A few weeks ago, the LCS got a call from someone who wanted to inform us that he had a book out in Diamond and to encourage us to order it, which is fine for a local creator to do. Unfortunately, he said something that I imagine a lot of people do, and they need to stop: “Yeah, I turned my screenplay into a comic because I thought it would be more impressive that way.”
Ok, this is some absolute bullshit. Comics and Movies are two very different mediums! You can’t just turn one into the other, and unless you’re reading a late 2000’s Mark Millar comic, you can’t just make a comic entirely out of storyboards.
Here’s two things that movies do really well that comics can’t (just to name a couple): the actors playing the characters can add a level of depth to the material that might not have been in there, or just deliver a memorable performance, and movies can add music, and change the tone of a scene, or lead the audience to feel a certain way.
Here’s a good movie monologue:
See how the camera focuses on Robin Williams face for the first half, as he starts gently calling Matt Damon’s character on his bullshit? And when he drops the cancer bomb, and starts swearing, while becoming more commanding we see Damon’s face? This just wouldn’t translate to comics; the tiny movements of the actors’ faces, the ambient noise that makes the conversation seem banal right up until the last minute, all of this contributes to a something that’s made for the medium it takes place in.
Here’s a great movie montage:
You see why that wouldn’t quite work as well in a comic? In the movie, it is 2:36 out of a 105 minute movie; that’s less not even 2% of the total runtime, but it shows the Ghostbusters’ growth and maturing skills so as to show the viewer that they’re skillful. In a comic, montages are usually on a double-page splash, and rarely, if ever, serve as anything more than a shortcut bit of exposition and some nice art. It would take a comic at least 4 pages to communicate the same information, which still wouldn’t be as effective because it’s borrowing something that doesn’t intrinsically work in comics. However, in the movie, the montage is entertaining, partly because of the great song, but also because of the nice details in each quick scene. Comics just can’t pull of a montage like this, and they shouldn’t have to.
Comics have their own strengths that movies don’t, just as every medium does. For example, in The Dark Knight Returns, easily one of the most influential and celebrated comics ever made, Frank Miller is incredibly aware of what medium he’s using. For 25 pages, he uses a 16 panel grid, claustrophobic panels squeezing in each character, with rarely used panels that are only slightly bigger. All the larger panels in the first 24 pages are all centered around Batman and Gotham, so that by the time we’ve reached page 25, all the tension is on when Batman will arrive. Then, right on page 25, BAM! We get this, bursting open the flow of the pages and panels we’ve read.
The claustrophobia of using a tight 16-panel grid makes this splash page feel even more freeing; we feel as freed from the constraints of the panels as Batman does from his own bonds. The use of panels leads us to this moment in a way that a movie could never do, which is why they’ll never make a good adaptation of this comic.
Here’s some more examples from incredible artists J.H. Williams III, Francis Manapaul, and Frank Quitely. Look these over and try to imagine how well they’d translate to a movie screen: