Switching Media

By | Monday, March 06, 2006 Leave a Comment
One of my favorite TV shows of all time is Joss Whedon's Firefly. Serenity, not surprisingly, is one of my favorite movies. Why they're my favorites is the subject of another post, but what I'd like to discuss today is the crossover from the film format to comic books.

I think this particular series highlights exactly the issue surrounding switching from film to comics. The story is written, in part, by Whedon so the plot and story structure make sense given the other stories about this 'verse he has written. The problem is that we're dealing with characters who are known by the actors that portrayed them. Malcolm Reynolds, for all intents and purposes, IS Nathan Fillon, just as sure as Luke Skywalker IS Mark Hammill and Indiana Jones IS Harrison Ford. The actors were able to step into the roles so well, and make the characters their own, that it becomes difficult to separate the actor from the role.

Which means that any version of the character we come across later is directly compared to the actor. In the case of novels and prose, we don't see the character visually so as long as the basic content of their dialogue is in-character, we can "hear" the actor's voice delivering their lines. We can take the often-vague, verbal descriptions and easily drop in the actor's face.

With comics, however, that's not really the case. We see a visual representation of the actor, and as an audience we expect it to look like consistently like the actor. In some cases, the artist gives us a great deal of flexibility. For example, Matt Feazell (famous for his Cynicalman comics) represents characters so simplistically -- literally stick figures -- that his reasonable approximation of Fillon would look exactly like his reasonable approximation of Ford. By contrast, Will Conrad -- who drew the Serenity comic -- proved on many occassions throughout the book that he can draw an excellent Fillon (and Staite, and Baldwin, and Glass, and...) that every panel that doesn't look exactly like the actor stands out like a sore thumb. Indeed, compare the drawings of Fillon on pages 2 and 3 of the first issue...

On page three, Malcolm indeed does look more like Ford than Fillon!

Granted, being able to draw an actor well is difficult, and being able to draw them well repeatedly throughout a story is exceedingly difficult. By no means am I trying to single out or slight Conrad for his work here, but he's been put into a very difficult position of trying to capture the look and the spirit of several actors in a variety of postures, poses, and expressions that are going to be scrutinized by fans. But that's the inherent problem with moving from film to comics. Frank Miller's drawings are abstract enough that you can put some prosthetics on Mickey Rourke and make him look like exactly like Marv, but going from the specific (an actual actor) to the abstract (a drawing of him/her) is insanely more difficult and will likely plague comic artists for many years.
Newer Post Older Post Home