Comic readers are no strangers to the concept of reworking fairy tales. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman was packed with stories retold; Alan Moore’s drawn heavily on literature in his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (and beyond); and Bill Willingham’s Fables draws from little else.
But in this hefty tome, Winshluss takes the story of Pinocchio and, while staying quite reverential to the original structure and characters, takes it off in a whole new direction.
For starters, this is not a book aimed at children. Within a few pages, Geppetto’s wife has her lustful eye on Pinocchio’s proboscis, and Pinocchio himself isn’t a puppet but a prototype war machine – and there’s much violence in the book.
One of the main thrusts of the original story – that Pinocchio’s nose grows longer as he lies – is also dropped from this version. In fact, the robot Pinocchio seen here doesn’t say a word. Instead, his nose is a weapon – a highly explosive gun that comes into use quite regularly as the story progresses.
More modern adaptations have also been given a nod. Jiminy Cricket, only named in the Disney adaptation, is turned into Jiminy Cockroach here, and lives inside Pinocchio’s head, though has little influence on or communication with his host.
Having mentioned all this background, I probably ought to get round to the fact that this adaptation is simply extraordinary. Pinocchio’s lack of voice brings a visual aesthetic to the story-telling, a large proportion of which occurs without recourse to dialogue. It’s to Winshluss’s credit that the resulting story seems even more compelling and engaging as a result. These silent sequences rely on the quality of the art to convey all their narrative and emotion, and Winshluss’s ability to manage this over 200 pages is just amazing.
He uses different styles throughout the book, often to convey different elements of the story. The Jiminy Cockroach sections, for example, are in the style of monochromatic newspaper strips; while the Pinocchio sections are bold inks with a limited wash of colour applied, giving the book a very retro, classic feel. This mix of styles is deeply fashionable in literary comic circles, but there are only a few other artists who can pull it off as well as this, and Winshluss is up there with the masters.
He also pulls the strands of his story together with a knowing beauty that will have you beaming with pleasure, as you notice a detail in a panel that draws directly from a seemingly unconnected incident elsewhere in the book. It’s so beautifully written and presented that you can’t help but derive an incredible sense of pleasure from reading it.
Which in itself is almost absurd from a book this dark. The violence, the sex, the apocalyptic vision of society, culture and humanity as a whole, is as bleak as you can get. But somehow, with razor-sharp injections of humour and an unparalleled amount of charm, Winshluss manages to create something that’s both dark and uplifting at the same time.
I honestly believe that you won’t find a more accomplished and deeply satisfying graphic novel this year. Pinocchio, while riffing off a children’s story, digs deep and hard into the story, moderinising, twisting and subverting as it goes. It’s a masterpiece of graphic storytelling, and you owe it to yourself to sit up and take notice.