As a developer takes the helm of an established game series, their unique perspective and tastes will influence the final product, for better or for worse. The same goes for adapting a video game to comic books. Artists and writers must take beloved characters and mold them to a different medium. They have to maintain a balance between their own style, the game’s tone, and the monster that is fan expectations. For certain series, this is a daunting task. Players want to read more about the characters and adventures they have already played a thousand and one times before. But there are some games that are more about archetypes and worlds than the specific people who inhabit these spaces. Sometimes it’s not about the only man or woman who can save their kingdom from a certain evil. Sometimes it’s simply about a prince, a princess, and a vizier.
Established in the Spring of 2004, First Second Books has published numerous award-winning comics in various genres which range from fiction and biographies to journalism and visual essays. In that inaugural year, Mark Siegel of First Second Books reached out to Jordan Mechner, creator of Prince of Persia, about adapting the video game classic to the paneled page. Along with artists LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland, and writer A.B. Sina, the team created Prince of Persia: The Graphic Novel.
Released in 2008, this comic does not simply re-tell a story from the Prince of Persia games or movie. The tale upon these pages concerns two similar situations which take place across hundreds of years. One begins in the 9th century, about three siblings who rule over the kingdom of Marv. The other story starts during the 13th century in the very same kingdom, within the luxurious home of a wealthy ruler, where his daughter has become curious about the secrets in her beloved city. Both tales feature princes and princesses, peacocks and prophesy, and nefarious plots to keep power in unjust hands. Using seamless transition between these times, Prince of Persia layers its stories much like the Arabian Nights tales from which it takes inspiration.
The artwork featured in this graphic novel suits the plot quite well. Full- and half-page panels of landscape and scenery help to immerse the reader in this desert world. Sharp strokes and heavy contrast are used when drawing characters, along with minimal lines and strong color schemes for specific situations. Facial expressions, particularly the eyes and framing of hair, are very effective at conveying emotion. There is also an interesting technique used to describe back stories. When any history of the siblings from the 9th century is being told, it is shown through story scrolls during the 13th century. These scrolls unfurl across the pages, looking like artwork from the time of the Arabian Nights.
After the conclusion of these intersecting tales, there is a piece written by Jordan Mechner titled “Who is the Prince?’ In this afterword, Mechner describes some of the history behind the original Prince of Persia video game, and the evolution of the series across the years. Along with the writing, there is plenty of concept art and related media from the Prince of Persia games, as well as the events that led to the graphic novel’s creation. This is an excellent addition to the book, and I wish more adaptations would provide similar material.
During the afterword, Mechner brings up the process of deciding a story for the graphic novel. In the Prince of Persia series, there are eight video games and a movie from which characters and plot details could be drawn. Across these media, the prince and his cohorts have changed to suit the market, the creator, and the players. There is no absolutely right way adapt video games to comic books, no matter which game or series is in question. It is up to the writers and artists to take the resources given to them and craft thoughtful tales for the readers. Just as Mechner says, “Which one is the true Prince of Persia? All of them. And none of them.”