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All these decades later, Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS overshadows M in terms of fame and legacy. But M, the story of a serial killer who hunts children, is such a dark, macabre classic that even Lang considered it his best film. It’s a seminal work, one of the most amazing accomplishments in cinema.

It was nearly 20 years ago that Jon J Muth, a writer and illustrator of children’s books and comic books, decided to create a graphic series based on M. Muth’s work back then remains as vital, impressive and simply awe-inspiring now, especially since it has just been re-released in a gorgeous hardcover format, which also includes an informative introduction and afterword that provide useful insights into the creative process behind the work.

Muth gathered together friends, family and acquaintances to pose for photos that reenacted Lang’s film. But this is no shot-by-shot, frame-by-frame recreation. Instead, Muth changes points of view and perspective to create a new experience, something far removed from its source material yet so lovingly inspired by it that it maintains respect at all times.

Muth then took those photos and made drawings from them. His afterword explains the process, which involves silverpoint, graphite and charcoal, the effect of which is so stunning, so lush, that it’s clear how much of an influence Muth’s work here has had on generations of artists who followed in his footsteps. Reading M has the bizarre effect of feeling like you’re looking at a series of old photographs, stepping back in time and experiencing a long-ago past first-hand.

And M is thrilling. The story is frightening and thrilling on its own, with its terrifying notion of a serial killer who targets children. The murders leave the entire city in a state of panic, with the population demanding action from the police. As the police crack down on brothels, bars and gambling spots around town, the leaders of the city’s seedy underground decide they have to take action to find the killer themselves, if only to keep their own businesses afloat.

M has various themes of horror and old-gangster-style crime running through its rich pages. That Muth is able to carry this off without stepping on the toes of the original film is a testament to his larger-than-life abilities as an artist. The phrase “a graphic novel for someone who doesn’t typically enjoy graphic novels” gets tossed around quite a bit, but in this case, it seems to apply. A work this atmospheric certainly transcends the boundaries of format in ways that others can’t.

Muth has gone on to create many other works in both comics and traditional publishing, but M remains such a glorious work, such a lovely piece of art, that it continues to inspire fellow artists. It continues to entertain and mesmerize readers as well.

Reviewed by John Hogan on January 6, 2011

by Jon J Muth

  • Publication Date: April 1, 2008
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Abrams
  • ISBN-10: 0810995220
  • ISBN-13: 9780810995222