Comic books donâ€™t need tights to become films
â€˜Whiteoutâ€™ and â€˜Surrogatesâ€™ are graphic novels outside the typical mode
By Vaneta Rogers
Hollywoodâ€™s recent love affair with comic books doesnâ€™t stop with superheroes, as this monthâ€™s box office proves.
In the next two weeks, two movies based on comic books â€” this weekendâ€™s â€œWhiteoutâ€ with Kate Beckinsale and the Sept. 25 release â€œSurrogatesâ€ with Bruce Willis â€” wonâ€™t have an ounce of spandex involved, reflecting a trend toward more and more non-superhero comic books getting scooped up by Hollywood for adaptation into film.
â€œHollywood has been turned onto comics in a way that they actually havenâ€™t been before,â€ said Greg Rucka, who wrote â€œWhiteoutâ€ in 1998 for publisher Oni Press and its sequel, â€œWhiteout: Melt.â€
â€œHollywood people tend to be people who are, in my experience, very visually oriented people,â€ Rucka said. â€œAnd if you put a novel in front of them, they are less inclined to really dive into that novel. But if you can put in front of them a story that combines prose with images, they get that. And they get that much more quickly, and can see a translation to film much more effortlessly. So itâ€™s not just about superheroes â€” I think now, itâ€™s about comics.â€
With the recent success of cape-free comic book movies like â€œ300â€ and â€œWantedâ€ â€“ along with the upcoming films based on comics like â€œKick-Assâ€ and â€œScott Pilgrim vs. The Worldâ€ â€“ Hollywood has quietly been sneaking a surge of comic book movies into theaters without most movie-goers even realizing it.
â€œThereâ€™s a little line on the corner of the poster that says itâ€™s based on a graphic novel,â€ Rucka said with a laugh. â€œAnd I think it says something in the credits. So Iâ€™m not sure anyone will know it was a comic.â€
(Hereâ€™s a look at 8 films some people may not have known are based on comic books.)
To be faithful ... or not to be
The trend also presents a bit of a challenge because the creatorâ€™s visual story is often drastically changed, something that many comic book fans donâ€™t like and even some creators have publicly decried â€” such as â€œV for Vendettaâ€ and â€œWatchmenâ€ comics author Alan Moore. While popular superheroes have been touched by various writers and artists over the decades since they were created, the non-superhero properties being optioned by Hollywood are owned by one or two people, and both they and their fans tend to be a little more possessive of the story.
â€œItâ€™s very strange because, in all honesty, what (artist) Steve (Lieber) and I created and what ultimately made it to the screen â€” you can see the roots of it, but itâ€™s a very different animal,â€ Rucka said of â€œWhiteout.â€ â€œBut I went into the process eyes wide open. Thatâ€™s one of the things they paid us for the opportunity to do. I donâ€™t have a problem with that.â€
â€œI know among comic book fans, thereâ€™s a lot of that concern,â€ said Robert Venditti, who wrote the â€œThe Surrogatesâ€ comic book for publisher Top Shelf, with art by Brett Weldele. â€œBut the way I looked at it from the very beginning, and the way I still look at it, is as a big compliment that people would want to spend their time and energy on something that Iâ€™d written. When you go to the set and there are 250 people working in Boston on this film â€” from the directors to the set builders and prop guys â€” theyâ€™re working on this project for four months of their lives.
â€œIâ€™ve already told the story the way I wanted to tell it in the book, so I let them bring their creativity to it the way they wanted to,â€ he said. â€œAnd I just tried not to get caught up so much in the exact translation of it to the screen.â€
While some comic book movies â€” in particular, â€œ300,â€ â€œSin Cityâ€ and this yearâ€™s â€œWatchmenâ€ â€” have been much closer to taking a literal translation from the comic book to the movie, Rucka said he doesnâ€™t think all comics are able to be translated that way.
â€œYou could never have taken â€˜Whiteout,â€™ as Steve and I created it, and make a movie out of it just out of the graphic novel,â€ Rucka said. â€œYou couldnâ€™t do what they did with, for instance, â€˜300.â€™ Itâ€™s not going to survive a shot-for-shot translation. I mean, if for no other reason, we tell you who did it in the first issue of the graphic novel. There would be no mystery if you filmed that. That doesnâ€™t make for a good movie.
â€œI think in some cases Hollywood has been slavishly literal, to their detriment, of both novels and comics,â€ he said. â€œAnd in other cases, theyâ€™ve taken liberties that have made for very good movies. And I think we have to be mindful of that.â€
(Want to judge for yourself, click here to read the first 33 pages of the original â€œWhiteoutâ€ graphic novel.)
Although there are several changes from â€œThe Surrogatesâ€ comic book to the â€œSurrogatesâ€ movie, Venditti pointed out that the key elements of his comic are there, which are the parts he cared most about.
â€œThere are a few things I definitely wanted to see in the film. I wanted my characters to be there. And I wanted the subtext and commentary that I was driving for in the comics to be there. And the relationship between the main character and his wife was very central to the story, and the effect that the surrogates had on their marriage, I wanted that to be in the film,â€ Venditti said. â€œAll those things have been retained in the film. So obviously the changed some things, added characters and subplots, but basically, the core story is the same. And thatâ€™s whatâ€™s important to me.
â€œIf my sci-fi thriller had gone into the Hollywood sausage machine and come out the other end a romantic comedy, Iâ€™d be pretty bummed. But thatâ€™s not the case here. Iâ€™m actually thrilled with what Iâ€™ve seen,â€ he said.
Rucka said â€œWhiteoutâ€ also kept the uniquely harsh and stark artistic tone of the â€œWhiteoutâ€ comic when translating the story, which was set in Antarctica, into a movie.
â€œThe film has a great sense of the environment and never really loses it,â€ Rucka said. â€œThey did a beautiful job of not only capturing Steveâ€™s visuals literally, but even the feel of his visuals.â€
Both Rucka and Venditti said they were consulted on this movies, but neither felt like they had a significant impact.
â€œMy involvement was terribly limited, and frankly, to be perfectly honest, far more than I would have imagined theyâ€™d even extend to me. You know? Because I was the writer of the comic. I wasnâ€™t the screenwriter. I wasnâ€™t involved in the film,â€ Rucka said. â€œThat they even invited me in and wanted my opinion was flattering.â€
As more than 40 comic book properties are in some stage of production and dozens others are optioned for film, there seems to be a slew of comic book properties being eyed by Hollywood â€” but many never make it to the screen. While â€œSurrogatesâ€ was turned into a movie only three years after its original publication in 2006, â€œWhiteoutâ€ was stuck in film-option limbo for almost a decade.
â€œSteve and I had reached a point where we just thought weâ€™d start living off the options. Weâ€™d be 80 and this thing would be optioned again,â€ Rucka said. â€œI actually never thought theyâ€™d do it.â€
â€œA lot of it is out of your control once itâ€™s optioned, and you just donâ€™t know if itâ€™s going to make it to the film stage,â€ Venditti said. â€œBut â€˜Surrogatesâ€™ was unique in that it was made so quickly. You talk to a lot of people â€” producers and things like that â€” and theyâ€™ll say, â€˜What are you working on now?â€™ And youâ€™ll tell them. And theyâ€™ll say, well, Iâ€™ll tell you right now that itâ€™s not going to go into production as quickly as â€˜Surrogatesâ€™ did.
Although Rucka is currently writing comics for DC involving both Superman and Batman characters, heâ€™s got another non-superhero comic book property for Oni Press that is moving toward a possible movie â€” the spy thriller â€œQueen and Country.â€
â€œFor reasons that have never become clear to me, the first draft of the screenplay for â€˜Queen and Countryâ€™ was set aside,â€ Rucka said. â€œBut just recently, a young man named Ryan Condal was given the assignment to write the screenplay. And Iâ€™ve actually spoken to him a couple of times, and I read one of his screenplays already. And I think the comic is in very good hands. Heâ€™s very talented.â€
And although Rucka admitted he never thought â€œWhiteoutâ€ would make it to the theaters, he believes â€œQueen and Countryâ€ might be among the next phase of non-superhero comic book movies that Hollywood brings to the big screen.
â€œI think it may happen!â€ he said. â€œI think we may be getting close.â€