Hap and Leonard: Savage Season adapted and illustrated by Jussi Piironen
Short, Scary Tales Publications/IDW (October 2017)
124 pages; £39.95 signed, numbered hardcover; $17.99 paperback; $7.99 e-book
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand
Joe R. Lansdale’s “Hap and Leonard” series isn’t the first thing that comes to my mind when considering what books would benefit from being adapted in graphic novel form. Lansdale’s series, about a couple of blue collar buddies whose keen sense of right and wrong gets them into escalating amounts of trouble with bad guys and good guys alike, is elevated by the author’s sharp dialogue and natural storytelling ability—two things which could easily be lost in translation when moving to the more visual medium of comics.
Fortunately, publishers Short, Scary Tales Publications and IDW have brought in Finnish comics master Jussi Piironen to handle the scripting and illustration of this adaptation of Savage Season, the first novel in Lansdale’s beloved series. Piironen (Jerry Cotton, Raid) does a great job of using a few simple details to evoke the harsh environments of the book, particularly the lush, almost alien landscapes of a Texas river bottom. In one particularly tense sequence, in which Hap almost succumbs to freezing river water while diving, Piironen uses a few elements—currents, bubbles, and Hap’s eyes, growing confused and heavy-lidded behind his swim mask—against a dark backdrop to bring us down into the cold, suffocating water with him.
In keeping with his spare style, Piironen employs a very monochromatic color palette throughout the book. It’s not a choice I’m crazy about, but I get what he’s going for, especially later in the book, when he uses splashes of color as highlights—sometimes for a violent act, sometimes to showcase the unbalanced state of mind of one of the characters. Another strike for me is the way Piironen draws Leonard Pine. Something about it—maybe it’s the patchy hair—makes this version of Leonard look too old, almost elderly. It’s odd, because I think he did a great job of capturing Hap, Trudy, Paco, and several of the other characters, but his version of Leonard just seems off to me.
Still, while Savage Season (and the “Hap and Leonard” series in general) seems to me something of a strange choice for graphic novel adaptation, and while I do have a couple of reservations about the approach take here, there’s enough good to make me want more. Piironen puts together some really provocative and effective sequences, and does a good job of giving Lansdale’s trademark dialogue room to breathe. Here’s hoping we get news about an adaptation of Mucho Mojo sooner rather than later.