Adapting From Other Media

| September 8, 2014

Daily Dose-peach


You’re watching a movie that’s based on a book. A book that you love. A book that you’ve loved for years. The writer/director has made some choices you don’t agree with: actor/actress, costume, setting. It isn’t how you see it in your mind’s eye.

Worst of all, they’ve either cut or changed things from the book, so the movie doesn’t resemble it at all.

I hear this complaint time and again, and most of the time, I ignore it as invalid. Changes have to be made from book to film, because books are about words that stimulate images, and films are about images that stimulate emotions.

Things have to change when adapting from one medium to another, because each medium has its own strengths and weaknesses. The adaptations can’t be straight because things would often go missing.

A minute of film, with dialogue, would be several pages in a book, and vice versa.

Adapting either a film or a book to a comic is even trickier.

As a combination of words and pictures, along with a finite page count (usually due to money), comics are not well suited for adapting a book or a film into its form. There is too much “movement” that would often need to happen in order to make the read a satisfying one.

My favorite author in all the world is Roger Zelazny. His Amber Chronicles are basically what made me want to write. I’ve got a volume of Nine Princes in Amber that was published as a comic by DC in the 90s, and there’s been talk on and off about making it into a film or something. The novel itself is relatively thin, and as such, wouldn’t make a good film because there’s too much that would need to be added. Out of five books, it would be safe to say the first three would make a decent film, and then the last two.

For the DC adaptation, they took a couple of the books and made them into three-issue graphic novels. They didn’t do too well, because the adaptation loses a lot of the power when the text isn’t there to spur the imagination.

Frank Herbert’s Dune is another great book. The film that was done in the 80s speaks to the child in me (I loved it as a kid), but as an adaptation of the book, it’s nothing short of terrible. The film is simplified almost to the point of nonsense, with other things that just don’t add up. (The weirding modules were cool for the film.) The mini-series that was done by Sci-Fi was much better, although it still left things to be desired.

Dune as a comic may be a more satisfying adaptation, since there is more meat on its bones.

Adaptations are always a juggling act: what to leave in, what to take out, what is important to keep but needs to be changed. From Hell is a famous example of this, as is Watchmen, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and V For Vendetta. (All Alan Moore works.) All of these had to undergo significant changes for the medium, while adhering to the core of the story.

Before you denounce an adaptation for not being true to the source material, ask yourself if the change harms the integrity of the story itself.

Or, you could try writing an adaptation yourself and seeing how it turns out. Then ask yourself what, if any, changes you would make to have the adaptation be “more” of something, and if those changes would harm the integrity of the core story.

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Category: Columns, The Daily Dose

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at for rate inquiries.

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