As the end time for printed books draws near, Fahrenheit 451, the 1953 novel that envisioned it all, has just been published, again. And this time it reads like a joke—an extended, ironic, illustrated joke. Because this time, Ray Bradbury's novel about firemen who burn books instead of putting out fires is—oof!—a comic book.
Think back to the original novel. Comic books are the only books shallow enough to go unburned, the only ones people are still allowed to read. Beatty, the fire chief, who seems to have loved books once and whom Bradbury has called "a darker side of me," explains it all to the hero, Guy Montag, the reluctant fireman. When photography, movies, radio, and television came into their own, he says, books started to be "leveled down to a sort of pastepudding norm." Burning them isn't so tragic, he suggests, because they are already so degraded.
"Books cut shorter. Condensations. Digests, Tabloids. … Classics cut … to fill a two-minute book column. … Speed up the film, Montag, quick. Click, Pic, Look, Eye, Now, Flick, Here, There, Swift, Pace, Up, Down, In, Out, Why, How, Who, What, Where, Eh? Uh! Bang! Smack! Wallop, Bing, Bong, Boom! Digest-digests, Digest-digest-digests! Politics? One column, two sentences, a headline! Then, in mid-air, all vanishes!" (Sounds like the Internet, doesn't it? News articles become blogs, blogs become tweets.) "School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored." (Texting, anyone?) "More cartoons in books. More pictures. The mind drinks less and less."
Fast forward 56 years to a condensed, comic-book version of the very novel in which comic books and condensations are presented as pap. Surely this is black humor, a resigned joke about the imminent eclipse of books on paper by images, both digital and analog. Except that it isn't. The graphic novel of Fahrenheit 451, with pictures by Tim Hamilton and a condensed text authorized by Bradbury himself, seems quite earnest.
Oof indeed. Speaking of the "imminent eclipse of books on paper by images," Boom Studios is currently issuing Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in comics form—it's only on issue 2 of 24, so it's not too late to get on board with that one (Cosmic Monkey had both issues last time I was there). And in this case, the entire text of the novel is included, which may meet the approval of even critics with the temerity to ignore the pot-kettle-black implications of railing against the internet-driven degradation of language in an online magazine article.
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!