Shooting the Panel: Graphic Novels and Film
People have said that there isn’t a single original idea left in Hollywood, and I’m inclined to agree.
More often than not it happens today that audiences are plagued by remakes and sequels. Even when the occasional interesting and new idea emerges, we’re left to discover that it’s little more than a book adaptation (unless of course, it’s a Christopher Nolan film). Studios have been adapting books into films for years, so much so that there’s even a separate screenwriting category at the Oscars based on adapted material. More recently, studios have been turning to any and all forms of writing possible, and in this recent turn, the graphic novel has become even more indispensable.
It used to be that the only way you knew what was happening to Batman, Superman and any other superhero was if you were reading the comics. Now, superhero films are practically guaranteed viewing every summer. This isn’t to say that superhero films are new. After all, the iconic Batman series and spin-off movie starring Adam West and Burt Ward came out in the 60s. Long before that in 1940, a Superman radio show was in production (only two years after the character first appeared).
However, it’s hard to say that superheroes haven’t found a proper place in the spotlight. Despite the popular canon of Superman and Batman films of past years, this past decade alone has covered more superhero comics (and even more graphic novel material in general) than ever before: the newly completed Batman trilogy, the Iron Man films, The Avengers and its individual films, the new Superman re-launch, both the old and new Spiderman films, the X-Men, Punisher, Ghost Rider… even the Green Lantern has had some screen time (though perhaps he shouldn’t have).
The pages of any superhero encyclopedia are a movie maker’s dream. Countless themes of hope, revenge and loneliness saturate the pages. Years of story arcs and character developments allow the screenwriters to pick and choose at will. The mythology that echoes through the stories reminds people of their own struggles and rings with elements of truth, no matter whether the hero came from another planet, or just lost their parents in a mugging. The graphic novels of superheroes provide plenty of insight into humanity as a whole, and have more than enough action to compensate. How could Hollywood resist?
For many, an article about graphic novels just isn’t an article without Frank Miller. For those of you who don’t know, let me tell you all you need to know about Frank Miller to survive in conversation: he’s the guy who wrote the graphic novels for the films Sin City and 300. He’s also responsible for the screenplay for The Spirit. And if you really want to impress somebody, he’s also responsible for creating the character of Elektra (from the famous Daredevil comics).
While gritty graphic novels can mean anything you want it to, I’m using it to refer to those stories that move hard and fast, where everything is already negative and the possibility of a happy ending does not appear all that likely. V for Vendetta and The Crow are two other graphic-novel-turned-film adaptations that I would include. These graphic novels, and in turn their films, have a very particular presence on the screen, and it is this presence that puts them into that particular category. They’re meant to get under your skin, almost to the point of discomfort, yet there’s something so fascinating that you can’t look away.
Unlike the previous two categories, the graphic novels in this section don’t quite fit the idea that people have when they hear the phrase “graphic novel”. They think ‘comic book’, they think ‘slightly unbelievable’. Most often, they feel that graphic novels or comic books can’t be as exciting as film, otherwise there would be more people reading them. People always seem to be surprised to find that interesting stories can come from comic books.
In terms of examples, there are three films that immediately come to mind: Red (with Bruce Willis and Morgan Freeman), Cowboys & Aliens (Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford), and the Men in Black series. Here are three popular films that are out there and have made a name for themselves, and can exist with little knowledge as to their source material. People always seem to know when a movie has been made from a book, or is based on a true story. Someone always knows and tells me. But I managed to go through all three Men in Black films without realizing that it was based on comic books/a graphic novel series.
This isn’t to say that I wasn’t paying attention during the opening credits when they listed the source material. It’s more about how graphic novels have slowly been gaining ground in the mainstream media without the general public even knowing. Now that Hollywood and its writers are getting to the comic book shelves more regularly, who knows what kind of brilliant, gritty, or exciting storylines they can uncover.
Who knows? Maybe one day people will start reaching for the latest graphic novel instead of the latest Nicholas Sparks novel. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from graphic novels, it’s that anything is possible, on and off the page.