Comic books

Comic books established themselves as an independent media in which story abides its own rules; progression of story follows by specific use of frames sequences and their composition. Judging by the structure of comic books and graphic novels we can see many similarities with other medias, like movies adaptations of comic books and just movie itself.

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However, we cannot deny distinctive differences of these two medias. Films have their own perception and flow of time and so do graphic novels. Both make an impact by using their own way of storytelling. But what media is better for telling stories when it comes to movie adaptations of comic books? For me idea to bring comic book story to big screen has its drawbacks and benefits. Beside obvious part of movie – sound, some movies benefit from original visual style of their source material, movies like Sin City, 300 and Dick Tracy, which makes them striking due to the film’s “moving image” feature. Or other way around, for example, when film director like Tim Burton applied his own visual style while producing Batman, which was supported by bizarre and eccentric characters like Joker and The Penguin and by Gotham itself. Same with Guillermo Del Toro and his adaptation of Hellboy. But my position is that comic book movies are not that sophisticated in comparison with their original material, but only if consider that original material were stand alone graphic novels like “Watchmen”, “V is for Vendetta”, “Sin City” e.t.c. But at the same time, films based on mainstream pledge of comics industry like “X-men”, “Spider-man”, “Batman” and so on, in some cases, don’t really fall that far behind from their comic book versions. To show that we can examine several movies that were filmed based upon graphic novels and break them down by categories of what make comics to be “comics” and then compare.

“Comics…juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response i the viewer” (Scott McCloud, “Understanding of comics”) Starting from obvious – comic books are collections of static images, therefore the way how reader perceives information depends on the way how comic book artist manipulate these visuals. In Scott McCloud’s book “Understanding of Comics” author tells us about how comic books use our understanding of events by executing
specific transition of “frames” like scene to scene, action to action or aspect to aspect. We cannot also overlook “the graphic style” of a certain comic book, which also plays a major role in storytelling. In addition, “composition” of these two particularly taken elements is what holds all imagery together to create a specific narrative, on each page separately and jointly. Sin City is a very visual example, both on comic pages and on screen. Creators of this movie, including author of original Sin City (Frank Miller), captured the strongest feature of comic book – black and white imagery with some coloured elements, grotesque characters and, in some parts, shots were borrowed from comic book panels. “Some of the stills from the film look so much like frames of the comic book as to make no difference. And there’s a narration that plays like the captions at the top of the frame, setting the stage and expressing a stark existential world view.” (Roger Ebert)

One of examples of it is scene where Marv kills priest in confessional booth, it was transferred frame by frame from comic book page. This scene, in my opinion, is the closest in representing comic book way of narrative in movie. Because sequence of original frames are “action to action” has almost similar pacing with movie, despite difference in executing them, when in comic book it is shown on one page and in movie it is a movement of frames.

Sin City is a good example of a very well transferred material from one media to another, but mostly because material is much more stylised than, for example, Watchmen where style is used more as a supporting tool: “The actors are mined for the archetypes they contain; characters are rotated into a hyperdimension. We get not so much their presence as their essence; the movie is not about what the characters say or what they do, but about who they are in our wildest dreams.” (Roger Ebert)

Visually movie does not inferior to original work, even though comic images look much bolder and it supports character’s design and make scenes look much more organic, when in movie you still see that actors are just actors and that is where audience has to use their suspension of disbelief:

“a willingness to suspend one’s critical faculties and believe the unbelievable; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)
But we cannot say that Sin City is completely original work, it obviously borrows a lot of elements from older comic books, such as “The Spirit” or “Dick Tracy” and from films of 30-40’s. Element such “crawling shadows” was used intensively in many frames and added a lot to every scene were characters casted shadows on their surroundings. This shows that comics are not that different from movies, in terms of what they are showing to viewer, but form of comics media is what makes it unique and substantive:

“each successive frame of a movie is projected on exactly the same space – the – screen – while each frame of comics must occupy a different space…space does for comics what time does for film!” (Scott McCloud) That being said, from example of Sin City we can say that graphical features are not that hard to reproduce in movie where stylisation is a major feature, same with frames. However, composition of the whole page works completely differently from films and that is where adaptations fail at reproducing comic books’ form. Another example of graphic novel adaptation is Watchmen created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. When Sin City is much more stylised story, Watchmen is much more about context and themes. As graphic novel it uses every opportunity that is given to it as comics media. One of the most interesting is composition of frames throughout the novel,

Movie adaptation of Watchmen does not show given themes in the same way like original version does, simply because it doesn’t have this ability like “page composition”, and even if tried to use it might have ruined the form of film media. As an example, running theme of Rorschach’s mask, which changes its pattern constantly. Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore created layouts that are symmetrical and in the middle of the book you can find this symmetry as well, and not just randomly placed, but used in the scene where Rorschach is being interviewd by psychiatrist with Rorschach test. In movie, though, we could not see this additional narrative, despite film director’s (Zack Snyder) attempts to recreate other visuals of Rorschach’s theme, like some silhouettes of symmetrical images, mostly in scenes where characters

Speaking of Rorschach’s mask in terms of representation in both versions: in comic book mask was changing, but due to media of comics, we could only see specific patterns, which were deliberately drawn as something straightforward to emphasise what character was going through, or just like vague patterns as audiences’ personal test, especially when Rorschach was facing towards reader in close ups. This ingenious way of creators to establish once again comic book’s media and their understanding of it proves that comic books form will always take advantages to use its’ own limitations for creating something very unique for its media. In movie version constant moving of pattern doesn’t let concentrate on it long enough before it replaces by another pattern. Although there is one pattern that can tell what is Rorschach’s mood is at that moment – scene Rorschach’s ambush by police forces. His mask creates crosses on his eyes which is effective but less original than ideas from comic book.

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