Tuesday, 9 February 2010

"We write what we like, right, and we like what we write, right!"

I've been reading comic books for about as long as I've been watching movies.

My first experience with the big screen came in the summer of 1977, in Hackney. My sister, my nan and I sat and watched a Star Destroyer rumble across, seemingly flying above us - yes, it was Star Wars... and I was hooked.

Pretty soon after this our house got one of the first video players - VHS piano keys. We were mocked by a neighbour, who had the far superior Betamax machine, but then my father started to come home with boxes and boxes of video tapes for us to watch. And watch we did...

But I was always something of a reader...

From Mr Men to Beano to Whizzer and Chips to Eagle to Battle to 2000ad to Marvel and DC. All logical steps I took, very quickly.

But this is not a post of nostalgia - nor is it some resume dressed up as a blog used to justify my words, oh no.

I liked films and comics, and I liked them for different reasons.

They are very different beasts, and the story telling methods, although occasionally at their core similar, are very different in style. However there is a tendency lately for writers to not celebrate their differences - seemingly writing the story boards for what they hope will be a movie. Just as movies are seemingly in love with their four-colour firends.

But they are very different beasts.

It can be said, for the sake of this discussion, that comic stories come in three real forms - the self contained story, the contained story within a bigger context, and the on-going story. That is a story that takes place out of the context of an established continuity and universe, a story that takes place within an established universe and a story that takes place within an established continuity and universe.

The vast majority of the big name comics, those that the average person on the street might recognise (Batman, Superman, Spider-Man) take place in the later of these. And yet these stories - which tend to be weighty, complex and multi-layered, are the ones that film makers are most likely to try and turn into the former of these stories. The traditional three act film story method. Film tends to rush these universes through a synthesis that it hopes will enable the bigger percentage of audience to understand and accept.

The suspension of belief that is afforded to a comic book is also greater than that which is afforded to film. Film at its most extended runs the greater risk of rejection as unbelievable.

The creative process of film and comic is very different also. Simply look at the credits page to the latest Batman comic and compare it to the credits roll in the last film to feature that character. But we already know that they are different beasts.

And yet people seem to expect the two to be interchangeable. Talk of comic books being a natural place to tap for future film ideas because the conceptual art and story boards are in place - just add actors - is lazy at best. And comic book writing that pampers to this way of thinking, for me, smacks of desperation, and does a great disservice to the medium.

However, there are lessons to be learned from both these very different beasts.

As a writer, in both areas, one should come to terms with the fact that a very small amount of what you actually write is going ever be seen. I don't mean that you'll be toiling away for years undiscovered, I mean in the end product. In both instances the finished product is less about what you have written and more about what you have communicated. And that is the key, and as is so often the case, simplicity reigns truest.

In both film and comics you are, as a writer, putting a lot of trust in other people to help create a world in a more visual and dynamic a way with your words. Allow your collaborators in, to be part of the creative process, and keep your communication simple, and it will pay off in the long term.

If your goal is to write a comic book that you want to be adapted into a film, stay true to this idea. If you want to write a comic book, then you have a lot more freedom and scope than you may think, and I hope you have the confidence to explore this and take the medium out as far as you can take it.

I did want to post one final thing, which may seem a digression, however it does serve to show how simply a big idea can be conveyed if you use some creativity and respect towards your audience to "fill the gaps between the panels"... something comic book readers are more able to do, and films should be more willing to try:

1 comment:

pdore said...

Interesting thoughts about comics vs. movies. I think you're right - movies really aren't the best medium to translate comix. T.V. would probably do it better - this is where it seems like something like Lost comes in. Hopefully with new technology, they could do a really good serial with good effects AND good writing - wishful thinking!!!