IDW’s graphic novel adaption of Richard Matheson’s classic 1956 novel, “The Shrinking Man,” holds up very well. Ted Adams, IDW’s CEO and Publisher, has written a script that is faithful to the novel and to the unique pace of comics. Mark Torres (Judge Dredd) provides artwork that zones right into the stifled suburban living of 1950s America. Our main character, Scott Carey, cannot cope with his environment in an extraordinary way: Scott is regressing, reverting, literally shrinking away! No more life as husband, father, breadwinner, and symbol of masculinity. He is going, going, gone. Adams says it was a thrill to bring the novel to the comics page and it shows.
Richard Matheson is an exceptionally vivid writer. He has you experiencing every detail, whether it is a man attempting to survive a vampire apocalyse as in “I Am Legned” or a man confronting a demented truck driver as in “Duel.” Whatever it is, you will believe and be on the edge of your seat as you read it. In this case, the Matheson meticulous attention to detail is focused upon Scott Carey, reducing in size by 1/7” per day. The story alternates between the early stages of Carey’s condition and once he’s near the end, stuck in a cellar, and easily food for a spider.
This book includes an introduction by Peter Straub and an afterword by David Morrell. I read the singles which included Morrell’s afterword which explores the novel’s existential underpinnings. Morrell discusses the 1942 philosophical essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” where Camus compares daily life to eternally pushing a boulder around a dial. The essay was translated into English in 1955 and Morrell considers if Matheson may have read it. If not, then perhaps it was one of those concepts in the air. And, most certainly, existential ideas were not foreign to Matheson.
I believe that Matheson did not care for being labeled a genre writer at all because of how the term is lobbed at writers in a pejorative sense. What the Morrell afterward makes clear is that Matheson was working at a sophisticated level no matter what you call his writing. According to Morrell, Matheson was breaking new ground by including existential themes in a mainstream novel. On top of that, Matheson’s narrative structure, with its flashbacks within flashbacks, predates widespread use of metafiction techniques by some thirty years.
I believe that to label Matheson as a genre writer is very problematic. The actual writing in the 1956 novel, “The Shrinking Man,” is not particularly elegant, per se, but that can be said of any number of so-called “serious” writers. That said, even at this early stage of his career, Matheson does reach lyrical heights. In fact, Matheson reaches a perfect hard-boiled, yet metaphysical, pitch with this novel. Ultimately, as IDW’s Ted Adams states, reading Richard Matheson is time well spent.
THE SHRINKING MAN has recently been collected into a 104-page trade paperback, priced at $17.99. For more details, visit our friends at IDW right here.
You can also get the complete 4-part series through Amazon right here.