Book Review

the discworld graphic novels adapted from Terry Pratchett by Scott Rockwell & illustrated by Steven Ross

terrified i may look like i dont know how to drive

cw: body image, personal hygiene

When I was a pre-and-then-during-pubescent youth, I read many books by the assisted dying activist and comic fantasy novelist, Terry Pratchett.

Then, like all things deemed to be unattractive, I shod any interest in those works in the way I shod making an effort at schoolwork, the way I – against my will – gave up on not having pubic hairs and the way I swapped playing a classical music instrument (I got to like Associated Board grade 4 or 5 oboe, whatever that means!) for rock ‘n’ guitar slash rock ‘n’ roll synthesiser (see ‘Back To The City’ by my second teen rock band, Malaria Colon (a YouTube video uploaded over 16 years ago), and be shocked by the revelation that of the three members of that rock outfit, only I – an irregularly employed mentally ill poet who was once quoted in the New Yorker – still burn for sonic release.)

For, if there are no other certainties in life, reading the books of Terry Pratchett is not something done by people who fuck, at least not something done by people who fuck who don’t visually have terrible personal hygiene (as in you can “tell before you smell” – you see them and you know they stinky).

Since Pratchett died, rather disappointingly – despite his public and very moving advocacy for it – not by assisted suicide, he has maintained an increasingly robust public persona positioning him as a kind, perceptive and witty writer.

I’m sure you’ve seen the excerpt about boots that has become a meme appearing whenever ill-intentioned Tory cunts pretend they don’t understand the cost and precarity of poverty, as well as the excerpts that get posted whenever ill-intentioned Tory cunts claim that Pratchett would have become transphobic, just because some of his generational(ish) British genre writing peers have. (No apologies to any transphobes offended by being slurred as tories, but if you’re anti minority you are far right, and you’d be treated as such if a violent progressive revolution/dictatorship ever happened here (which it won’t, not in England, not ever, and that’s why this place feels so fucking unliveable – because it is!))


This book was a Christmas present and I was keen to give it a read, as I definitely did spend many pleasant late childhood hours reading about this fictional flat world on top of elephants on top of a turtle. As I still want to – on some level – feel like I can pretend to look attractive or, at least, cool, I’ve of course never taken the opportunity to revisit the Discworld in the years since.

Imagine reading Terry Pratchett on the tube.


Then again, it’s probably a great way to get some personal space on public transport: if I saw someone reading one of Pratchett’s novels (with their distinctive and hideous bad cartoon covers) on a bus or on a train I would presume – almost certainly correctly – that they smell absolutely disgusting and would therefore not sit next to them. Maybe at this point, though, around a decade since Pratchett’s death (tho not, that I’ve seen, since a tasteful redesign of the awful covers of his books), the olfactory horrors of his fans have dissipated and maybe there are hundreds of acceptably-scented nerds getting to sit comfortably on trains and buses merely by virtue of the implication of their odour. Then again, I’m probably being generous and the likelihood of someone who wants to withdraw to a child-friendly “comedy” fantasy world doesn’t really sound like someone who wants to withdraw to the shower to wash. They also all look like they don’t know how to drive.

Obviously, I do know how to drive (otherwise I wouldn’t sneer something like that, would I?), but do I look like I know how to drive? I certainly don’t know how to drive well and I obviously don’t own a car (tho I once did for around eight months lol (I consider that one of my least believable historic acts)) and I do fear that I may that look of the too-impractical urbanite, especially as I’ve admitted here to reading a writer the reading of whom signifies an inability to function in the real world.

That said, though, I didn’t actually read any Terry Pratchett here, which is sorta the worst of both worlds. All the shame of reading a Pratchett without the illicit, socially-unacceptable joys of reading one. Instead of actual Pratchett, I read a messily drawn, often confusing, “graphic novel” version of The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, novels dating from 1983 and 1986 respectively, and these comics originally from 1991 and 1992.

Although the cover design and presentation of this hardback edition is much more pleasing than the packaging for a regular Discworld book, this isn’t really an adaptation so much as it is an illustration.

Though I definitely did read these novels (before I’d ever kissed anyone, I must clarify) I read them literally twenty years ago and other than the image of the treasure chest with loads of little legs and the plot point of an entire city burning down as soon as someone invents insurance (and that the story is set on a magical flat world, just like I am), I had no specific memories from these very early novels in the Discworld series.

So, although there were settings and recurring characters I recognised from deep memory, the narrative of these comics was genuinely confusing, as whoever made this text clearly presumed that anyone reading it was not just familiar with the original novels, but knowledgeable of them back to front.

There are [what would be described as] “plot holes” throughout, some of which may be intended as jokes playing with the structures of genre narrative, but all of which just look and feel like a page or a panel or a chapter is missing.

Dialogue doesn’t flow, action is poorly rendered and drawn, magical creatures are unimaginative and the only places where it looks like the artist put in any effort is drawing the near-naked bodies of non-naturalistically proportioned women…

Such little effort is put into things like e.g. maintaining scale, incorporating characterisation into dialogue, directing the sticks attached to speech bubbles towards the people meant to be speaking them and – key here – drawing faces, that it is often near-impossible to follow what is happening.

This is a very badly made comic, and though there are moments of humour and excitement in the text, they all fall flat due to the sheer scale of incompetence in the execution of the medium. I can’t imagine Pratchett’s novels are as shit as this, but maybe they are?

Tho I’m sure I will at some point reread a Discworld novel proper, I will definitely never knowingly read another comic produced by Scott Rockwell and Steven Ross. It’s a badly made piece of media, and is best avoided

It’s disappointing, because Pratchett’s novels obviously have a strong aesthetic and he is renowned for his creativity, humour and engaging narratives, so though maybe there is space in the world for a satisfying comic book adaption of his work, this isn’t it.

I think there have been similar botched attempts before, too, to turn the Discworld books into TV shows, but unless the ones that have been released were explicitly aimed at children and thus not treated with the critical rigour or attention of normal television, I must presume they were failures, too, otherwise they’d have some kind of visual legacy there, too.

There’s some fun in here, I suppose, but it’s clearly from the source material rather than the adaptation. Maybe it’s an attempt to be overly respectful to Pratchett’s novels that fucks this comic book, but that feels like an overly generous thing to say and I don’t like being generous to the people who make books. That would be a ridiculous way to live. is 10 years old! Celebrate by sharing this post – or others – with friends (if you have any), family (if you have any), lovers (which I presume you have because this website isn’t for children), or by donating to the site via the below link so that I can maybe take a day off work some time and enjoy being alive for a few hours.

2 comments on “the discworld graphic novels adapted from Terry Pratchett by Scott Rockwell & illustrated by Steven Ross

  1. Hilarious, I read Terry Pratchet both before and after having sex (as a lifestyle not an act) and this perfectly sums the experience up.

    I will note that I was only a casual particpant in both Pretchet annd ,for a while, in sex.

    Interestingly, though being fastidious clean, I cannot drive a car.

    Food for thought.

    Liked by 1 person

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