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Thread: Comics Into Film: A Cautionary Tale

  1. LeeNordling Guest

    Comics Into Film: A Cautionary Tale

    “And now, “ I say, while trying my Bullwinkle-best to perform a bound-to-misfire magic trick, “for something completely different!”

    I yank your head from the top hot.

    “But I’m not done with my last homework assignment,” you snarl.

    “There’s no homework on this one,” I respond, temptingly.

    “Yay!” you ejaculate. (For those of you stunned by my verb, it was in common-enough literary use during the early 20th Century for a quickly spouted remark; consider it revived for this column.)

    “But you’ll still have to use your noggin to consider the subject matter,” I continue.

    “Boo!” you ejaculate. (Fun word for this purpose, isn’t it?)

    “And you’ll still need to complete your last homework assignment,” I remind you for the zillionth time, “or it’s the tar pit for your education from here on out.”

    (Imagine your next ejaculation, which isn’t fit for young children to listen to.)

    We’re switching gears to something I wrote some years ago for Danny Fingeroth’s sadly defunct Write Now! Magazine. Danny edited this for issue #7. It was 2004, and while quite a bit has changed, the reasons Hollywood is still interested in comics have increased, not decreased.”

    “Another darned reprint??!!” you ejaculate (okay, I’m done with the word now).

    “Ah, but not just any darned reprint,” I say, repeating myself from the column one introduction, “This one gives you insight into why movies get made, which is important if you’re hoping your property gets snapped up for the silver screen (or TV or direct to DVD).”

    “Also, this sets up our next discussion on film adaptations, what drives them, and how they drive you.”

    “So,” you begin, not in the best of moods, (I suspect it’s the homework you’re still struggling through), “we just went through three columns that carve up the differences between comics and film, and now you’re doing two columns on film?”

    “Two columns related to film,” I correct. “If you wish to get into the bed with the devil, it’s important to know whether he likes to be on bottom or top.”

    “Well, what if I want to be on bottom or top?” you reply in a huff.

    “We’ll be discussing the odds of that happening, too,” I answer, hoping to mollify your huff, “but be warned, this is….”

    Comics Into Film: A Cautionary Tale

    Why is Hollywood paying attention to such comics as American Splendor, Ghost World and Road To Perdition, when they don’t have any costumed characters with unique abilities or a penchant for fighting crime? None of these were concept-driven or well-known properties that fit the public perception of a “comic book movie,” so why did Hollywood choose to adapt them into films?

    Let’s start by demolishing some stereotypes that usually end up with newspaper, magazine and television writers putting “pow” and “bam” into their reviews.

    If you asked most non-comics fans to name some films and TV shows that were adapted from comic books, they might mention Superman, Batman, Men-In-Black, X-Men, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Hulk, and any number of sequels and live-action and animated superhero TV series based on Marvel and DC Comics characters.

    These people might also guess The Matrix, Darkman, Robocop, Star Wars, and, of course, none of these was adapted from a comic.

    What is it about this last group of films that reinforce a stereotypical expectation of comics? Each is in the superhero/heroic fantasy genre and involves good-versus-evil storytelling, and for decades the general public has confused this genre with the comics medium, and treated the two synonymously.

    A “comic book movie” is now understood to be a film that’s simpleminded and filled with action, but this pejorative doesn’t accurately define the content of a comic book, nor is Hollywood’s tendency toward simple storytelling the reason they’ve pounced on the comic book industry for editorial source material.

    If it were true, why would they continue to make such films and shows as American Splendor, Ghost World, Road To Perdition, From Hell, Blade, Bulletproof Monk, Judge Dredd, Jeremiah, The Crow, Josie and the Pussycats, The Mask, The Rocketeer, Swamp Thing, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Hellboy?

    There are several reasons, some fairly obvious, some not so obvious at all.

    First, let’s tackle the obvious ones.

    Comics and film share the trait of being visual storytelling media, so it’s easier for production and studio executives to see how the story will unfold.

    Comics make an easy-to-read sales tool, and, since Hollywood executives have notoriously short amounts of time to read, comics make a convenient alternative to a 300-page novel.

    Now, let’s move on to the reasons that are not so obvious, and may provide additional insight into Hollywood’s decision-making process.

    It’s important to understand that making movies is a numbers game, for studios, production companies, and creators. To clarify, this means that there is a weeding-out process that begins with whatever gets submitted, and ends with whatever gets released. Everything else gets weeded out for one reason or another. So, if you’re a production company looking for a studio to “green light” a project, you put as many properties as you can handle into the pipeline, thereby increasing your odds for getting something released.

    Yes, people win the lottery with one ticket, but the odds are ten times better with ten tickets.

    And double-yes, it’s important for a production company to have passion for the properties they control, but getting something made is still a numbers game.

    Let’s explore those properties that don’t get made “for one reason or another.”

    When the studios had writers, actors, and directors (and everybody else) under contract, there were no legal issues about who controlled what.

    They controlled it all, and could do whatever they wanted with it, and did.

    With the collapse of the studio contract system, that all changed, and decades later, with the rise of the Hollywood package deal, it changed even more, and perhaps for good.

    The package deal works like this:

    Someone—could be an actor, director, writer, or producer—has a concept, treatment, or script that they like. Their goal is now to put together the right combination of talent to get this property set up at a studio. This combination of talent, along with whatever they decide they want to do, is “the package.”

    Each person attached to the property have likely contributed their own two cents worth about what form the story should take, and each owns a piece of that pie.

    There’s one thing about this pie, though. It can be divided, but it can’t be separated. Nobody can take their twenty percent of the pie and go home without ruining the other eighty percent.

    And I mean ruining it for good.

    Literally, that’s how the pie crumbles.

    Getting a film set up, in the best of circumstances, is a complicated business, which is why you often read how long it takes for some films to get made, sometimes years.

    And often, they never get set up at all, all too often, in fact.

    That’s the big downside to the Hollywood package system. Too much time, effort, and energy goes down the drain.

    The upside is that participants get a much bigger slice of that pie than they ever would have in the old studio system.

    ***

    Now let’s move on to comics, why they’re perceived as bankable, and what advantage they may have over a bunch of movie stars, screenwriters, directors, and producers sitting around and figuring out what kind of package they can put together.

    Let’s say you’re a producer, and you control the rights to a comic. You still have to put a package together for the studios, and everybody still gets their same two cents worth about how the film should be developed, and it could still take the same number of months or years to find a studio that’s interested in bankrolling this particular package, but if the deal falls apart, and the pie crumbles around it, there’s still one piece of the pie remaining.

    The comic.

    With the comic in hand, you, the producer can begin again, making certain that any new participants in the package are only familiar with the comic, and not any incarnation of the comic that was ever developed.

    Controlling an original intellectual property, such as a comic, is like having disaster insurance for unforeseen events, and don’t we all want that?

    ***

    Now that we’ve established why the comics medium makes an attractive sales tool, what concerns might a studio have about a comic that it’s interested in acquiring?

    Basically, there’s always a concern about how well a story can be adapted from one medium to another. Story structure paradigms in comics and movies/TV are different, storytelling tools are different, and the manner in which they’re perceived by the two audiences/markets—reading vs. watching—is different.

    It’s true for novels, and it’s true for comics.

    Any translation can lose the power of the original piece, and there’s no way to determine how well something’s going to come out, until it’s been attempted.

    This is the major reason so many films based on comics properties or novels end up so crappy. Because of their costs, movies and TV are the two media where you can’t easily afford to rethink all your decisions and go back to the keyboard to start over.

    So, if a studio is concerned about how well the adaptation from one medium to the other is going to be handled, and you don’t already control a property as popular as Spider-Man, then what kind of comics property is Hollywood more likely to be interested in?

    Properties are divided into four basic categories:
    • Concept-driven
    • Execution-driven
    • Character-driven
    • Market-driven

    The potential for the success of your property is driven by at least one of these. Some exceptional properties will have elements from two or more of these categories, but most new concepts will only have one or two.

    Concept-driven. This idea, upon concept, is immediately compelling or evokes a similar response from numerous people, and it can usually be stated in a few words or with a title.

    For example: “This is a story about a psychiatrist who works with a boy who claims to see ghosts, only for the psychiatrist to discover that he’s one of the ghosts the boy sees.” Another example, where the title is the concept, is the upcoming Platinum Studios production, Cowboys & Aliens. With each of these, a film executive “gets it,” so, even if the initial attempt to flesh it out doesn’t meet expectations, people aren’t likely to lose faith in the initial cool concept, (though the screenwriter of a “failed” effort is likely to be looking for different work).

    Execution-driven. This is the antithesis of the concept-driven project. The success of execution-driven projects is based solely by how well familiar, complex, or esoteric material is handled. Examples of this are American Splendor, Ghost World, and Road To Perdition. It takes vision and the right combination of talent to shepherd an execution-driven project into becoming a successful adaptation.

    Character-driven. These are properties created around a character or group of characters, where the interaction between the characters in the environment produces a wide range of potential for stories, as opposed to one quintessential story. Because of the periodical nature of their titles, most superheroes fall into this category, as do Judge Dredd, Jeremiah, The Crow, Josie and the Pussycats, The Rocketeer, Swamp Thing, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Hellboy. Since Hollywood’s needs are for a quintessential story about one protagonist or group of protagonists—at least for a pilot or first film—that means the tough part of adapting one of these properties into a film is finding that quintessential story. And if it can’t be found, then it has to be created, which usually involves altering the origin, so the first act of the adaptation melds better with the second and third acts. The best example of a solution to this problem was making the Joker the man who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents in Batman. The problem with altering origin stories is that too much change can alienate the original fan base. The reason most character-driven properties get adapted into films or TV shows is that they also fall into the next category.

    Market-driven. These properties were successfully produced in other media, and have carved out a place in the popular culture.

    Comics such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, and Hulk were already established in the public consciousness before they were adapted into TV shows and films. From a marketing perspective, this makes them no different than Charlie’s Angels, Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings, all of which got made because of their previous track records and penetration into the culture. This helped studio executives anchor their decisions to give the filmmakers hundreds of millions of dollars to make their films.

    So, even though superhero and fantasy films are getting made, it’s not because the genres are perceived as being hot by the studios. They’re not. It remains a struggle by production companies and directors to get them made.

    Superheroes, sf, and fantasy tend to be extremely expensive to produce, and producing something just because it’s a genre-mate of Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and X-Men is a potentially career-ending decision for some poor executive.

    For this reason, you need a bigger hook than a character with extraordinary powers or a fantasy epic with elves and fairies to get Hollywood’s attention. Likely, either of these would need to have strong/unique concept-driven elements to be considered for adaptation into the film medium. The same holds true for adaptations of books. Check how many of the great fantasy and sf novels still haven’t been adapted into film, and aren’t likely to be in the near future.

    Why not? Because, if they’re not mired in some form of development hell, they’re likely execution-driven properties that require the right combination of talent to successfully pull off the adaptation.

    Superhero, sf, and fantasy stories get adapted into film because of their unique story hooks or their previous successes in other media, not simply because of their genres.

    In fact, the conceptual elements of inside-the-box/traditional superheroes, sf, and fantasy that largely appeal to its fans don’t necessarily appeal to a mainstream audience, and this begs the question: How are the comic-book-shop comics readers and movie audience similar?

    Essentially, they’re not. The former is a niche-market reader, and the latter is a mainstream audience.

    This doesn’t mean some successful niche-market properties can’t be successful with a mainstream audience, but material specifically tailored to the comics reader doesn’t generally translate well.

    Reasons for this are complicated, but essentially, the comics-industry interest in continuity, as well as in some pretty wild cross-genre mixing—X-Files meets Lord of the Rings and Buffy the Vampire Slayer—often make the properties inaccessible to an audience that can only have so much information thrown at it in up to two hours of running time.

    If you’re wondering how to straddle the editorial line between what makes sense as a film and what will appeal to the traditional comics reader, you don’t.

    If—and that’s a big if—you decide to write a comic that will have an opportunity to be adapted into a film, then you must produce a story that will appeal to the film market. Its potential appeal to the comics market must remain secondary.

    If you can appeal to both markets, that’s swell, but never set out to serve two masters, or you’ll be everybody’s wishbone.

    Here’s a complication: any number of comics could be created and successfully adapted into films, but most of them are in genres that don’t have a strong, commercial foothold in the comics specialty shop market. This means, for the foreseeable future, the comic book publishers that pay page rates are not likely to be interested in publishing these stories.

    In contrast, other, smaller comics publishers are looking to increase profitability by gaining control of the film and TV licensing rights of the books they publish, so they can broker the properties to production companies and studios. For this reason, they’ve become more flexible about what they’re interested in publishing.

    Here’s another potential complication: Should a publisher publish your book, with the intended goal of also brokering the rights to Hollywood, then you now have a partner for the duration of the contract, and what you have in writing between you defines the nature of who controls what. There are a wide variety of contracts and publishing options out there, and you should consult with other creators and a lawyer to determine which deal best fits your needs.

    ***

    When a production company or studio wants to acquire the rights to your comic, it’s important to know how you really need to be involved in the adaptation.

    If you are working in the film industry, you will likely try to attach yourself as the screenwriter, but studios—not production companies, studios—are reluctant to let any creators adapt their own work, even when they work inside the film industry. The reason is because if the adaptation fails, the project loses momentum, and that path leads to the infamous development hell. However, if you’re a screenwriter with legitimate credits and a proven track record in film, that’s another story, and they’d be more likely open their arms to you.

    With film industry experience, you might also try to attach yourself as a producer, even though smaller production companies are known for not proceeding with films that have too many producers attached. Still, this may be one of the few ways to shepherd an adaptation, without being the screenwriter and/or director.

    The downside to creators trying to attach themselves in these ways is that a studio would have to want the property pretty badly to go this far for a creator, and you’re more likely to blow the deal by demanding producer credit than not.

    Some creators insist on creative control from beginning to end, because they don’t want to have happen to their baby what they saw happen to (INSERT NAME OF REVILED COMICS-TO-FILM MOVIE HERE). These people should never even think about having their work adapted for film until they write something that ends up as big as the Harry Potter series of novels. This level of creator control in film or TV only comes with enormous proven financial success.

    Some creators simply want to be kept in the loop.

    Some don’t care; just give ‘em the check.

    Some see this as the first rung in the ladder of their Hollywood writing career.

    Why is it important to figure this out ahead of time, before giving up the rights?

    It would be nice if American Splendor, Road To Perdition, and Ghost World were typical examples of faithful adaptations, but they’re not.

    More typical are the adaptations of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Daredevil, and From Hell, where the finished films appear to be the result of filmmakers choosing only two of the colors from a bag of M&Ms (that represented the original stories) and throwing away the rest. Commercially, some of the most successful adaptations have been radical reinterpretations of the properties, The Mask being a prime example.

    So, if you don’t like how the adaptation is proceeding, can’t you just put on the brakes and say, “Hey, wait, guys—this isn’t what I had in mind. I take it back.”

    Um…no. There are no take-backs with movie studios. Too much time, energy, money, and momentum is at stake.

    When a studio exercises an option and purchases the rights to your comic, it will be purchasing all rights, specified by the contract, forever, and that’s the nature of the film business.

    If you don’t like it, then it’s not a business for you to consider (and think how much time, energy, and aggravation I just saved you).

    As previously noted, unless you have extraordinary power, you will almost certainly have to give up all licensing rights to your comic when it’s sold to a major studio.

    “But—but—but—“ you stutter. “Can’t I continue publishing stories about my character?”

    This is why I wrote that it’s important to know what you want, before giving up any rights.

    Sure, you can continue publishing, if you get it in the contract, and this isn’t really that much of an obstacle.

    Sure, you can write the first draft of the screenplay, if you get it in the contract.

    And sure, you can get the director to salute you every morning when you walk on the set, if you get it in the contract.

    Whether you can get what you want in writing is a different issue, and don’t get your hopes too high on these last two points.

    However, if it’s really important to you, get it in writing, get everything that’s important to you in writing.

    The key is: know what you want, know what you need, know the difference between the two, and also understand what is reasonable, so you won’t wonder what happened if it doesn’t work out.

    So, how do you know what’s reasonable?

    There are a lot of creators out there who will give you advice, based on their own experiences. You should listen to their advice, and take into account what’s important to them. No doubt, what’s important to you, as you read this, will change when you become more aware of the wide range of available options.

    If you don’t have legal representation, you can ask other creators for referrals to their lawyers, and you should find out more than their names and numbers. Find out the nature of their experience, especially whether they specialize in the entertainment industry or not. Find out their rates. Find out how well they explain things. If you’ve spent months and years developing a property, then you should spend some money to protect that investment of time.

    (Personally, I recommend you contact Jean Marc Lofficier at jean-marc@hollywoodcomics.com, and not just because he’s a pal, which he is, or because I work with him, which I do, but because he’s great at explaining your rights, what kind of deals are reasonable, what aren’t, and the nature of the trade-offs between the two.)

    ***

    What does any of this mean to you, a creator, who’s interested in having your comic book adapted into film?

    Well, it depends where your priorities lie, and I recommend knowing up front whether film-and-comics are the tail-and-the-dog, or visa versa.

    In other words, to you, which wags which?

    Know the answer to this, and you’ll know how to apply any of what I’ve described above.

    ***

    Lee Nordling is the owner and founding partner of The Pack (the-pack.biz), a comics-related content provider for the publishing industry. He is also author of “Your Career In the Comics,” an overview of the newspaper comics syndication profession and industry.

    If you wish to contact Lee separately from Comics Pro Prep, please write to him at lee@projectfanboy.
    Last edited by LeeNordling; Wednesday, January 06, 2010 at 05:07 AM.



  2. StevenForbes Guest

    I'm working on the homework, I swear!

    But first, thanks for this week's column, Lee. I hope everyone reads it.

    And then reads it again.

    And THEN, reads it AGAIN.

    I'm quite sure you peruse the Help Wanted ads over at Digital Webbing, and you automatically shake your head at the ads with the "creators" who haven't created a thing, but who have a GREAT concept that you get the privilege of working on FOR FREE, because it's going to make a fa-billion dollars once it gets adapted into a movie.

    Yeah, I shake my head at it, too.

    I think that most "creators" are too busy looking extremely ahead to "fame and riches" instead of what they need to do in order to get their comic produced. Hollywood is a siren, and most don't even have a boat that can be smashed on the rocks.

    Knowing what you want is fine, but most "creators" can't hear the music, let alone know the steps of the dance that needs to be done in order to get a comic made, published, sold, and into the hands of the public.

    Yes, I'm a little frustrated at it. They don't know, and they seemingly don't want to know, even when there is a TON of information available in books and on the 'net. Most of this information wasn't available ten or twelve years ago, but now you can almost trip over it.

    As the man said, know what you want, folks.

    But know how to create it, as well.

    And Lee, your lawyer's name was more than worth the price of admission here. Thanks.



  3. DVS Guest

    More typical are the adaptations of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Daredevil, and From Hell, where the finished films appear to be the result of filmmakers choosing only two of the colors from a bag of M&Ms (that represented the original stories) and throwing away the rest. Commercially, some of the most successful adaptations have been radical reinterpretations of the properties, The Mask being a prime example.
    Is that why comic movies suck???

    Oh yeah, POW



  4. LeeNordling Guest

    That's often why most adaptations suck, because the writer or filmmaker chose to create a new vision for the material, instead of working to capture the heart of the original.

    Coincidentally, THIS is what we'll be discussing next week: how to capture the heart of the original vision.

    --Lee
    Last edited by LeeNordling; Wednesday, January 06, 2010 at 06:24 PM.



  5. drgerb Guest

    I've been in a band and have played a handful of shows. With music, (*almost*) every band you meet has that desire. No matter how young, how inexperienced, how old... They all want to get better at what they do and they all have that drive. Music is like that. If you're a touring band and you're starving, sleeping on the hard floor in the back of the bar, you can kinda tell you're doing it for the love, for the music, rather than for the dollar. On tour, my guitarist was eating a frito sandwhich... Cause that's all we had. A loaf of bread and some bags of fritos.

    With comics, there's this thick layer of crap *creators.* They've seen comics turned into movies, and they could probably care less about the medium, and even about how good the movie ends up being. They're here for a million dollar pay check and willing to bend over backwards if it means selling their comic rights to a movie.. It's almost sad because you can't quite tell who's real and who isn't. Who really wants to learn and wants to further the medium they're working with, or who is basically here whoring the medium in hopes of gettin' famous. Bleh.

    With so many other areas of art it's not like this. You have your starving artists craving for knowldge striving to get better. With comic books you've got a bunch of kids who can't draw so they write. Kids who think their ideas are right up there with Frank Miller's and Alan Moore's. It just doesn't work like that.

    I've never met a guitarist who told me, 'Man I've got some great ideas for some great songs and I'm probably almost as good as Hendrix!' You just don't say that.

    'Have you written any of these great songs yet?'

    'Well, no, because I haven't signed a deal to allow me to write them.'

    'Well how do you expect to get a deal without writing songs first?'

    '...But, but... I thought it was the other way around.'

    I've never had that conversation with a musician yet, thank God. Aspiring comic creators, on the other hand? It seems like every other topic on every comic book forum is about how great you are and how you're destined for publication. Bleh. Do something then tell me about it. Don't tell me about what you're never going to find the time to do.



  6. LeeNordling Guest

    One of the occupational hazards of being a writer is that everybody can press down keys on the keyboard and call that writing.

    Everybody can have ideas for a story...and most people giving critiques do it so poorly that their opinions can be chalked up as "opinion," instead of informed opinion.

    There are musicians who think they're better than they are, but at least they're musicians.

    As subjective as appreciation for music and the other arts is, not much is as subjective as the appreciation for writing, except perhaps for performance art and some of the more liberal uses of the term "fine art."

    When I was in my twenties, I was accused of having the golden-hand syndrome; I thought everything I drew was golden, so I didn't work to get better.

    Things change; I changed.

    I think anybody who's serious about this form should give it every last ounce of effort and enthusiasm they have...then learn to be as tough on themselves as they are on others. By "others" I mean the books we barely give a glance at because we can't stand the drawing or the writing or whatever it is that makes us think they're mediocre.

    In comic strips, too many cartoonists used to compare themselves to the crap that was in the paper, and say, "My stuff is better than that. I should be in there instead of them."

    That's a pretty low bar of excellence to strive for: to be better than the worst strips (or books) being produced.

    If folks strive to be a better writer than Gaiman or Moore, a better artist than Lee or Miller or Mobeus or Watterson...well, then the effort to reach that high will help them become as good as they can possibly be.

    Why don't they?

    Well, Robert McKee answers that question in his lectures (and somewhere in his book "Story"). He said, "Nobody does MORE than they think they need to do to get what they want."

    We'll get to this later, as a central aspect of character writing, but for now, it's based on the way most people are: they do only as much as they think they need to do...and that's the problem, because to get where they want to, they have to work harder than they ever think.

    Translation: they're the ones holding themselves back.

    Sad, and ironic.

    --Lee

    PS. This a very tangential conversation; let's not let it derail the one we're supposed to be having, which...um...nobody is having.
    Last edited by LeeNordling; Monday, January 11, 2010 at 03:29 PM.



  7. CalvinCamp Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by LeeNordling View Post
    PS. This a very tangential conversation; let's not let it derail the one we're supposed to be having, which...um...nobody is having.
    There's a lot to chew on in this article. It might be more of a thinking subject than a talking subject, but I'm seldom opposed to thinking "out loud," so I'll bite.

    If you’re wondering how to straddle the editorial line between what makes sense as a film and what will appeal to the traditional comics reader, you don’t.

    If—and that’s a big if—you decide to write a comic that will have an opportunity to be adapted into a film, then you must produce a story that will appeal to the film market. Its potential appeal to the comics market must remain secondary.

    If you can appeal to both markets, that’s swell, but never set out to serve two masters, or you’ll be everybody’s wishbone.
    Hmm... couple things occur to me here.

    Keeping the potential appeal to the comics market secondary... that still means it can be a consideration, right? Even an important one? It's still reasonable to look for a balance, as long as you're aware of which way you want the scale to be tilted? Because there are a lot of concepts that are common to both movies and comics, so it seems like a complete division of "one or the other" is a little arbitrary. And a character driven approach seems like a no-brainer for comics or film. So there should be something to work with there (looking for concepts that have done well in both, or avoiding ones that do badly in one or the other, etc).

    I also wonder if targeting the traditional comics reader (assuming we're defining "traditional comics reader" as the spandex fans) is even the best way to target something to the comics market, these days. The superhero market is pretty saturated. A number of comics that seem to be making a splash are outside the spandex-fan demographic already.

    Combining the uphill battle for a new superhero to catch on in the comic market, with superheroes being just about doomed as a road to Hollywood (IMO, since only market-driven superheroes are going to be made into movies) it seems like targeting stuff that would work for film would kind of be the way to go even if you're really targeting the comic market - unless, of course, you just have to do superheroes.

    Another thing I wonder (which is probably more off-topic than you want to go right now, but might be fodder for a future article) is whether there's any similarity in targeting a comic for the book trade instead of the direct market, compared to targeting one for film. I'm thinking both would have to move a distance away from the traditional comic reader demographic (which again begs for a definition of what the "traditional comic reader" is).



  8. StevenForbes Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by LeeNordling View Post
    PS. This a very tangential conversation; let's not let it derail the one we're supposed to be having, which...um...nobody is having.
    I think the article shone much-needed light while also pouring Arctic water on the hopes and dreams of many.

    I liked it, but then again, I'm retarded.

    Most of it sheds light onto subjects that not many newbies know much about. They want to have Pen-Man made into a movie, sure, but what does that entail? Everyone knows what a director does, but what does the producer do?

    Why are there so many production companies involved in making a single movie? "Smiling Funnies presents a Scraping the Bottom production of a Living the Dream film, in association with Rogered More and Fluffing You Pictures."

    I know that this is somewhat outside of the scope of the article, but if creators want to pitch to Hollywood, they should know something about what's got to happen in order for their property to get from their head and into theaters.

    Again, I think that most creators have a hard enough time going through the wickets of actual creation to really give pitching a production company a good try. I read a play, Speed the Plow, by Mamet--very good play, and illuminating just how difficult, arbitrary, and mercurial getting a movie made/adapted can be.

    When you hear people like Bendis say an executive asked if the guy HAS to be in a spider-suit, it makes you wonder where these people who "control" pop culture have been for the past 30 years.

    I have ideas that I would love to see turned into movies, but I'm not writing backdoor pitches. I want to write the story that is best for my chosen medium. I also know that some things won't make it to the screen the way I wrote it.

    Reading this article, I also understand Alan Moore's frustration with Hollywood. Some changes seem arbitrary, and some seem to cut to the heart of the matter, but retain the spirit of the story. But since it's a different medium, why call it by the name of the original? (Also makes me wonder if he enjoys any film that's been adapted from another medium at all. Between Two Worlds is a great movie, but started as a play, first.)

    Let's look at From Hell. It kept the spirit of the graphic novel, but was totally different from it. (That thing moved at a snail's pace, and couldn't be done in a two hour movie.) I think the changes made to it were sensible, giving off the things that made the graphic novel great: the intrigue, the reasoning behind the killings, and giving the killer a face. Then, there are the modern sensibilities thrown in: the unrequited love angle, the mysticism (which was in the book, but was a different character altogether), the thought of the killer being caught, which meant that justice was served. Decent movie with sensible changes.

    On the flip side to that, you have LXG, which is wrong from the start. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen had changes to story and character which made no sense at all, and seemed made to action-up the movie. Tom Sawyer added because he was American, Quartermain being something of a fatherly figure, Mina being a vampire... These changes and more which had little to do with the heroes or story of the book leads me to believe that Mr. Moore has every right to be upset when someone adapts his work. You never know what you're going to get.

    But I do appreciate the information on WHY changes are generally made from original work to different medium. That understanding is something I didn't have before. I just knew that changes were generally made from the page to the screen, and just looked at them as two different things altogether. When you move away from the spirit of the story is when you've made a bad movie.

    This understanding will allow me to see Sherlock Holmes and give it a chance. I still think they went for more spectacle than story, but I'm now willing to give it a chance. Before, it had no chance with me.

    So, thanks again, Lee!



  9. LeeNordling Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by CalvinCamp View Post
    There's a lot to chew on in this article. It might be more of a thinking subject than a talking subject, but I'm seldom opposed to thinking "out loud," so I'll bite.


    Hmm... couple things occur to me here.

    Keeping the potential appeal to the comics market secondary... that still means it can be a consideration, right? Even an important one? It's still reasonable to look for a balance, as long as you're aware of which way you want the scale to be tilted? Because there are a lot of concepts that are common to both movies and comics, so it seems like a complete division of "one or the other" is a little arbitrary. And a character driven approach seems like a no-brainer for comics or film. So there should be something to work with there (looking for concepts that have done well in both, or avoiding ones that do badly in one or the other, etc).
    Not arbitrary. Focused.

    Having something that CAN adapt into a good film is fine.

    But, if a writer REALLY understands film and comics, there are creative decisions that need to be made that favor one medium or the other, even if it's something as obvious as choosing to produce 22-page floppies or having it run for 500 comics pages from beginning to end (because movies don't have commercials).

    As we studied previously, comics thinking ISN'T movie thinking.

    Somebody wanting to create a comic with the primary goal of having it adapted to a film might want to stay away from comics storytelling devices that don't GENERALLY play as well on the screen, such as narration (though I personally like well-written narration in movies; executives generally don't), just as an example.

    But if I'm writing the comic for the comic's sake, I'm not going to care what problems a writer is going to have with an adaptation...if it makes a better comic. But, if I do care MORE about the successful adaption, then I compromise the comic.

    It IS an either/or situation...and straddling the line will be about as effective as trying to straddle train tracks, with the train fast approaching.

    In short, it goes far beyond whether a concept makes sense for a comics market, trade book publishing, film, or TV.

    Quote Originally Posted by CalvinCamp View Post
    I also wonder if targeting the traditional comics reader (assuming we're defining "traditional comics reader" as the spandex fans) is even the best way to target something to the comics market, these days. The superhero market is pretty saturated. A number of comics that seem to be making a splash are outside the spandex-fan demographic already.

    Combining the uphill battle for a new superhero to catch on in the comic market, with superheroes being just about doomed as a road to Hollywood (IMO, since only market-driven superheroes are going to be made into movies) it seems like targeting stuff that would work for film would kind of be the way to go even if you're really targeting the comic market - unless, of course, you just have to do superheroes.

    Another thing I wonder (which is probably more off-topic than you want to go right now, but might be fodder for a future article) is whether there's any similarity in targeting a comic for the book trade instead of the direct market, compared to targeting one for film. I'm thinking both would have to move a distance away from the traditional comic reader demographic (which again begs for a definition of what the "traditional comic reader" is).
    I'm not suggesting you or anybody should target or not target the direct market reader; that's a business decision, not really germane to this discussion.

    But if somebody IS, they should go for it, not compromise it.

    Same with OGN publishing.

    Same with film/TV, even comics produced expressly FOR film/TV.

    Personally, I think working to make the best comic possible, utilizing the strengths of the comics medium, is the way to go...because the better it is, the more somebody's going to want to embrace the headache of adapting it to film.

    But I've just been laying out the table; it's up to others to choose what to eat.

    Re. the other tangential conversation, I'm a professed believer in graphic novels for trade book publishing...but again, it's not for me to say what somebody should or shouldn't try to do with their career; I'm just discussing the paths to success and failure, and noting some of the odds.

    Again, the choice of what to eat is up to them.

    Is there a similarity between going from direct market floppy to film and going from direct market floppy to trade book publishing graphic novel?

    Yes, only in that making any change of format, medium, and/or readership requires some shifting of gears.

    --Lee



  10. LeeNordling Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by StevenForbes View Post
    I have ideas that I would love to see turned into movies, but I'm not writing backdoor pitches. I want to write the story that is best for my chosen medium. I also know that some things won't make it to the screen the way I wrote it.
    I think this is a good perspective that will help keep you sane, should you ever have to deal with this stuff.

    Wise.

    --Lee



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