B&N Week 163: How Often Do You Adapt Other Stories To Comics?

| February 4, 2014


It’s another Tuesday! We’ve got some gentle rain currently falling in Tucson, and while it isn’t typically our rainy season, I’ll take it. [It was just 80 degrees last week, folks. Go figure.] Anyway, let’s get into some Bolts & Nuts, shall we?

This week’s question is simple: how often do you adapt other stories to comics?

Well, now, this one isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. I’m going to do a bit of backtracking for a moment, show my age, prove that I’m a heterosexual male, and a comic geek, and a lover of film all at once. And I’m going to prove it by asking a simple question.

Did you know the movie Barb Wire is really just Casablanca?

Of course, this was when Pamela Anderson still had a career and was a sex symbol, and when the bad girl craze was going on, but make no mistake, the film adaptation of the Barb Wire property is nothing more than a terrible, sexed up, wannabe action reimagining of the movie classic, Casablanca.

Alright. That’s one film being adapted into another. Doesn’t really cross media. Fine. You can still never go wrong with the classics: Roger Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber, a book series, really, was adapted into a series of prestige-format graphic novels. Something more recent? The Shadow, by Dynamite, started out as a series of novels.

Being straightforward, you could definitely buy a license to something and then make it into a comic. There is a particular song that I absolutely love, and the license of which I’d love to buy and turn it into a comic. It’s an untapped mine of stories, to be sure. Just understand that just because you bought a license doesn’t mean that the owner doesn’t want to oversee what’s going on with their property. Originally, it was Lucasfilm that was overseeing Star Wars, but now it’s Disney, and they just moved the license in-house to Marvel, taking it from Dark Horse. [And yes, I could have been obvious with Star Wars, but what’s the fun in that?]

Very often, it is a novel that is turned into a comic book. Anita Blake had her own series for a while, and I believe that the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan was turned into a comic for a while. And, of course, Conan. These are the obvious choices. Get the license, do the adaptation.

What about drawing inspiration from other works? The movie She’s the Man was inspired by Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Lots of things have been inspired by Shakespeare. You’ve either heard someone say a line of his, or read or watched something inspired by him, even if you don’t recognize it. Twelfth Night, the Tempest, the Taming of the Shrew, Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet are favorites for people to mine and adapt. West Side Story? That’s Romeo and Juliet.

So, yes, it can be done. You can take an idea and adapt it for use. Just be aware that eagle-eyed and well-informed readers may see where you got the idea from. Happens all the time.

(Steven, couldn’t that be seen as stealing? Plagiarism?) It could, but if you made it your own, it would be extremely difficult to prove. Similarities do not make it the same thing. Armageddon and Deep Impact were both about a meteor coming to kill the Earth. Volcano and Dante’s Peak were very similar, too. This also happens all the time. Similarities do not make it stealing. Just make it your own.

What about your own stories? Don’t you have different stories you’ve thought of, but are unsure which medium would serve it best? I have a Frankenstein’s Monster story that I would love to tell, but I’m not sure if it works better as a film or as a comic. [Well, I have two—the second one I know would work better as a comic.]

Adaptation works. However, you have to realize that comics is a visual medium, and unless you’re doing a graphic novel or one-shot, it is a serial medium. When you do an adaptation, you have to know what has to be built up, suppressed, or just outright explored for the sake of the new medium.

Let’s say you were doing an adaptation of a prose story into a comic. Call it a short story of ten pages of prose, but you want to get a four issue mini out of it. First, you’re going to have to realize just how much story you have in prose. The answer is simple: not a lot. Most of prose is describing surroundings and feelings, with most of the remainder being filled with dialogue. You know you can’t fit all that dialogue into a comic script, so you’re going to have to condense, and because you’re doing that, you’re getting to the heart of the story.   But in order to get four issues out, you also have to expand in some areas, areas that probably aren’t in the prose version, but would be natural extensions of the story if it went longer.

These are decisions to make. War and Peace. Yes, you could make it into a twenty-two page story, condensing it down to its extreme base elements. But you’d find you’ve reached a level of diminishing returns.

I love the version of Hamlet with Mel Gibson, and despise the Laurence Olivier. It’s the same story with the exact same source material for dialogue, but I don’t like Olivier’s delivery of the lines, and he cuts out huge swaths of material. And while the Gibson portrayal also cuts out huge swaths, it is a better film. [The Kenneth Branagh version is the most accurate, being uncut and unabridged, but I didn’t like his delivery. Still better than Olivier’s, though.] The point being you have to know at which points you have to make adjustments for the new medium.

Those are the base things you have to take into account when you adapt stories from other media, whether it is your own or someone else’s. Give the concerns your full attention, so that you do right by yourself, your story, the source material, and your readers. All of you deserve respect.

And that’s all I have. See you in seven.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

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 stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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