. He’s an escapee from the squalid rear of the train. She’s a member of the middle class who works for an activist organization that has as its aim integrating the passengers from the rear section into the front of the train. It’s your classic “from the wrong side of the tracks” romance—Proloff is initially mistrustful of this random woman who throws in her lot with him, but eventually she wins him over. 

If that makes Snowpiercer sound like a schmaltzy love story full of grand speeches, it’s not. While the graphic novel differs from the movie in terms of plot and characters, the two share a refreshing lack of sentimentality and overwrought melodrama, in terms of both romance and of the class difference which is still very much present. There’s a frankness to the story that makes it more realistic, more intriguing. That’s complemented by the art, which is in simple, striking back and white.

snowpiercer sample

Not to spoil it for you, but where Snowpiercer-the-movie focuses on, essentially, a military dispute between the lower and upper classes, the graphic novel is more about politics, with the men in charge trying to deal with the problems the tail section poses without things escalating to war. The tail section never even puts in an appearance aside from occasional flashback panels, and Proloff is the only character from there we see. Instead we get the President of the train, a lot of military brass and soldiers, some criminals, and an archivist/historian whose blithe attitude toward the horrors happening on the train would have made him fit into the atmosphere of the movie perfectly.

While the specifics of the plot–and, let’s face it, most of the basics, too—are vastly different from graphic novel to movie, both versions of Snowpiercer present and engrossing, rich world I want to know more about. Good thing the English translation of Part 2 is already out in hardcover.

Snowpiercer: Part 1 – Escape is available from Titan Comics in paperback as of June 10th, with Part 2 – The Explorers available in hardcover.

Previously in Snowpiercer

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