I think most of us are well aware of the basic story behind 300. The heralded story of the small united Greek Army led by Warrior King Leonidas and his 300 soldiers, who defiantly squared off against the massive Persian Army of Xerxes at the Battle of Thermopylae. So there is really no need for me to get into it really. What I really want to discuss is the graphic novel by Frank Miller that kicked this whole thing off; spawning 2 recent films, numerous workout fads and innumerable TV documentaries due to the resurgence of interest in Sparta and ancient Greece. Admit it. After the movie 300 came out everything had 300 or Spartan in its title.
The graphic novel is what I’m here to discuss though. I feel a little awkward calling it a graphic novel. The way the images are set up and the way the story is conveyed to the reader via a text geared more toward narration than text gives it less the feel of a graphic novel and more the feel of a picture book. Obviously not a children’s picture book but an adult picture book. That doesn’t particularly sound accurate either. That makes it sound like I am talking about a porn written and drawn out like a picture book. What I am really trying to explain is a picture book with more serious content. That is after all why I enjoy the graphic novel 300 so much. The real story on which the graphic novel is based is historical and as most grand historical events are; it contains a very legendary and mythical character within it. And the method by which Frank Miller chose to portray such as legendary historical event was magnificent. I can’t imagine that story told in any other way.
In the tradition of classic picture books and legend telling, an omniscient narrator moves the story. This is abnormal for graphic novels and comic books as they tend to be driven primarily through direct dialogue. Yes, at times they have scene cuts and random snippets of explication but you never get the sense that you are receiving information from a narrator. 300 is different. While the majority of the text is still dialogue the reader is made well aware that they are not observing the action but are receiving the action through an intermediary. Someone is divulging past events to you. I really like this for the particulars of the story in question. It gives the reader a truly deep feel of myth and lore.
The art does this as well. Frank Miller has an art style that is gritty and emotive. His pictures display a sketchy and grainy semi-realism that works with the story to maintain this constant atmosphere. While the imagery is at times fantastical it always stays true to the savagery of the situation. In the case of King Leonidas and the Spartans, his lines signify the harsh reality of life and battle. He gives you the hard, brutal faces of battle worn warriors. And the colorist Lynn Varley holds the reader in a world that feels heavy with dramatic tension blanketed in an all encompassing darkness. So Cheerful. LOL. I’m just saying that it keeps a great atmosphere for conveying the grit, grimness and gravity of the legendary story.
The writing is fantastic as well. I know that I talked about how the story is written in terms of it being narrator driven but I haven’t actually given credit to the language of the text. The narrator’s voice has a strong and regal presence. The words of the narrator impress upon the reader that he is praising and exalting the great King Leonidas. It’s as if he is in effect extolling the virtues of the legendary Spartan life. The narrator describes the childhood of Leonidas and by default the Spartans in general as exceptional. You get that air of their exceptionality in every breath he utters about them.
The dialogue is well done as well. It is straight forward and without pomp. Lots of Greek and Roman period narratives are filled with pompous chatter. That’s why in most movies, up until perhaps a decade ago, and plays that have anything to do with either civilization, American movie makers usually choose to have characters speak in British accents as many Americans find it to sound more intelligent. Pay attention to that one day. Pretty much every older dramatic movie about either civilization has this accent. I understand. As an American myself, British English just sounds smarter to me. So when many Americans try to make things sound smart in either performance or writing they try to get closer that accent. Frank Miller was having none of it though. He threw that convention out completely. Although his narrator and main speakers have dialogue in a grand, majestic and masculine style, the words stay far away from superfluous prose and unnecessary pomp. The writing matches the weight and grit of the overall narrative while simultaneously being able to created distinguishable nuanced language between characters. This allows for characters’ personalities to be expressed while still keeping the mood of the narrative.
I’m a huge fan of Frank Miller’s work and 300 serves to show just how talented a story teller he is.