With comics and graphic novels finding their way to the screen, a new visual culture is being created. But there’s traffic in the other direction too. Where will they meet? Sukumar Ranganathan elaborates.Updated: Feb 07, 2009, 22:22 IST
In a recent interview, Bone author Jeff Smith said comics (or graphic novels, if you want to look learned) were getting closer to cinema. In a year when cinema will pay homage to Alan Moore’s The Watchmen, I think it’s actually the case of the two mediums moving closer to each other, rather than one remaining stationary and the other moving.
Nor is this a recent trend.
A 2004 release, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and 2003’s The Cat in The Hat are actually very comic-bookish in presentation. Sin City, that came out in 2005, 2006’s 300 and 2002’s Road to Perdition actually recreate on screen the same effect as the graphic novels’ illustrators do on page. There are also movies such as Persepolis and American Splendor, faithful adaptations of comic books, that do not deal with men and women in tights or fantasy.
Scripting the comic
There are some (but not nearly enough) examples of the reverse — movies inspiring comics. There’s the little known but highly renowned Neverwhere, a television script that became a BBC series and much later, a novel and a comic book (the script and book were by the creator Neil Gaiman; the comic book was by Mike Carey).
There are comic book versions of everything from the Star Trek movies to the Star Wars ones. And there are The Matrix comics, produced by the brothers Wachowski, which seek to build their entire Matrix universe by filling in the gaps in the movies. By far the most interesting and least known example of this are the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon books inspired by the Ang Lee movie. It isn’t easy to do a kung-fu comic, but Andy Seto manages to do a commendable job.
Japan, clearly, is where comics and movies have come closest to each other. There is little to distinguish a manga book from an anime movie. Garon Tsuchiya’s Old Boy manga books, adapted into a Korean movie by Park Chan-wook, are a typical example of this.
Frame by frame
In many ways, comics and movies are similar media: they are both very visual and, unless a director or author is trying something entirely new, built around small clips or panels.
Each panel in a comic book is the equivalent of a shot (or take) in a movie. The impact of a comic book page, or a movie sequence, is a function of the strength of these individual panels or shots, and how well they come together. The better movie directors have been known to create comic storyboards out of their scripts (even if these are not based on comics) because this is a good way to go about film-making.
Comic books and movies are also far easier to digest than a good book, although even the good ones do sometimes assault the visual senses (as I once discovered during a transatlantic flight during which I watched movies continuously).
At a time when people are becoming averse to spending too much time on one activity — in general, people have begun to
mirror the behavioural patterns they show when they are online, offline too — it is understandable that comics are becoming
more like movies, movies are becoming more like comics, and both media are looking for an online avatar.
Year of the superhero
The internet, after all, will likely be the route through which most future generations will access everything —television, movies, even books and comics.
Movies will have to figure out what Youtube means to them, if they already have not. Act-i-vate.com is probably a good example of how comics on the web will look.
Will we see in 2009, a more pronounced trend in terms of comics becoming movie-like and movies becoming comic-like?
We likely will, just as we will likely see more superhero and fantasy comics being made into movies this year.
The US and many parts of the world are in the middle of an economic crisis that could be the worst since the Great Depression.
Everyone will be looking to escape at a time such as this: and fantasy, superhero, and science fiction movies are as escapist as it gets.