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"It makes you wonder, doesn't it? Just how normal are we? Just who are the people we nod our hellos to as we pass on the street? A rather good question to ask... particularly in the Twilight Zone." The After Hours is a 2008 graphic novel adapted by Mark Kneece from the classic 1960 Twilight Zone episode of the same name by Rod Serling. I only discovered that these Twilight Zone graphic novels existed quite recently when I saw one in the children's section of the local library and although you might wonder what the point of them is I actually think they are surprisingly good and very well composed. They are aimed primarily at younger readers and really capture the essence of the source material and help introduce it to a new audience that in all likelyhood probably isn't terribly familiar with or ever likely to be interested in some old black and white television series. The After Hours is an adaption of one of my favourite ever episodes of the Twilight Zone and features attractive and highly effective art by Rebekah Isaacs. I thought it was a very clever and affectionate touch too the way they have Rod Serling illustrated at the start of the comic as part of the story with his familiar opening monologue - just like the television series each week. "Express elevator to the ninth floor of a department store, carrying Miss Marsha White on a most prosaic, ordinary, run of the mill errand. Miss Marsha White on the eighteenth floor, specialties department, looking for a gold thimble. The odds are she'll find it, but there are even better odds that she'll find something else, because this isn't just a department store. This happens to be the Twilight Zone..." Our central heroine Marsha appears to be a perfectly ordinary chic young woman doing a spot of shopping and browsing in a very large and rather swanky department store. But Martha will discover that large department stores can be strange places sometimes. Especially when they are empty and all the customers have gone.
Martha is specifically after a gold thimble in Brimble's Department Store as a gift for her mother but soon begins to have unsettling feelings and encounters in the store that gently escalate and embellish the sense of mystery and intrigue. When the elevator man in the lift takes Martha to the eighteenth floor she walks out and finds it completely barren and devoid of people - save for an insolent and overly familiar saleslady at a solitary counter who seems to know Martha's name and exactly what she wants to buy. The saleslady acts as if she knows Martha full stop but Martha has no memory of her whatsoever. "Now, look, I don't want to make a big thing out of this, but what kind of a place is this? I mean, all I want is one small item, a gold thimble. I come up on a floor that hasn't a single thing in evidence except what I'm looking for. Well, you may be a little more sophisticated than I am but this I call odd." Martha's shopping trip is about to become even spookier and weirder though. When she finds a scratch in the thimble the elevator man takes to her to the third floor so she can go to the complaints office. While she is there Martha enquires about the saleslady she encountered but is told by the bemused store manager that there is no eighteenth floor. It doesn't exist. What on earth is going on? It may take until the after hours but Martha will eventually discover the truth about the store and herself.
The television version of this was one of the very best Twilight Zone stories ever because of its increasingly eerie and dreamlike atmosphere and they manage to bottle some of that aura here in a clever way I think through the pleasant and stylish art. There is an early panel where Martha looks around in the store and her face registers a slight confusion and vague sense of alarm even though all appears normal around her. But is it? The detailed art of the cavernous store around her is simultaneously serene and slightly creepy at the same time. Love the panels on the ceiling and Isaacs' ability to draw people who look real and have some character. Although the art is colourful and not intended to be super realistic it is not too cartoonish and proves to be a great benefit to the story. The most impressive thing about the art is how glossy and rich it seems. There is a nice retro quality too. It's very clever I think the way the comic conveys meaning and emotion without even having to use thought or speech bubbles at times. The book is very colourful (in contrast to the original black and white of the television episode) but I think this perfectly understandable and works well. These graphic novels seem to be updates rather than 100% adaptions and vaguely set in the modern world. The essential core of the story is still in place although Martha's quest for a gold thimble does seem rather anachronistic! I'm not exactly sure what a gold thimble is to be honest or why anyone would want one. It's a bit more charming than shopping for an i-pod or whatever though.
Martha was wonderfully played by the beautiful blonde actress Anne Francis in the television episode. Her bemused, puzzled expressions as she slowly uncovers the secret of the store were fantastic but the comic book version of Martha has personality and emotion too and is a bit more modern. She has black hair too for some reason. Maybe they didn't want to look like they were exploiting the image of Francis. This is 72 pages in total and the simple but (ultimately) brilliant premise is expanded somewhat by some backstory about Martha and her mother that you don't get in the Serling screenplay. It isn't too jarring and understandable why they felt the need to flesh out the story a little so the book wouldn't be too short. The trick makes the book both familiar and sometimes surprising too. Obviously if you've never watched the Twilight Zone then the element of surprise will be much greater. The comic is very well paced and develops the sense of unease and mystery with great skill. The final revelations are handled very well and overall it serves as a satisfying and affectionate update of a classic story. I enjoyed the art and the respect and affection for the source material here quite a lot and would certainly consider buying some more of these (they've only released four or five adaptions so far I believe) and building up a collection. At the time of writing you can buy this for around £8 (you should be able to get a better deal than that though if you look around or are patient). The comic is suitable for all ages but I think younger readers and fans of the television series will probably get the most out of it.