Complications Ensue:
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Friday, March 31, 2006

Bill Cunningham of DISC/ontent and I think it might be worthwhile to open up a discussion of what comics do for Hollywood in general.

The obvious benefit the movies get from comics is bridging the gap between text and vision. Most people, including studio executives, find it hard to read a script and imagine the movie. Screenwriters spend decades honing their craft to make the movie "jump off the page" into the reader's mind. But there's only so much a screenplay can do. It's extremely difficult to communicate visual style or tone in a screenplay without seeming precious. How, for example, would you communicate the cool retro-futuristic vibe of Men In Black with a page of prose and dialog? Fortunately the comic did that for you.

A comic brings you that much closer to a movie. A comic can prove the concept works. The key to the Hellboy story is that his oversized right hand is the key to opening up the gates of Hell. (More or less.) Written on the page, your reaction might be "that's gonna look dorky." Likewise the cut-off horns. You have to see Mike Mignola's comic to see how Hellboy is, yes, sort of dorky, but that's part of his charm.

I've seen Thirty Days of Night described as a "failed screenplay." I don't know in what way it fails as a screenplay; it would/will probably make a pretty good scary movie. But it certainly communicates a tone, with its scattered, impressionistic art. (A tone, incidentally, which isn't present in the script for the comic, which describes the characters in much greater detail than you can make out from the art.)

Comics aren't a panacea. Comics want to be visual; too much talk and it starts to clutter up the page. You wouldn't want to read a comic book of Clerks. At least, not the Clerks I saw. (If there is a comic book of Clerks -- and knowing what a big comics fan Kevin Smith is, I wouldn't be the least surprised -- I hope it does more visually than the movie does.) I doubt Remains of the Day would work on the page: it's all about the silences, and the minutest details of expressions. That could get precious fast in a comic book.

A lot of people seem to be drawing the obvious conclusion and trying to make comic books as a prototype of their movie. For people who actually like comic books, this must be annoying. A comic book made for a movie is unlikely to use the medium as well as possible, in the same way that a John Grisham or Tom Clancy novel "written for the screen" won't do much with the novelistic form that can't be reproduced in the eventual movie. A comic book made for the screen probably won't change the shape of the frames much. You won't have a big splash page with some inserts, for example, because the writer is thinking linearly. You'll see mostly a grid of linear moments, just like in a movie.

And then there's the habit of stopping a comic short once it's apparent Sony isn't going to buy the movie rights. That would irritate the hell out of me.

Still it's an interesting way to get your idea that much closer to the screen. If pursue it, makes sure it's a good comics idea first. Make sure you're using the medium you're in. Then if you wind up with a successful book, you can adapt it -- really, re-imagine it for the screen.


Yes, there is a Clerks comic as well as a Jay & Silent Bob Comic - both from Oni press and both terrific. Think of all the great dialogue of a Kevn Smith movie, then add elements of movement and camera angles - stuff he's shy about doing in his movies.

I have to agree with your assessment that comics bring the movie that much closer. I think in many development exec's minds the comic "proves" the concept for them. Especially if its something that has any notoriety or audience.

By Blogger Cunningham, at 3:41 PM  

There's also a Bluntman and Chronic book that Kevin wrote for a while based on characters that were based on characters from his films. Gotta love the guy.

Really like what you said, Alex, especially the part about using the medium you are working in. Couldn't agree more.

By Blogger Platinum Studios, at 6:39 PM  

Will Eisner and Scott McCloud touch on the subject in their books, but really there isn't a lot of material detailing the true storytelling advantages of the comic medium. I'd be interested in hearing from some of the top pros in the industry and why they choose comics over other storytelling methods.

My personal preference is the lack of red-storytelling-tape. Comics (along with prose) is one of the few storytelling mediums where a creator can deliver a story, start to finish with absolutely no influence from any other outside source. Some choose to work with publishers, editors, artists, etc, but if a creator truly chooses to create comic on his/her own, it's quite easy and inexpensive to do. No actors, no producers, no editors, no unions, no studio execs, etc.

If the creator chooses, it can be a very pure form of communication. From the creator to the reader. Direct, intimate and pure. That's what I love about comics, and I also think that's one of the assets screenplay writers can tap into (and Alex hit on this point in the original post).

"Here's my story, exactly how I intended."

That's powerful.

Alan Moore, who can be very bitter sometimes, did an interview with MTV about the V for Vendetta film. The politics of the interview got most of the attention, but he also offers his opinion on what comics can offer that you can't get with a film.

Link to full interview with MTV

Moore: In comics the reader is in complete control of the experience. They can read it at their own pace, and if there's a piece of dialogue that seems to echo something a few pages back, they can flip back and check it out, whereas the audience for a film is being dragged through the experience at the speed of 24 frames per second.

So even for a director like Terry Gilliam, who delights in cramming background details into his movies, there's no way he'd be able to duplicate what Dave Gibbons was able to do in "Watchmen." We could place almost subliminal details in every panel, and we knew that the reader could take the time to spot everything. There's no way you could do that in a film."

By Blogger Kody¬†Chamberlain, at 8:07 PM  

I've been writing about comic book art for my book, and am surprised by how much the illustration tells the story. In many cases, you can follow the plot without particularly reading the bubbles. When the writing is great too, then you have a classic.

By Blogger Lisa Hunter, at 8:09 PM  

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