Ever since its release in 2010, Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon has made its way through several entertainment mediums, by way of short films, a video game, and even a live arena show. Now, just before the film’s sequel hits theaters next month, the franchise which began life as a popular series of children’s books has made it all the way back to book form, with this new quarterly graphic novel series from Titan Comics.
Dragons: Riders of Berk–itself an adaptation of the franchise’s highly successful Dreamworks’ Dragons animated series on Cartoon Network–is a series of brand new stories about Hiccup, his friends, and their adventures with dragons. This premiere volume, titled Dragon Down, contains a fun story written by Simon Furman, with art by Iwan Nazif. As you may expect, the plot is very quick and less than nuanced; while this graphic novel is rightfully being marketed to “kids of all ages”, it’s mainly for kids of the usual kid ages.
As is always the case with comics based on an animated series (Futurama, The Simpsons, Ren & Stimpy; all have comics I’ve read and enjoyed over the years), the most vital piece of the success puzzle is being able to capture the essence of moving animation in static imagery. That’s not a simple task, and it is made even more difficult here, since Dragons is going from 3D animation to 2D drawings; the process would seem to be simplified, if those who work on the project just remember that 3D animation begins its life as 2D art, anyway. All that being said, Dragons: Riders of Berk does a very good job of recreating the look and feel of Dreamworks’ animation in the film and on the animated series. Beyond anything else, I think what does the most, in this instance, is the graphic novel’s use of an ever-so-slightly over-saturated color palette, which goes a long way toward recreating the animated world fans of the How to Train your Dragon universe are used to.[pullquote]Dragons: Riders of Berk does a very good job of recreating the look and feel of Dreamworks’ animation in the film and on the animated series.[/pullquote]
Something else Dragons: Riders of Berk does fairly well is existing as a comic book. With comics based on existing property, it’s very easy to get too caught up in trying to capture what makes the existing property work (see above paragraph on the importance of that). When you decide to make a comic book, you have to commit to actually making the finished product a comic book, or it won’t work. While a few lines of dialogue and panels of illustrations in Dragon Down do feel like they are more at home in an animated series (and, thus, don’t communicate as well in the static-paper medium of a comic), for the most part, Dragon Down both paces its plot well to deliver a satisfying story and delivers illustrations that bring the most out of the limited page count of the comic medium (the 64-page book contains 48 pages of plot, cut into 4 chapters). As this is the first volume, this series is sure to get even better at this as it goes along.
Who is this for? Honestly, this is not a graphic novel I will be buying and reading on a regular basis, but as I said before, I’m not the target audience (other than the fact that the “target audience” for anything is “anyone who will buy it”). This is something I would say fans of any age who are fans of the How to Train your Dragon universe and/or the Dragons animated series would enjoy very much. Outside of that group (and just kids, in general), there are two other groups of people I think would like to read this and would also get more out of it: 1. fans of animation and/or people interested in becoming animators. I say that because the illustrations here are very reminiscent of the 2D drawings I mentioned earlier that always come before 3D animation is made. 2. Parents; namely those with children who either can’t get into comics or don’t even want to try comics. This, and comics like this, are a terrific gateway for kids to dip their toes into the world of comics; before you know it, they’ll be begging you for X-Men or Martian Manhunter comics–What? Everyone loves Martian Manhunter, dammit.