French professor Pierre Aronnax is a marine biologist in a time when the study of the ocean is seen by most as a novelty, at best. Hired by the American government to investigate rumors of a gigantic ship-destroying sea monster, Aronnax heads out to sea with his faithful servant Conseil. They are joined on their voyage by Ned Land, a Canadian man widely regarded as the best harpoon thrower in the world.
These three men find themselves bound together by fate, lost at sea as a mysterious craft destroys their ship. That same craft later proves to be their salvation, as they are taken on as guests by the ship’s designer, owner and captain – a mysterious man who goes by the name Nemo. Over the course of the coming weeks, the men will learn that Captain Nemo is a man of principal as well as a man of science, though he is as savage in his fury as he is generous in his compassion.
This Campfire Classics graphic novel opens with a brief biography of Jules Verne, which credits him as the father of modern science-fiction. Much is made of how the stories Verne told in his day were based upon the advanced and hypothetical science of the time and how despite the many flights of fancy he took as a writer, his research was impeccable and many of his predictions were eerily prophetic. I appreciate that this point was made as it does add another level to this story which might otherwise be dismissed by younger audiences who don’t realize that, while self-propelled submarines and SCUBA equipment are real now, they were a pipe dream at the time of Jules Verne.
The script by adapter Dan Rafter does a good job of capturing the scientific enthusiasm of Professor Aronnax at Nemo’s technology, as his dreams of being able to observe life under the sea up-close come true. The script also captures the excitement of the original story’s action sequences, including the final confrontation between the crew of Nemo’s ship and a giant squid. For as much praise as Verne received for his research and his status as a visionary, it cannot be forgotten or denied that the man was a writer first and foremost. And he could write an action scene like no other.
Would that the art were the equal of the script. The artwork is sketchy throughout, with very little inking – if any. The character designs for Captain Nemo and Ned Land also seem to have been based on James Mason and Kirk Douglas, who portrayed the characters in Disney’s famous and much beloved live-action film adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Granting that both actors are striking figures, it still reeks of laziness to see them here so clearly defined. Sadly, Professor Aronnax and Conseil, are not so well defined and indeed would be difficult to tell apart from panel to panel were it not for their different colored jackets.
This graphic novel is inoffensive with nothing to condemn it, but little to make it praiseworthy. The script is a good one but I fear that has more to do with the material being adapted than the skill of the adapter. The artwork is passable, with unoriginal character design and a few oddly drawn panels holding back an otherwise fantastic story.
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
by Jules Verne, Dan Rafter (adapter)
Art by Bhupendra Ahluwalia