So maybe you know them, and maybe you don’t. But chances are good you’ve heard of the movie and television versions of the same. Fair warning: if this is your first time hanging out with someone who always shouts, “The book was better than the movie!” then get ready for some loud company. Only, this time the phrase is, “It was a comic book first!”
Time to strike down some accepted myths about groundbreaking movies and television, to see what really was groundbreaking. These are some of the comics–not all of them–that came before the fame of film and TV adaptations. And let’s not dwell on what everybody already knows, so no Marvel and D.C. franchises get discussed here.
Before The Crow (1994)
The date is Devil’s Night, and the words we live and die by are love and revenge. But before the hit film which blended noir and grunge, and led to a variety of spin-offs, like City of Angels and Stairway to Heaven, there was simply The Crow, the comic series, first appearing in 1989.
If for nothing else, we remember the character Eric Draven as a dark, face paint-wearing figure who gives the modern Joker a run for his money. Knowing the movie, full of urban decay and death as it is, it might be hard to imagine that the comic goes even darker, focusing more on the internals of Draven, who, back from the dead, sets out to avenge his fiancée’s murder. When we know, however, that creator James O’Barr wrote The Crow after losing his own fiancée to a drunk driver, we recognize the real agony, and the amount of himself he put into the story. And as it is painful for Draven and O’Barr, it can be emotive and worthwhile for the reader. Pursue this to know The Crow in his original form, uncorrupted by sequels and totally raw.
Before Ghostworld (2001)
You could think of them as the original hipsters. Recent high school grads Enid Coleslaw and Rebecca Doppelmeyer, depicted by Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson in the movie, will make you laugh, and make you think. But before the movie, there was Daniel Clowes’ comic story which began in 1993.
The movie may have Steve Buscemi, but the comic has characters so real that they hold up a mirror to who you are, or maybe who you used to be when you were young. Enid and Rebecca can be almost unsympathetic as they face the uncertainty of adulthood, judging their peers, and distrusting each other. You know, like real people. While she is full of hilarious one-liners and critiques of the people in her life, it causes the reader to wonder if there is anyone Enid doesn’t hate. So for quick-and-easy sympathy, watch the movie. But for an experience that’s a lot like reading Catcher in the Rye, replete with awesome art, read Ghostworld, the graphic novel. Without it, one misses all of the little things, the details that make life so real, for better or worse.
Before The Walking Dead (2010 – Present)
2003 was the year zombies were first positioned to knock off vampires as America’s favorite monster. That’s not the year AMC first aired the TV series The Walking Dead, or the year Resident Evil came out on the console. It was the year we were given The Walking Dead, the comic series, by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore. But the key here is that it wasn’t just about zombies, as monsters. It was about human beings, as zombies.
A quote from the back cover of Volume One: Days Gone Bye: “How many hours are in a day when you don’t spend half of them watching television? How long has it been since any of us really needed something that we wanted? The world we know is gone. In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living.”
To get a real look at the human condition, read about Rick Grimes trying to survive the zombie apocalypse, instead of just watching him. To see our society without electricity, and torn down to its essence, thumb through an issue instead of watching it on TV, and while you’re at it, get yourself a scarier dose of The Governor. Enjoy The Walking Dead in glorious black and white ink (if you dare).
In Kirkman’s own words: “Good zombie movies are thought-provoking, dramatic fiction, on par with any Oscar-worthy garbage that’s rolled out year after year. The Walking Dead will be the zombie movie that never ends.”
RIck Grimes in the TV show
Yeah, I know. I get it. With a movie or a TV show you can be in and out, done in an hour or so, and you don’t even have to use your hands. But have you considered all that you are missing? Maybe you have, and you’re okay with that. But some day, in the not-too-distant future, the power may go out and your toys may not work. What we call Life may collapse around you, as it did to Rick Grimes, and your TV and video player may go down with it. On that day you could still read a comic. You could still be right there with Eric Draven and Enid Coleslaw, and you just might see that the cult movies you used to love, and some of the most successful television you’d seen, all had comics to thank. Is it any surprise that the comic creators in each of these cases had a hand, themselves, in these popular film or TV adaptations? Could that be why we like them so much?
So, see you at the apocalypse.
…with my copy of Rocket Raccoon.