Best Suited For Comic Book Adaptations: Webseries or Movies?

Brandon Moviemaking, Webseries Theories


Back in January, Tubefilter.TV published an interview with the writer-director, Marc Clebanoff. In the interview, Clebanoff discusses the process of turning his film, Break, into a webseries, called No Clean Break. (Full article here: How to Turn a Film into a Web Series: ‘No Clean Break’ Sees Second Life.) While reading the interview, I was struck by the following comment:

About 50% of the footage in the series is different than the film, as is Frank’s voice over and most of the comic book elements. The big picture was “comic book come to life”, which is really driven home better in the series than the film. Ultimately the film and the series are two significantly different products. [emphasis added]

Why did Clebanoff’s comic-book-come-to-life conceit work better for him as a series than as a film? I have no idea. Ask him. But having watched a couple episodes of No Clean Break, I get the feeling that Clebanoff’s idea of a comic book as motion picture adds up to freeze frames with animated filters and nameplate captions, as well as, a hard boiled story and characters, bridged together with voice-over narration and hyper-stylized camera moves. While many comic books utilize similar devices, these stylistic parallels often provide only a cosmetic link between the two mediums.

We’ve seen Hollywood’s superficial failure to translate comics to the screen most prominently with Ang Lee’s generally disliked, Hulk (Google ‘ang lee hulk’ and the first page of results fills with people trying to defend the film, which for me is a good indicator that the general movie-going population wasn’t impressed). Still, comic book adaptations have risen to dominance in the Hollywood Box Office. With each new installment in the Comic Book Movie genre, debate sparks anew as to how well comics transfer to the screen. For some, Watchmen was too true an adaptation, enslaved by it’s origin media, and unwilling to take risks in deviation toward a film version. Many see The Dark Knight as the perfect example in adaptation, true to the source’s narrative, but fully engrained and expressed through the tropes of film.

Merely as a consequence of their format, movies, at best, translate as a self-contained graphic novel. At worst, they come across as a glorified one-shot. Granted, Marvel Studios is pushing the boundaries of that format with their series of interconnected movie titles, leading into The Avengers next year, but comics’ traditional publishing format and schedule begs the question: are webseries more suited for adaptation?

In the comics industry, most titles are released monthly in 22 page issues, sometimes called floppies. Narratively, floppies structure most of the time, as a self-contained installment within a larger and constantly expanding story. Often various titles overlap in narrative and characters, providing a vast web of interconnected stories: nesting and expanding in all directions.

iron man spread

Complexity of Tony Stark’s “Conquests” (Click for original)

The most successful titles have run for decades, periodically changing creative teams and editors. Comics as a medium, pulls this off, in part, because with the page and a pencil, creators are granted an unlimited budget for rendering images.

Webseries do not have an unlimited budget like comics, but they do enjoy a similar kind of flexibility. So far, successful webseries release their episodes on a set schedule whether it be weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. The webseries audience is being trained in a similar way to the comics audience, expecting a short, but complete narrative, adding to larger arcs, characters, or worlds. With this expectation comes the flexibility of individual episode structure and narrative. Entertaining tangents are welcome, even encouraged with the recent rise in interactive webseries.

So far, interactive webseries seem to exist as a glorified version of choose-your-own-adventure books, but the platform for expansive and complicated narratives, mirroring the web of continuity in comics with cross overs and various story arcs, running simultaneously, is already there. Webseries creators must take advantage. With interactive webseries’ ability to link episodes in a new nested structure, true adaptations of a comics entire run, at least narratively, could theoretically be possible, and the comic-book-come-to-life notion would surpass superficial traits and enter into the realm of substance.

Video games are getting the webseries treatment with Mortal Kombat and Dragon Age; why not comics?