One of my favourite (sporadically published) books, RASL, has just been optioned as a movie, so I figured this was a good a time as any to talk about the growing trend of a) comics being turned into movies and b) comics being used as some kind of movie pitch factory.
We all know the relatively long history of superhero movies, but more recently more and more mini-series and graphic novels are being turned into movies. We had a few in the 80s and 90s like the Crow and TMNT but more recently we’ve had what seems like an endless stream of them, some great like Ghost World, American Splendor and Scott Pilgrim, some less so like The Surrogates and Whiteout. Every time one of these movies fails to bring in the big bucks, I see people saying “Are Comic Book movies dead?” This, of course, is absurd. When movies based on a book flop (which happens at least as often as with comic books) no one says “Are movies based on novels dead?” I could see an argument about an individual movie genre dying but “Comic Book movies” aren’t a genre. Superhero movies? Sure they could die. Comic Book movies? Never.
In the last couple of years we’ve actually seen some comic book publishers try to capitalize on the surge of movies based on comic books, both Radical Comics and Kickstart Comics have explicitly said that everything they publish they have the ultimate goal of turning into a movie as well. Is this a good thing for comics? I’m not sure. I definitely don’t think it’s a bad thing. I appreciate that those two companies are completely up front about that. I have no doubt that the creators publishing books through Image, Red5, Archaia and other publishers would, for the most part, love to have their comics optioned. I remember when Nick Spencer’s first few books came out, up to and including Morning Glories, that a lot of people said “Oh look at him, he’s just writing movie pitches”. Is there any doubt now that Nick Spencer loves comic books? Did he write Existence 2.0 with a secondary thought that it could also be a really cool movie? I imagine so, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t also a fantastic comic book. Rick Remender and Jimmy Palmiotti, two of the biggest fans of the comics medium I can think of both put out books at Radical last year (Last Days of American Crime and Time Bomb, respectively), they were both a ton of fun and, indeed, Last Days has already been optioned for a feature with actor Sam Worthington attached.
Now to anyone saying that all these adaptations are bad for comics, I’d really like to know why you think that. It puts money into the pockets of your favourite creators who might otherwise be making very little money at all from their comics. More money for the creators usually means more comics. Sure, sometimes they’ll pull a Brian K Vaughn and leave comics entirely and some people begrudge them for that. Ultimately though, he’s written some of the best comics of the last 10 years and wants to do something new and we, as a community, seem to feel overly protective of the industry and get angry at anyone who has other interests outside of comics. It’s a bit like when you like a band before everyone else does and then get jealous when they become popular. It’s silly and ridiculous and we should stop it. With fewer and fewer people reading comics (and reading in general), getting your book optioned is a pretty crucial part of today’s publishing world.
Another possible upside of comics (seemingly) being trendy again (despite no real evidence of more people reading them and single issue numbers actually on a steady decline), is it helps attract bigger names to comics that might end up getting more people hooked. Stephen King just finished up co-writing American Vampire and Darren Aronofsky will soon be releasing Noah, his SECOND graphic novel adaptation based on a film premise he wanted to produce that as of yet hasn’t been able to find funding (the first being 2005’s The Fountain). This new book, adapting the Noah’s arc story with art by Nico Henrichon, visually speaking, could adapt his crazier imagery in ways that would be very well suited to comics. That said, many other examples I can think of of an actor or other “famous” person coming to make their own comic (Berserker, Mayhem, etc…) have been mediocre at best, making the likes of Aronofsky, King, Smith and Heinberg the exception, not the rule.Continued below
I think this is what people are afraid of, that we’ll get a ton of crappy comics that are only made to be movies that are then turned into crappy movies. I’m not sure why people so adamantly fear that, if the comic is crappy and no one reads it, why would it get picked up as a movie? So far the vast majority of comics that I’ve read and have been optioned have either been critically acclaimed or extremely popular (for a comic book). No one is lining up to remake the Clone Saga or produce a Sentry story. We might initially see a rise in crappy movie pitches but when they don’t work publishers will either smarten up and make better comics (that are also better movie pitches) or they’ll go out of business.
Ultimately the comics industry is a business first and an art form second and I think we forget that, less money means fewer comics. I also (as the optimist that I am) hope that as more non-superhero comics get made into movies, as it will help dispel the myth that comics are just for kids. I’d argue that we have more great comics coming out now than ever before and no one is reading them, if it takes being turned into a movie to keep my favourite creators working in my preferred medium, then I wish them all the best.