Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Before the Opera

Graphic novel electrifies a classic tale and introduces a new generation to an unforgettable character.

I don't usually focus my reviews on one book, however when "The Trap-Door Maker," by Pete Bregman, was recently brought to my attention I changed my mind. Having been in advertising school with the author/illustrator and having worked on a couple projects together while we were there, I thought it would be fun to write about his book. Then I became a little worried about how I would handle the situation
 if I hated it. I had no doubts that Bregman could artfully illustrate a graphic novel, but I wondered how well he could write a story. I decided I would just have to be honest.

"The Trap-Door Maker" (A Prequel to the Phantom of the Opera)
By Pete Bregman
For ages 12 and older
Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, long before Andrew Lloyd Weber adapted The Phantom of the Opera into a Broadway musical, Gaston Leroux explored the intricacies of fear and horror, love and hate, cruelty, and beauty in the tale of a disfigured composer that roamed the catacombs below the Paris Opera House. Since that time, readers from preteens to adults have been enthralled with the classic tale — its mystery, romance and terror. 

Leroux introduced us to several characters in his original novel — Erik, the manic and obsessive composer, and The Persian, who helped rescue the object of Erik's obsession. Leroux buries hints and information pertaining to Erik's previous life and relationships throughout the novel, but he never fully explores the past. Several authors have expanded upon the Phantom's story, but none have captured its essence quite like Pete Bregman. In part, this is due to the graphic nature of Bregman's novel. Mostly though it is his skill as a storyteller that sets this story apart.

"The Trap-Door Maker" is a graphic novel that explores Erik's life in Persia before his days as the Phantom. Bregman deftly breathes new life into a character most younger readers only
associate with Broadway. He creatively wraps the details we know from Leroux's novel into a seamless new tale of Erik's life. As a humble street magician Erik made a name for himself with his ingenuity and inventive illusions. When in the right place at the right time Erik is able to gain the trust of both the Shah and his daughter the Sultana. Erik is then taken into the palace as a performer, a mentor, an assassin and a palace architect. In the latter position Erik uses his ingenuity and inventiveness to create trap doors, tunnels, escape routes, traps and torture chambers. Erik enjoys a life of luxury and respect for the first time in his life. It isn't until construction is completed and the Shah believes Erik knows too many secrets that things take a turn for the worse. The order is given for Erik's head, but The Daroga (a.k.a. chief of police, a.k.a. The Persian) knows a thing or two as well and lets Erik escape. You'll just have to read the tale for yourself to get the details.

Although there are some brutal fights and killings it seems quite tame compared to most graphic novels today. This may be attributed to the completely black and white illustrations. No blood and guts, just artistry. Bregman wields black and white like most artist handle an entire palette of color. The effect is simple and artfully guides you into the details of each illustration. The black and white palette also emphasizes the quality of the story without creating distractions. 

"The Trap-Door Maker" is a great piece of work that I was very glad to read. I only wish it had been a little longer. I guess I'll have to go get Bregman's adaptation of "The Phantom of the Opera" next.

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