Welcome to SBC’s The Panel, a chance for you to put your burning questions – comics-related or otherwise – to a group of comics professionals.
The Panel lives or dies by your contributions; please email them to email@example.com and we’ll add them to the list…
This week’s question comes from Michael Stone and is as follows:-
” What is The Panel’s opinion on movie adaptations of comics? Do they think that the way some characters are reinvented to make them more camera friendly is a good thing or do they think that the original/source material should be adhered to as closely as possible? e.g. the amendments to certain parts of The Punisher’s back story and relocation to Florida from New York, the changes made in Ghost World. For the creators – if one of your works was made into a movie, would you insist on full creative control, take the money and run, or some middle ground?”
I am of a mixed opinion about films based on comics. On the one hand, I have enjoyed most of them. On the other hand, I’m a geek and any violation of what I know to be the “proper” continuity of a comic bugs the crap out of me. Sounds like I’m an undecided voter, doesn’t it?
As for how I would feel about one of my projects being adapted, I would fight for as much control as possible. Otherwise, why would I bother? In the end, I would be stuck with a film out there that has only a tangential relationship to my comic. Think about all those people who’ve purchased copies of I, Robot with Will Smith’s picture on the cover, only to find how the book has nothing to do with the movie. Many people who were into X-Men the movie weren’t interested in X-Men the comic, and that’s even after the change of looks to match the leather look of the films.
I would much rather have my own comics out there, closer to or exactly like my vision, than be cashing a option check for a film that only shares the name with my comic.
Vince Moore is the editor for DarkStorm Studios, a comics company started by Kevin Grevioux of Underworld fame.
Movie adaptations are about money. Hollywood would change everything if they could. The mighty comic book nerd put a stop to most of the blatant changes. However, if it helps the movie some changes are cool. Although, when it becomes a different character it’s over before it start. ZO! Out!
Alonzo Washington is the creator of Omega Man and a noted black rights campaigner.
Comics and movies are two different media. They steal and borrow from each other all the time, but not everything that works in one works in the other. Often, changes have to be made. That said, the Hollywood system is such that changes are sometimes made for no other reason than to exert or consolidate executive power.
In 99.9% of all Hollywood studio cases, if you insist on full, partial or even a tiny amount of creative control you will be told to fuck off. Jamie Hewlitt tried it with Tank Girl…and beat a hasty retreat when he was told “there are hundreds of other comics we can make movies out of.” He was left owning only the comic book rights. And the movie flopped–precisely because they changed most of the source material–more or less destroying Jamie’s chances of earning a future living from the character. (Shed no tears. Gorillaz more than made up for it.)
The only writer I’m aware of who retains some (possibly much) creative control over movies of her material is Rowling with Harry Potter. This may explain why the movies are so bad.
John Wagner and I sold “Bogie Man” to the BBC on the verbal understanding that we’d be first in line to write the proposed show. Soon as the contract was signed, the director told us–through an intermediary–he didn’t feel we were the “right writers” for the TV show. He figured he’d get a better script if…he wrote it himself. Unfortunately for the Bogie Man franchise, he was wrong.
There is an alternative: do it yourself. When the rights to Dominator reverted back from Japanese publishers Kodansha, to Tony Luke and myself, we decided to turn it into an 80-minute movie. I wrote the script, Tony and pals did the animation (for less than £20K, if there are any guerilla film makers reading this). “Dominator” is now out on video and DVD from Salvation, due to be launched in the USA this month, talks in progress with major toymakers…and Tony, Japanese model-maker Nirasawa-san and me still own it. And the British Film Council are backing the sequel, “Dominator and the Cradle of Filth”.
Alan Grant, writer of Dredd, Batman, and the slightly mad Doomlord, can be seen currently with Arthur Ranson on Judge Anderson in the Judge Dredd Megazine, and the superb Com.X trade collection of The Last American.
Well, as we saw on last time’s episode of “The Panel” (now a Channel Five sitcom in which Donna turns out to be my sister, Alonzo my Dad, and Craig Lemon returned from the dead after committing suicide in the wake of England’s miserable efforts in Euro 2004), every medium has its strengths, and any creator worth their salt is going to understand what they are, play to them, and so make that work unique to the medium.
Which makes any adaptation, for me, less interesting that its original source.
There have been a very few stunning successes, like Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited”, but much of that was because they gave the novel over 12 hours in which much of the first-person narration (i.e. the language of the book, its substance) could be retained as a voice-over from the compelling Jeremy Irons. They tried to condense Waugh’s “Handful of Dust” into a two-hour film, without a voice-over (well, they couldn’t really, it wasn’t a first-person narrative) and so lost all the imagery packed in the rich, scathing prose.
Comics, however, is such a similar medium to cinema (usually storyboarded itself), composed as they both are of dialogue and images, that the adaptation process is hampered only (I say “only”, but the first one’s a doozy) by the higher financial expectations demanded in return by a more expensive medium (which results in an almost inevitable dilution of content in order to appeal to a wider audience), and by directors either without the clout to resist corporate demands to bleach that content, or the skill to… well, direct.
There are plenty of comics that couldn’t work in films, of course – mainly those really concentrating on the unique properties of comics as a sequence of juxtaposed images (“Cerebus” always springs to mind- no split-screening is going to compensate there), and I did forget to mention this time round that there’s a real strength to be had from a work created by just one or two people (comics), as opposed to one that needs the script-writer, director, actors, lighting engineers, sound operators, editors, make-up artists, special effects guys, designers etc. etc. and indeed etc. to be all top-notch and top form. But I covered all that in a “Comics International” column, and, more extensively, in an intro lecture I gave to the Broadway’s screenings of “American Splendor”, which I delivered before I’d even seen the film. (I didn’t stop to watch the first screening, either, I had a dinner date!)
I don’t have a problem with the “X-Men” films changing their history, for example, given that their history is so full of accumulated rubbish. In fact I don’t have a problem with those two mischievous films full-stop. The performances by Jackson, McKellen and Stewart were fantastic. Beyond that I’ve tried to avoid superhero adaptations because a) as I’ve said, I’m not too excited by adaptations and b) I’m not too excited by superheroes.
Where “Ghost World” was interesting was that it was both a brilliant comic and a superbly faithful adaptation in that it felt like precisely the same material, yet the scripts were so radically different that any fan of one gets a completely new experience in the other.
“American Splendor” (now that I’ve seen it) was a rare work of genius that I can’t recommend enough to anyone who enjoyed “Adaptation” or its precursor, “Being John Malkovich”. Or comics by Grant Morrison, just for all the fourth wall pleasures.
If anyone wants to adapt this answer to tv, radio, or indeed film, the chap at the type-writer should be played by Guy Pierce. If you want to do it in comics, make sure he’s drawn by Steve Yeowell, and not Roger Langridge.
Stephen L. Holland runs Page 45 in Nottingham, now officially the best comic shop in the UK, with Mark Simpson and Tom Rosin. He also has a monthly column in Comics International. Or maybe you got that plug earlier.
I hate the fact that movies almost always have to change something. It smells like middle-management cooks spoiling the broth to me. Even Spider-Man, admittedly one of the better comic-to-movie crossovers, had to mess with things a little. What was gained by having Spidey’s web-shooting power be internal instead of web shooters Peter invents? I know it played a big part in the second film, but why was it changed in the first place?
Anyway, to answer the question. I’d honestly have to say I’d take the money and run rather than fight city hall (as it were) until I had enough power in Hollywood to call the shots. Why swim against the tide until you’re strong enough to do so? It’s almost certain death, as many can attest to.
Jesse Leon McCann is a New York Times Best-selling Author. He’s currently editing the fourth Simpsons TV Episode Guide for Bongo Comics/Harper Perennial, and writing stories for DC Comics’ Looney Tunes and Cartoon Cartoons.
I think making movies and making comics are very distant cousins and the objective of the screenwriter and director should always be to make a good film not an “adaptation.” If the source material is so solid that it doesn’t really need to be changed that is fine, but if there is something in an origin that doesn’t work for film then it would be stoopid not to change it. A good example is the Fantastic Four, it would be utterly retarded to have them competing with the “commies” in the Space Race. Another good example is dropping Spidey’s web blasters, which are just stoopid and would have bogged down an already heavy film with an explanation of how Pete could make something that frickin’ sophisticated and not be able to get a better job than pizza deliver boy.
Then, as the question mentions, there is putting the Punisher in Florida and mucking around with his origin. Pun is a second stringer so you figure Hollywood felt they could fuck with him and no one in Marvel Licensing really gives a crap, plus the IP doesn’t have the following of Spider-man and X-Men so no one would really care. In the end it made for a funny but not shy of Dolph Lundren kinda film. Do we care? Not really.
I think if one of my works is made into a film someday I would fight to keep what works to the films benefit and is the point/heart of the material everything else is up for grabs.
Kwanza Osajyefo is the founder of funkyComics, home to Jim’s Ninja and a number of other forthcoming comic book properties.
First part of the question: I’m fairly ambivalent when it comes to comic book movies. I like (in some cases, love) them just fine, but I don’t really have an opinion on them. After seeing, God help us all, LXG, I know what to expect. Hollywood can’t get it right. No matter how faithful they are, they’ll never get it right…at least, not right enough to satiate the fanboy in all of us. It’s just not possible. Do you really think that a screenwriter can match Alan Moore nuance for nuance?
I think someone like David Goyer has it right. He wrote the Blade trilogy (and is directing the final one) and the thing that he did right is…and I’m not sure what his involvement is/was…he went after a property that was more or less dead. No expectations. With something like Spidey, I’m sorry, but organic web shooters will always be a sore point.
As for my own material, I would hope to be invited by the director/producer/makers to be on the set. For someone to say, “We’re going to do this scene frame by frame…how did you see it?” Mignola was so lucky to have a real fan make the movie and have his input for the whole thing…but at the same time, Del Toro also added his own ideals which didn’t ruin the movie (for me). That kind of…synergy…is enviable.
Vito Delsante’s creator owned mini-series, “The Mercury Chronicles”, with artist Jim Muniz, is now in development with Image Comics and will hit stands late this year. “Batman Adventures Vol 2: Shadows and Masks” (DC Comics) is out now! He will next be seen in Reflux Comics #3 (August) and in X-Men Unlimited #5 (October).
It depends. I think it’s most important that the intent and heart of the source material remains undamaged, without getting too wound up over whatever “cosmetic” changes Hollywood chooses to make. First things that come to mind are the decision to place the X-Men in black leather, and making Spider-Man’s ability to spin webs completely organic. Think both of these decisions were made for very different reasons, but both had to made, one from a visual standpoint, and the other from a storytelling one. Spandex looks absolutely ridiculous in real life, and having to explain exactly how Peter created his mechanical web-shooters and the actual web fluid, would’ve extended an already lengthy origin sequence, and most importantly in both cases, threatened to remove a mainstream audience from the picture entirely.
Comics and film, though they seem to run together at time, are two entirely different mediums, and what works in one won’t necessarily work in the other. People aren’t gonna buy that Peter Parker is some super-genius that mixes his own web fluid in the basement, just like they aren’t gonna be down with Wolverine wearing his blue and yellow spandex number (though his hair STILL looks pretty laughable). As long as the context isn’t being lost, a little tweak here and there is more than acceptable.
From a creator’s standpoint, right now, from where I’m sitting this week, I’d probably take the money and run 🙂 From a respect POV, you’d like there to be some middle ground in the situation, because why pay money to option something you don’t really like? But I think Stephen King had the right idea when he commented that no matter what Hollywood does with the material, it doesn’t change the book/original work one single bit. People are used to the book sometimes differing wildly from the movie, so I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.
Brandon Thomas is one of the writers of Spider-Man Unlimited #3, scripter of Youngblood, creator of Cross and long-time Ambidextrous columnist.
Reinventing comics for the big screen is fine as long as they make sense and capture the essence of the caracters. Making Spidey’s web shooters organic, for example, was a big change, but it didn’t affect the character at all. If the screenwriter made Peter Parker the cocky star of his High School football team and gave him a hot Mom instead of making him a teen geek with a frail Aunt, then the film would be a disaster. The average person wouldn’t be able to identify with Peter or his problems.
Fortunately the producers on Spider-Man got it right. But this doesn’t always happen. Punisher is a great example of how Hollywood fucks things up, not by making small changes, but by failing to write a convincing protagonist and a solid plot. The film initially features a few alterations that work well. Instead of a Vietnam vet, Frank Castle is a federal agent. This makes perfect sense because the producers wanted a younger man to play the part. Instead of New York, Punisher lives in Florida. No big deal. Instead of just having Frank’s wife and kids killed in a park his whole extended family is slaughtered at a reunion. This scene gives the film much more emotional weight.
But Punisher fails as a movie because the writing is completely retarded. Off the top of my head I can think of five instances of bad writing in Punisher. Jesus, this is going way off topic. Ah, what the hell.. consider this a SPOILER WARNING if you haven’t seen the film.
Why Punisher Blows by Markisan
1) What’s the first thing Frank Castle does after his family is killed and his wounds are healed? He inexplicably confronts the police during a media event to yell at them for not bringing his family’s killers to justice. In doing so Frank reveals he’s alive to the guy he wants to kill! How stupid is this scene? Frank gives up the element of surprise against a heavily armed, well financed criminal empire, just so he can tell the cops they suck!? You’ve got to be kidding me.
2) Frank’s media stunt then begins a whole chain reaction of stupidity. The police and the Feds know Frank is alive. What do they do? Nothing. Not a God damn monkey thing. The biggest criminal in the city executed the entire family of a federal agent and the police aren’t even interested in questioning the lone survivor, let alone protecting him from being attacked again?! And what about his agent chums? Apparently they have no interest in helping Frank either.
3) So, Travolta’s character (Howard Saint) now knows Frank is alive and incredibly pissed. Does he tighten security. Nope. In fact he allows his wife to continue her weekly routine of going to the movies, making her an easy mark for well.. damn near anyone. But especially for a trained former agent hellbent on getting some payback.
4) The Punisher’s big revenge plan hinges on the blackmail of Saint’s right hand man, who happens to be gay. He doesn’t want Saint to find out, so he does what Punisher asks to protect his secret. But wait a second here, how in the hell does Punisher know that Saint is unaware of his henchman’s sexuality? And even more importantly, if Saint doesn’t know his guy is gay, how does Punisher know he’ll be upset once he finds out? A big deal is made about Saint being bonkers for his woman. If a man even looks at her he sees red. So, it seems to me having a gay man as your second-in-command would work out pretty well for Saint Johnny.
5) Um.. why does Punisher quick draw everyone in the film?!?
These scenes illustrate how the screenwriter completely missed what makes Punisher the Punisher. Frank’s not going to announce his presence to the local authorities. He’s not going to go all OK Corral on henchman in a lobby. He’s certainly not going to play the “I know you’re gay” game and express himself with flaming skull art. No, he’s gonna mow down thugs with an M16, car bomb the trophy wife and stick a bowie knife in Johnny T’s eye the first chance he gets .
So now that I got that out, I’m positive I would demand some creative control over the film version of my character. Alan Moore may just take the money and run, but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to have to explain, for the rest of my life, why a film based on my character sucked as bad as Punisher sucked.
Markisan Naso is a Senior Editor at SBC. He interviews comic book creators and performs behind-the-scenes work like editing and web coding. Some of you may remember Markisan from his year-long stint on SBC’s rumor column, All the Rage, where he went off on fanboys for their love of puffy sleeves and detailed his drunken convention experiences. Markisan also likes monkeys a lot.