Are you fed up with Hollywood co-opting every marketable idea in popular entertainment and releasing a cynical, half-assed bastardization of the works you know and love? Everyone’s heard that “the book is better,” but that isn’t so much a truism as a testament to the challenges of adaptation. It is possible to make an adaptation that surpasses the creative vision of the original.
For an example, look no further than the film version of A History of Violence. While the original comic book is straight up pulp crime melodrama, director David Cronenberg created a film adaptation that meditates on the nature of conflict and the motivations of violence. Where the comic exploitatively reveled in the graphic violence that its characters inflicted, the film lingered on the brief brutal moments of bloodshed so as to make you squirm at the horror of it.
The rigidity of film structure and the expense and scale of the moviemaking process make actually good adaptations few and far between. Poor adaptations are legion and decent adaptations something to be prayed for. The Last Airbender was an embarrassment. Anything written by Alan Moore (yes, even Watchmen and V for Vendetta) has been bastardized or drained of its originality. All Iron Man fans care about is whether or not they got his glowing chest insignia right.
What I offer you today is an escape. Here are four comics that couldn’t be adapted to films even if Zach Snyder was given 500 million dollars to write, produce and direct them. They’re either unmarketable, unfilmable, or too damn smart for their own good. But they’re all brilliant.
Promethea by Alan Moore and J.H. Williams
Let’s start with the magic hermit king of comics, just to give you an idea of what Hollywood has driven the poor man to. Promethea starts off as a hilarious, exciting romp through futuristic New York and then abruptly becomes a philosophical discussion of reality. The main character, a girl who becomes the incarnation of a female spirit of creativity, starts out as a superhero and ends up as a goddess. Frankly, the middle of the series lags, as its protagonists spend most of their time walking through the multiverse talking about Moore’s trippy religion, but J.H. Williams’ art is some of the best ever seen in comics. And the insane visual homage’s and literary references are exactly what make the series unadaptable.
Weathercraft by Jim Woodring
Woodring’s latest comic in the Frank series is a full-length graphic novel, and as usual, it’s like Looney Tunes from another dimension. The whole thing is wordless and populated by symbolist archetypes that manipulate each other in alternately hilarious and gruesome ways. The series is far too weird to be made into a mainstream movie, though an Adult Swim cartoon would not be out of the question. If you like clever social commentary with a side of LSD, I recommend you start with The Portable Frank and work your way through the series.
Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware
Ware is a designer at heart, so half the fun of reading his work is the creative, inventive layout. Any adaptation of his comics would lose the visual juxtaposition that permeates his work. Even without that, Jimmy Corrigan is far too depressing to be made into a movie. The story follows not a smart boy but a rather underdeveloped, middle-aged shut-in as he stumbles through his sad, little life. This is paralleled by the childhood development of his grandfather in the early 1900s. The two storylines converge in a wordless, sprawling climax that confounds description. Hollywood likes a little glimmer of hope in its stories, but Ware doesn’t offer any, though the story is beautiful and should be read by anyone who hasn’t yet been convinced of the medium’s maturity.
David Boring by Dan Clowes
Clowes wrote David Boring to be a story that couldn’t be adapted into a film, and ironically, it could actually be a pretty great one. To do so would counter the spirit of the story, however, which is a self-aware commentary on the nature of storytelling and genre conventions. The eponymous protagonist is constantly avoiding narrative structure, seeking only the presence of his ideal female fantasy. The story begins as an offbeat noir, then switches from romance to horror to thriller and back again. Towards the end of the story, Boring struggles to write a screenplay that “follows all the conventions” but can’t seem to put a single word to the page.
Hollywood would like you to believe that nothing is legitimately popular until they’ve turned it into a blockbuster, but I think you’ll find after reading a few of these, that film in its current form is restrictive, and movie adaptations are mostly cynical economic ventures. If we want our movie culture to grow as a medium, we must demand higher quality, original ideas with our wallets. In conclusion, go see Inception.