What Makes Comics Great For Movie Adaptations?

Chris "Doc" Wyatt answering a question

Chris “Doc” Wyatt answering a question

A recent discussion entertained the question of “Why are comic books being adapted for the screen?” Entitled “Blurred Lines: Comics and the Entertainment Industry”, the panel discussion at the 8th annual Long Beach Comic Con considered the recent spate of feature films that are adaptations from comic books. Moderated by John Yuan, the panel featured Dan Cote, Steve Stern, and Chris “Doc” Wyatt. Stern and Cote spoke about their Zen character and being adapted for video games and the possibilities of movies, while Wyatt spoke about the comic he wrote, as well as the freedom it gives him more so than writing for children’s TV shows, such as Avengers and Iron Man.

A primary reason, as pointed out by Yuan, that they are so popular is that, with so many people trying to get their screenplay scripts read in LA, those reading them only have so much time. Thus, “you only have 5-10 pages to grab someone’s attention.” However, comic books stand out, because they are “actually more of something that a producer is looking for”, said Yuan, in that the tone is set by the art, as well as the dialogue, and more. Moreover, the shot-by-shot is already laid out, like a storyboard.

John Yuan served as the moderator to the panel

John Yuan served as the moderator to the panel

Comic books are “sequential art storytelling” and since movies storyboard everything for special effects-heavy movies, said Wyatt, they “mimic the pre-production process.” “People have found out that it’s preferable that, if you want to separate yourself out from the pack, a comic book is essentially a storyboard for a screenplay,” observed Stern. Indeed, Stern pointed out, “there’s a real synergy between comics, graphic novels, film, and TV.”

Wyatt also pointed out that comic books are a medium where storytellers get to experiment the most. “We see a lot of big ideas for movies drawn from comics because that’s where a lot of experimental material comes from.” This may be due to the advantage that comics have over other media in that “a comic book takes a lot less time and lot less money than other media”, pointed out Yuan, also mentioned that even video games are being turned into movies.

Chris "Doc" Wyatt speaking while other panelists look on

Chris “Doc” Wyatt speaking while other panelists look on

One reason why adapting a comic book to a movie script is that “a comic book script is not all that terribly different from a movie script,” observed Stern. Now that he is working on adapting a comic book to turn it into a movie script, “it’s helping me write better comic books.” He’s learnt that it’s important to have a really tight dialogue with screenplay and also that three-acts of movies lends itself well to comics.

But chasing after trends is not the most important thing. “A lot of people forget that one people are looking for is novelty,” said Yuan. “A lot of times, people are saying ‘What’s big right now?’ It’s very easy to forget that it’s not about the trend, it’s about the concept.” “You can chase trends, but you will never catch them,” he added.

Inasmuch as there has been a lot of adaptation from comic books to the screen, the medium, though, is still significant. “One of the skills is knowing your medium,” said Wyatt. I, as a reader, am impressed when a writer maximizes the medium.” Every medium is different: “There are certain things you can only do in a comic book, TV show, movie, or a play,” said Wyatt, and “owning your medium is awesome.” An example he gave of something that is unique to the medium of a comic book is that of a Möbius strip.

And not all adaptations from the comics to the screen work out. One reason to this is that, as Yuan pointed out, “what reads well doesn’t necessarily speak well.” A set of possibilities that Wyatt shared in failed adaptations is “either they didn’t understand the comic book well enough or tried to stick to the comic book too much.”

And when creating a comic, the creators shared some further advice. “If you’ve got a story to tell, then tell it,” firmly stated Wyatt, who continued: “I feel like there are a lot of people out there who have stories to tell but are too intimidated to do it. Just do it and stop not doing it.” Cote added that “If you keep telling yourself ‘It’s not perfect yet; it’s not perfect yet’ – just do it.” And so what? “It’s not going to be perfect, you just got to keep going.” Moreover, “if you’re honest in your storytelling, it’ll inspire somebody.”

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