Oh dang you guys, the comic wraps up this week! THIS WEEK! I will probably do some blogging afterwards, and I’m hoping to maybe do a giveaway contest for a hardcopy of Friends With Boys (and maybe an original drawing), but I’m not sure yet what I want the contest to be. I want to make you guys work for your prizes! ;)
Anyway, this will probably be one of the last process blogs I’ll do. I’ve really appreciated the tremendous response I’ve gotten to talking about My Life as A Cartoonist, and writing down my work methods (and other thoughts on comics) have in many ways helped me clarify why I work that way. It’s weird, I feel so much more professional! Like my opinions are valid because I wrote them down. Weird, huh? Thank you so much for being a part of that.
Today I want to talk about adapting prose into comics, because that’s something I’m doing now, and something that seems to be … I dunno, popular in certain sections of the comic publishing world. I cannot say that I’ve read many prose-to-comics adaptations that are good (off the top of my head I can’t think of a single one I’d recommend). But I think adapting a novel to comics can be very rewarding, and also work very well, if it is done correctly.
First let me talk a bit about how I percieve a comic adaptation of a prose novel should go, using my old Hunger Games comic. Back in 2010 sometime I adapted the first couple pages of the first Hunger Games novel to comics, just for funsies. I was bored and unemployed, so I draw random comics. Here is the entire comic, 5 pages long, and it covers the first 4 pages of the book.
It seems like a stupid thing to say, but comics are a visual medium. They tell the story through pictures as much as they do words. Often when I pick up a comic adaptation of a prose novel, I am confronted by a huge wall of text, plastered all over the pages of the comic. The text is usually lifted straight from the prose novel. It seems that’s what people think a comic of a prose novel should be: an illustration with text slapped all over it.
I think it’s awful. I hate adaptations like that. Comics are visual. If you are a cartoonist translating a novel to comics, it is your job to take the words the author has written, and draw them. It is your challenge to make those drawings as evocative and moving as the prose.
In the Hunger Games novel, in the 4 pages I adapted, there is a section where Katniss talks about her relationship with her sister’s cantankerous cat, Buttercup. Katniss talks about how she tried to drown Buttercup when the cat was a kitten, and their relationship has never been good. But now, they are at least at peace, because Katniss’s sister loves Buttercup. I chose to illustrate those words on page 3, panels 5-7. We don’t know Katniss tried to drown Buttercup, or that her sister interceeded on Buttercup’s behalf, but we know Katniss and the cat have a bad relationship. I have drawn it there, in the way Katniss looks at Buttercup, in the way the cat flattens her ears at the girl. I could have had a big stupid wall of text in there, lifted directly from the book, but why? When you watch a movie adaptation of a book, does the director stick text from the novel right on to the screen? No, because movies are a visual medium. So are comics. You must convey the emotion, the setting, the relationships of the prose novel through your drawings.
I actually had a couple people email me after I did this little Hunger Games adaptation, asking me to “finish” the comic. They thought it was unfinished because there wasn’t text from the novel all over the comic.
Let me qualify this ramble against text-heavy comics by saying that there are times when a comic works brilliantly when it has a lot of text. I’m thinking specifically of books like Fun Home or Skim, which use a rich inner voice to paint very intimate character portraits. Seriously, those comics are so good. But they’re also very special, very personal stories told from a single character’s point of view. If you have a comic with multiple viewpoints and multiple plotlines that you’re all following, having a lot of inner character narration and walls of text is very tricky.
Anyway, I’m digressing. Point is, lots of text in comics: sometimes it works. But copying and pasting from novels on to a drawing and pretending that’s a legitimate comic makes me want to gnaw my arms off. BTW, feel free to recommend any prose to comic adaptations you think are good. I swear I cannot think of a single one … D:
And now … a peek into my current graphic novel with First Second, the follow up to Friends With Boys! Yay! And guess what? It’s an adaptation of a prose novel to comic form! Hurrah! Let’s put this behind a cut, because it’s getting long.
The graphic novel I’m currently drawing for First Second is called Voted Most Likely (I am about 70% sure that title will change), and is an adaptation of an unpublished Young Adult novel by a writer, Pru Shen. It’s about two guys in high school, one is a popular basketball player (who’s also depressed and struggling with his parents’ divorce) and the other is a robot-building nerd (who is aggressive and goes out and gets what he wants), and their weird, combative friendship. The story plays a bit with the Jocks/Nerd stereotypes, which I personally really appreciate, and really lets me stretch my comedy chops. It’s a funny, over the top story, and I’m having a lot of fun drawing it.
I had free reign to adapt the story as I saw fit. I was handed a 200+ page manuscript and told to go wild. I had my opinions on adapting a prose story, and told my editor up front that I didn’t plan to take a large amount of text from the story and paste it onto images; I wanted to adapt the story visually. My editor was all for it, and I think the book is going to be a lot of fun. I must admit, I really enjoy drawing all the boys! It’s been a while since I worked on a story that was boy-centric, and a great challange. I’m definitely going to come out the other side a much better artist and author.
Here is a section of the novel, followed by my adapted comic pages, so you can see what I chose to keep, and what to remove. Unfortunately the pages aren’t lettered, but you should be able to get the gist of the story.
Charlie looked apoplectic, on the verge of throwing an honest to God tantrum, a mangled HARDING FOR STUDENT BODY PRESIDENT flier still clutched in his left hand with the right fisting the collar of Nate’s shirt.
“What the hell is this?” Charlie asked, voice rising with every successive word.
“I’ve always had political aspirations,” Nate stalled.
He tried to ignore the rapt audience of the rest of their AP U.S. History class, half of whom were crammed into the doorway of their classroom and watching in undisguised glee, enjoying the theater and waiting for Mr. Tisdale to make an appearance. Joanna–that traitor–hadn’t even tried to stop Charlie when he’d stormed into the room, grabbed Nate by the arm, and dragged him out. “And you’ve already got all those duties as captain of the basketball team,” Nate said, smiling brightly.
Charlie shoved Nate further into the wall, but before Nate could say, “Okay, ow! You realize I have a spine in there, right?” Charlie was in his face, furious as he shouted:
“I knew something was up yesterday! I should have seen it coming! Did you not learn anything from my 16th birthday incident?”
“I only rented that pony to make you happy,” Nate said feelingly.
Charlie let go of Nate to tear at his own hair. “I cannot believe you!”
Nate pushed him away, tugging at his shirt, trying to smooth out his ruffled dignity–which was hard to do when your entire fifth period class was watching in prurient interest.
“Before you go any more wronged princess on me here,” Nate warned, “let’s stop pretending that you care about me running for class president or lying to you–in fact, let’s stop pretending you care about the cheerleaders getting their uniforms.”
Charlie made a frantic shushing noise and looked around, pale.
“You are such a wuss,” Nate said, revolted. “They’re cheerleaders, not the KGB, and you told me that Holly’s spent the last eight months pretending she doesn’t even know you’re alive–God only knows why you’re so scared of her.”
Nate had spent a small fortune and more than a year of his life putting together The Beast, gotten burned and cut and accidentally glued things to himself and then burned and cut some more attempting to unglue things from himself. He and the rest of his team had literally shed tears and blood over their creation. Weighed against all the hours lost to the dank and mildewed corners of his basement putting The Beast together–Nate couldn’t give two shakes about screwing over the pom-pom brigade, if that’s what it took to get to the contest.
They spent the next forty minutes failing one of Mr. Tisdale’s legendary tests–a one hundred question fill-in-the-blank final average killer–and despite himself, Nate caught Charlie’s eye halfway through the period so they could share a moment of solidarity. Five minutes after the lunch bell and just after Tisdale had pried the last test paper from the last frantically scribbling student, Joanna fell into step next to Nate, radiating curiosity.
“Is Charlie Nolan seriously afraid of the cheerleaders?” she asked, eyes tracking Charlie as he was corralled by his teammates further down the hall–laughing and passing the basketball one to another, talking about their upcoming game against some other basketball team Nate knew nothing about.
And now my pages!
The scene concludes with Joanna (curly haired girl) saying “Is Charlie Nolan seriously afraid of the Cheerleaders?”
Anyway, I hope you can see the choices I made to make the scene work, and work in a way that is not dragged out. I mean, it was a 200 page manuscript and ended up being a nearly 300 page comic. If I’d tried to pack in every single thing from this scene, it would have been a 1000 page comic. And there is no way I’d be able to make a living. I have to say, I’ve never felt so much like a director as I do when working on this comic. I’m literally taking someone else’s story and adapting it with my visuals … it’s pretty cool!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this sneak peak at Voted Most Likely, and that you’ll keep an eye out for it. It’s slotted to come out mid-2013, and right now I’m in the drive of my life to get it done. I think it’s going to be a comic that all of you can really enjoy … and just like Friends With Boys it has 1) underage drinking, 2) facepunching (the one part of the story I added! hahah!) and 3) people having meaningful conversations under a bed. Sadly, there are no ghosts or zombies, though. It’s actually the very first comic I’ve ever made without a supernatural/genre twist! I’m becoming a grown up comic book artist, I am.