A cartoon series of serious literature -- Graphic novel ''Neon Lit'' gives a classic crime novel a fresh new spin

By Matthew Flamm
Updated August 19, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

This isn’t Archie and Jughead. It isn’t Classic Comics either, though Neon Lit, the graphic novel series just launched by Avon Books, is busy making comics out of critically acclaimed literature. Really weird and difficult literature, if the series’ first offering is any indication: a handsomely drawn (by Batman comics artist David Mazzucchelli) adaptation of Paul Auster’s highly cerebral 1985 crime novel City of Glass.

As scripted by Raw magazine veteran Paul Karasik, Auster’s 200-page text has been distilled to 138 pages of captions and pictures. ”It’s a wonderful paper movie,” says Avon editor-in-chief Robert Mecoy.

The brainchild of San Francisco Bay Area writer Bob Callahan — with the help of Pulitzer Prize-winning comic-book artist Art Spiegelman (Maus) — Neon Lit attempts to do what few literary adult comics have accomplished before: bring an underground genre into the mainstream. ”What we’ve done is take real artists and real writers and had them converge in the Pop art novel,” says Callahan, the series’ editor, whose next Neon Lit title will be the Barry Gifford (Wild at Heart) novel Perdita Durango. ”It’s one more volley of gunfire into the citadels of literature with our silly comic books,” says Spiegelman, who has long argued that comics can handle grown-up subjects as well as novels and film do.

”The idea was not to adapt classic noirs like The Maltese Falcon, but to take books that push the genre toward other concerns,” says Spiegelman, who is the overall series designer. ”I think Albert Camus could fit into the Neon Lit series.”