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Slaughterhouse-Five – Graphic Novel Review

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“Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time”… and so begins the graphic novel version of Kurt Vonnegut’s famous antiwar work With some brilliant artwork in retro style, the graphic adaptation by Ryan North and Albert Monteys will keep you hooked till the end.

Set between World War II and 1970s, the story follows Billy Pilgrim an optometrist who is a chaplain’s assistant in the war. Barely 21, a scrawny Billy is bullied by his own fellow soldiers, before being taken as a prisoner of war by the Germans. He is among the few lucky ones who escape the bombing of Dresden, once the capital of the German empire, the entire city was turned to rubble by high explosive bombs dropped by the Allie. An incredibly lucky survivor, it’s at age 22 that Billy becomes ‘unstuck in time’, traveling back and forth to different periods of his life. He has no control or idea as to what date/month/year he would jump to at any given moment.

For most parts, ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ is comical and absurd in nature, but it doesn’t make light of war in any way. If seen through Billy’s eye, the war’s a nightmare he endured like a walking corpse, always inches away from actual death. Semi-biographical in nature, Vonnegut’s tale shows readers different kinds of men-in-action, from the maddeningly cruel ones, to the ones with more heart, who’d look out for their comrades. There’s a lot of violence and death in the book, and each mention of death followed by the phrase “and so it goes”, a signature statement from the novel.

The aliens who kidnap Billy are called Tralfamadorians and teach him the concept of time and how there’s no point dwelling in the past or the future. The illustrations of the aliens is one of the most grotesque yet enjoyable things in the book. Since a character called Kilgore Trout is a failed science-fiction writer, we get a ‘comic-within-comic’ format, with his tales drawn in a very 50s format, setting those panels distinctly apart from the other stuff. Trout’s take on religion, Jesus and how humans think is succinctly portrayed through those brief comic-book pages. Those who take religion seriously might not be amused.

A lot of details, descriptions and nuances unfortunately don’t make it to this adaptation and it will become pretty apparent to even those who haven’t read the original work. So by the end you might feel a little unsatisfied, like things were left unfinished, but maybe those feelings will be washed over by the fantastic illustrations and the constant change of colors and moods across pages.

It’s a 4/5 from me.

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