The Dune Graphic Novel: Experience Frank Herbert’s Epic Sci-Fi Saga as You’ve Never Seen It Before

Like so many major motion pic­tures slat­ed for a 2020 release, Denis Vil­leneu­ve’s Dune has been bumped into 2021. But fans of Frank Her­bert’s epic sci­ence-fic­tion saga haven’t had to go entire­ly with­out adap­ta­tions this year, since last month saw the release of the first Dune graph­ic nov­el. Writ­ten by Kevin J. Ander­son and Frank Her­bert’s son Bri­an Her­bert, co-authors of twelve Dune pre­quel and sequel nov­els, this 160-page vol­ume con­sti­tutes just the first part of a tril­o­gy intend­ed to visu­al­ly retell the sto­ry of the first Dune book. This tri­par­tite break­down seems to have been a wise move: the many adap­tors (and would-be) adap­tors of the lin­guis­ti­cal­ly, mytho­log­i­cal­ly, and tech­no­log­i­cal­ly com­plex nov­el have found out over the decades, it’s easy to bite off more Dune than you can chew.

Audi­ences, too, can only digest so much Dune at a sit­ting them­selves. “The par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge to adapt­ing Dune, espe­cial­ly the ear­ly part, is that there is so much infor­ma­tion to be con­veyed — and in the nov­el it is done in prose and dia­log, rather than action — we found it chal­leng­ing to por­tray visu­al­ly,” says Ander­son in an inter­view with the Hol­ly­wood Reporter.

“For­tu­nate­ly, the land­scape is so sweep­ing, we could show breath­tak­ing images as a way to con­vey that back­ground.” This is the land­scape of the desert plan­et Arrakis, source of a sub­stance known as “spice.” Used as a fuel for space trav­el, spice has become the most pre­cious sub­stance in the galaxy, and its con­trol is bit­ter­ly strug­gled over by numer­ous roy­al hous­es. (Any resem­blance to Earth­’s petro­le­um is, of course, entire­ly coin­ci­den­tal.)

The main nar­ra­tive thread of the many run­ning through Dune fol­lows Paul Atrei­des, scion of the House Atrei­des. With his fam­i­ly sent to run Arrakis, Paul finds him­self at the cen­ter of polit­i­cal intrigue, plan­e­tary rev­o­lu­tion, and even a clan­des­tine scheme to cre­ate a super­hu­man sav­ior. Though Her­bert and Ander­son have pro­duced a faith­ful adap­ta­tion, the graph­ic nov­el “trims the sto­ry down to its most icon­ic touch­stone scenes,” as Thom Dunn puts it in his Boing Boing review (adding that it hap­pens to focus in “a lot of the same scenes as David Lynch did with his glo­ri­ous­ly messy film adap­ta­tion”). This stream­lin­ing also employs tech­niques unique to graph­ic nov­els: to retain the book’s shift­ing omni­scient nar­ra­tion, for exam­ple, “differ­ent­ly col­ored cap­tion box­es present inner mono­logues from dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters like voiceovers so as not to inter­rupt the scene.”

As if telling the sto­ry of Dune at a graph­ic nov­el­’s pace was­n’t task enough, Ander­son, Her­bert and their col­lab­o­ra­tors also have to con­vey its unusu­al and rich­ly imag­ined world — in not just words, of course, but images. “Dune has had a lot of visu­al inter­pre­ta­tions over the years, from Lynch’s bizarre pseu­do-peri­od piece treat­ment to the mod­ern tele­vised mini-series’ more grit­ty inter­pre­ta­tion,” writes Poly­gon’s Char­lie Hall. While “Villeneuve’s vibe appears to take its inspi­ra­tion from more futur­is­tic sci­ence fic­tion — all angles and chunky armor,” the graph­ic nov­el­’s artists Raúl Allén and Patri­cia Martín “opt for some­thing a bit more steam­punk.” These choic­es all fur­ther what Bri­an Her­bert describes as a mis­sion to “bring a young demo­graph­ic to Frank Herbert’s incred­i­ble series.” Such read­ers have shown great enthu­si­asm for sto­ries of teenage pro­tag­o­nists who grow to assume a cen­tral role in the strug­gle between good and evil — not that, in the world of Dune, any con­flict is quite so sim­ple.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch the First Trail­er for Dune, Denis Villeneuve’s Adap­ta­tion of Frank Herbert’s Clas­sic Sci-Fi Nov­el

A Side-by-Side, Shot-by-Shot Com­par­i­son of Denis Villeneuve’s 2020 Dune and David Lynch’s 1984 Dune

Why You Should Read Dune: An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Frank Herbert’s Eco­log­i­cal, Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci-Fi Epic

The 14-Hour Epic Film, Dune, That Ale­jan­dro Jodor­owsky, Pink Floyd, Sal­vador Dalí, Moe­bius, Orson Welles & Mick Jag­ger Nev­er Made

Moe­bius’ Sto­ry­boards & Con­cept Art for Jodorowsky’s Dune

The Dune Col­or­ing & Activ­i­ty Books: When David Lynch’s 1984 Film Cre­at­ed Count­less Hours of Pecu­liar Fun for Kids

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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Comments (3)
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  • Tobin Elliott says:

    Spice is NOT fuel. If you’ve read the nov­el, you’d know it’s a drug. Obvi­ous­ly you haven’t, or you’d nev­er com­pare it to petro­le­um.

  • Michael Lawson says:

    This so called review is the worst exam­ple of lazy writ­ing, some­one must have thrown a copy of the graph­ic nov­el at you , hit you on your head.
    You have no idea about the Dune uni­verse or the peo­ple who inhab­it this world.
    Please before you review some­thing, please do at least read more.
    The spice is life. It gieves the user extend­ed life, expands con­scious­ness, r
    It turns the eyes blue, blue with­in blue.
    Sor­ry 0 out of 10.
    Poor qual­i­ty writ­ing.

  • David Horgan says:

    Spice is an irre­place­able sub­stance, essen­tial for extend­ed life and space trav­el and so con­trol­ling the Spice enables ‘Hydraulic despo­tism’. Con­trol of water resources, petro­le­um and oth­er strate­gic resources is entire­ly anal­o­gous — as explained by Leto II in The God Emper­or of Dune.

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