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A Scanner Darkly    by Philip K. Dick order for
Scanner Darkly
by Philip K. Dick
Order:  USA  Can
Pantheon, 2006 (2006)

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* * *   Reviewed by Lance Victor Eaton

As a science-fiction author who has written influential and almost prophetic books about the human condition and technology, Philip K. Dick stands in the same league as Aldous Huxley and George Orwell. Some of his many written works have made (or are currently making) the leap into film, including Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and most recently, A Scanner Darkly. In fact, this graphic novel proves to be the offspring of both film and book.

Substance D has been ravaging the public for years now. People from all socioeconomic levels have swallowed this highly addictive pill and become slaves to the drug. This is causing great social turmoil, since recovery is next to impossible. As part of a strategy aimed at finding the source of Substance D, Fred has been tasked as an undercover agent to work his way up through contacts and find the top distributors. In his role as drug-addict Bob Arctor, he and his drug-induced misfits go about in their eccentric and paranoid manner, enjoying Substance D while coming up with schemes to get more. However, Fred is becoming increasingly paranoid that his agency is going to pull him out of the field. His brain is becoming fried due to continued use and Fred is having trouble figuring out if his split personalities - Fred the cop and Bob Arctor the drug-addict - are fighting each other in a caustic internal struggle.

Now to understand the art of the graphic novel, one must understand the art of the film. Director Richard Linklater recorded the entire film as live-action. He then had the cells colored over so that the film is animated. Ralph Bakshi is famous for doing this in many of his works including the original Lord of the Rings film (1978). The effect for the film is stunning with crisp animation that has elements of reality unseen in the best CGI. The graphic novel selectively draws from the colored cells to present the key points of the story over nearly two hundred pages with one to seven or eight panels per page. The end result is an exhilarating depiction of Dick's tale. While the panels are beautifully crafted and certainly engaging to readers, people who have viewed the movie may feel the panels don't capture nearly as much detail and brilliance as the film does on a screen.

Dick's ideas are quite intriguing, particularly when one considers that this book was written in 1977, before allegations and challenges were raised about governments' roles in the drug trade. A Scanner Darkly easily makes the transition from book to graphic novel and - though it would be interesting to see a direct adaptation from book to graphic novel - this comic adaptation based on the cinematic adaptation certainly proves worthy.

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