Thursday, November 11, 2010

Comic Book TV Invasion

With Hollywood's blockbuster output of the last decade heavily reliant on superheros and comic book movies (moreso the former than the latter!), the advent of comic books hitting our small screens is finally upon us with AMC's Frank Darabont-helmed The Walked Dead, based on the increasingly popular Robert Kirman/Charlie Adlard/Tony Moore comic book of the same name from Image Comics.

Comics books have never fared too well on the small screen with smaller comics like The Middlemen and Human Target being chosen more for their concepts than brand-recognition.  Heroes was initially a smash hit, a mish-mash of various comics like X-Men and Watchmen, that quickly petered out after it's first season.  The Walking Dead is a first, however; the show is spearheaded by a big-name director, Frank Darabont, and is being broadcast not on sanitized network television but cable, with channels like HBO, Showtime and FX creating a golden-age for grown-up, well-made television that recalls the American cinema of the 70s.  AMC is, in many ways, the new kid on the block but their three headline shows - Mad Men, Breaking Bad and now The Walking Dead - have quickly pushed them to the forefront of this new breed of television, their sights clearly set on the biggest of the bunch, HBO.

Two episodes in and The Walking Dead is already AMC's most successful venture and this week, they commissioned a second season (  In much the same way as Hollywood began scouring the comic book shelves for the next big thing after Spider-Man showed them how it's done, television executives will surely soon be doing the same, most likely favouring the kind of comics that combine complex, mature narratives with intriguing concepts and multi-arc storytelling.

So here's my list of comics, paired with interesting directors/showrunners, that the likes of HBO and the other cable networks should be eyeing up for turning into the next Walking Dead.

100 Bullets (Brian Azzarello/Eduardo Risso)
Showrunners:  Darren Aronofsky & Martin McDonogh

In many ways, a no-brainer; this comic screams out for a television series adaptation that can deliver on it's narrative complexity and explore the moral ambiguity at its heart without sacrificing it's strong grasp on character and dialogue, in a way that a single two hour movie could never do.  The simple but brilliant concept: a man gives you a briefcase, an untraceable gun and 100 bullets in which you can finally gain revenge on that son-of-a-bitch who destroyed your life. Love, lust, revenge; any reason will do.  The comic perhaps diverged too far into the central conspiracy of The Minutemen by its end but the ingredients are all their for a modern-day noir TV show that can deliver both episodic or multi-arc narratives.
Aronofsky's visual style and newly-acquired naturalistic acting style would give this comic it's look but it's McDonogh who could deliver that mix of noir tragedy/comedy that the comics does so well.  His film In Bruges was a tightly plotted, effective noir that, though set in a provincial and beautiful European city and ostensibly a comedy, still managed to deliver on those quiet, tormented moments of horror facing two professional killers laying low after a hit.

Criminal (Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips)
Showrunner: Andrew Dominik

Criminal is a noir crime comic with tight, thoughtful plots and a tough, grimy cast of characters from Brubaker complimented wonderfully by evocative, moody art from Philips. It's a lean, dirty comic with moments of lyricism and poetry. Who better then than the director of the film based on Australian real-life crime superstar Chopper and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford to bring this to life. Andrew Dominik may not be a household name but he has the chops to bring Criminal, bruised and battered, to the small screen.

Scalped (Jason Aaron/R.M. Guera)
Showrunner: David Simon

Life on a Native American reservation: corruption, drugs, gambling, family, tradition.  A large cast of compelling characters and thoughtful, mature storytelling that doesn't shy away from the realities and contradictions of a people still struggling with the past, this would make a rather captivating companion piece to Simon's other masterpiece, The Wire.

Sandman (Neil Gaiman/Various Artists)
Showrunners: David Lynch & Terry Gilliam

A film may never do it justice but television may be a better fit for what is considered one of the very best comics series out there. The choice of showrunners may be ambitious but they're a perfect fit: Gilliam's fantastical whimsy and Lynch's unravelling of reality's dark underbelly, as well as both director's abilities to convey the humanity of eccentric, often bizarre characters would fit Gaiman's world well.

DMZ (Brian Wood/Riccardo Burchielli)
Showrunner: Paul Greengrass

Set in the not-too-distant future of New York City, where a civil war between the federal government of the United States and the 'Free States' armies has turned Manhattan into a demilitarized zone.  The central character is a photojournalist who gets separated from his news crew after an attack and reports from the inside of the DMZ.  Incredibly prevalent (the Free States army are a bunch of ideological secessionists, mostly made up of right-wing militants. Sound familiar?), this series would allow for an exploration into the political, social and economic problems of today under the cover of a high-concept, dystopian thriller.Greengrass is the perfect choice for this show.  Possible second choice: Nick Broomfield, whose recent films, Ghost and Battle For Haditha, are similar in style to Greengrass but arguably even more 'real' in tone.

Transmetropolitan (Warren Ellis/Darick Robertson)
Showrunner: Alfonso Cuaron

This much-missed series was one of the most fun and inventive comics of the last twenty years, crammed full of science-fiction ideas, great characters and an irascible sense of humour that owed a heavy debt to Hunter S. Thompson.  Cuaron's Children of Men, while more of a dystopian, realistic film, was an astounding cinematic achievement that crammed multiple ideas into a series of ambitious single takes, delivering information not through exposition but visually, in much the same way as Darick Robertson crams as many ideas into the background of his panels as possible without sacrificing the central narrative at the forefront.  Icing to the cake: get Warren Ellis to write for the show.  He's a one man House of Ideas.

RASL (Jeff Smith)
Showrunner: Richard Kelly

Admittedly, a slightly odd choice on both counts, Jeff Smith's post-Bone time/dimension hopping comic may be more suited to the cinema screen but the world he's created in only eight issues of RASL is so imaginative and full of creative possibilities that it could easily be adapted into an adventurous, science-fiction show. Kelly, the director of indie hit Donnie Darko and the best-forgotten Southland Tales could nail this comics evocative mix of sci-fi, adventure and horror.  I almost suggested Christopher Nolan but figured his tight, restricted formalism may take away too much from Smith's at times chaotic narrative.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Bio Comics

I've been reading a lot of memoir/autobiography type comics lately. While usually very readable and entertaining, they all have certain similarities which become repetitive over time: many of the authors have similar personalities and traits: they're mostly narcissistic, slightly weird or obsessive, socially awkward types.  That is part of the charm, of course. I thought I'd list some of the best or most interesting ones that are worth checking out:--

The Poor Bastard - Joe Matt

 Philadelphia-born, Toronto-based cartoonist Joe Matt is very much like his peers/friends and co-stars in this book, Seth and Chester Brown, but he's at the more extreme, perverted end of things.  This book collects the first six issues of his comic 'Peepshow' and primarily centers around his unrealistic aspirations towards the female form and crippling obsession with pornography that invade and destroy, yet also drives, many of his relationships with women. Matt is quite gifted at making you care and almost sympathize with him by being quite insightful (though, in the comic, dismissive) of his own shortcomings and insecurities.  It may not be pretty but it sure is honest. His art is like a more refined Peter Bagge though his characters and their motivations, are just as ugly.  This comic primarily focuses on the end of a relationship with one girlfriend - due to his own selfishness and laziness that is posthumously realized by the author but now necessarily his comic alter-ego - and his search for a new girlfriend; this search intensified by his ex's new life and love with a new man.  It (sadly) rings true of real human experience, though his exacting standards and desperate behaviour are probably a bit more exaggerated than a normal, healthy individual!

Persepolis - Marjane Satrapi

 This one is probably familiar to a lot of people from the film that was released a few years ago; the comic is very much the same, but contains more character and historical details that presumably had to be passed over the the constraints of the film's running time.  This memoir follows the character's childhood in Iran post-Revolution, through Iran's war with its neighbour Iraq, and later the Iranian people's struggle against their own, increasingly restrictive government that parallels with her own personal rebellion as a woman in a stifling, aggressively patriarchal society.  It works as both historical drama and memoir, an insider and outsider's view of Iran (she travels to Europe in her late teens and returns to Iran as an adult).  It also shines a light on a much-understood society, that is far too often marginalized and/or misunderstood by Western media; here, Iranians disagree and rebel against the Iranian government, recognizing the inherent dangers of religious ideologues in power and the loss of freedom, both individual and as a society at large, when those ideologues turn to radicalism and isolationism.  There are no easy answers provided, but one does gain an understanding of Iran's people, as opposed to the dominant picture drawn by Western governments and media of a united country of extremists out to eradicate our way of life.

I Never Liked You - Chester Brown

A very effective tale of teenage love/lust, awkwardness and growing up.  What separates this from other coming-of-age tales is that the Brown's comic alter-ego isn't a pathetic, self-pitying narcissist but just an average, slightly nerdy guy in teenagery situations. 

Stitches - David Small

 A brilliant, haunting and insightful take on a young boy (Small) with throat cancer (largely the fault of his radiologist father who dosed him with x-rays at a young age to relieve him of a minor sinus problem), with lots of sketchy and evocative art, poetic imagery that lays bare a tragic, harrowing family life. The author is literally left speechless after a major operation at a young age and observes the disintegration of his family whilst also suffering emotional cruelties at the hands of his parents and elders in his life.

The Girlfriend Trilogy (Clumsy, Unlikely, AEIOU) - Jeffrey Brown

Jeffrey Brown's art is sketchy and almost child-like, and his alter-ego is the epitome of that pathetic, self-pitying character type that's so prevalent in books of this kind. Yet it's also one that rings very true in many cases: everyone will recognize something they themselves have gone through in a relationship (though Brown tends to fall in love with some extreme cases here!)  It's funny, sad and thoughtful all at the same time.  I highly recommend checking out 'How to Be A Man' mini after reading Clumsy; it's a recreation of many scenes from Clumsy but with the benefit of hindsight and humour: Brown goes back to many of the book's scenes and replaces actual events with what he would have liked to have said. It's reprinted in his new collection Undeleted Scenes.