The Comic Book Film Adaptation by Liam Burke (book review)

September 18, 2017 | By | 6 Replies More

Liam Burke’s book, ‘The Comic Book Film Adaptation’, is different to others on the subject I’ve read in recent months as he has been able to interview, albeit briefly, and quote from various sources. I think the prize one in the introduction is from Paul Levitz who explains the problem of which version of Batman, let alone story type, you want to base a film version of the Dark Knight on. It did make me ponder on whether this is why the comicbook publishers are doing all kinds of variants now to ensure no director can say they did such and such a version first. It also becomes something of a mish-mash when, say, film version costumes, end up in the comicbooks and both sides feed off each other creatively. I have to admit some of it is for the good. I mean, for the Batman to wear his old skintights he has no protection against violent felons. All of this and I’m only in the introduction.

Burke’s contention that super-hero films came into their own with advances in CGI and then post-9/11 shouldn’t have been an either or but a combination of both. I would also add that we are now in a period where parents and even grand-parents were brought up either reading comicbooks or know what they are, thus widening their appeal across a larger audience. You don’t have to explain them so much or feel ridiculed.

I had to give a wry smile at the comparison of westerns to super-heroes where the hero seeks justice after the death of a parent or loved one and Burke forgets that this was also one of the key motivations of a little known 1977 film called ‘Star Wars’. It’s a very old trope.

Equally, Burke uses bacterial growth model as his graph matrix to show the demise of the western movie rather than recognising the Boolean averages Mexican hat graph. His view of the rise of the super-hero version of the graph is more like a series of jumps in comparison. Something I think he neglects is how long it takes to put one of these movies together with much of the time spent getting the CGI effects completed than the live action performances. It takes a while to ensure films are there annually.

Likewise, the reason why many former comicbook readers don’t go and buy the comics after seeing the film is, apart from the incredibly high prices current individual comics sell for, the current versions of the super-heroes aren’t the same as when we grew up. Even if you bought them in graphic novel volumes, there’s a lot of new back history, little of it relating to the films, to catch up on. I also think we’re used to alternative versions without adding another one not related to the films to the list.

There’s a lot here I agree with. About the only thing I think needs an amendment is Burke’s comments on ‘V For Vendetta’. Although DC Comics wanted it coloured for their reprint, it wasn’t done by American colourists but in the UK and supervised because they wanted subdued not bright colours.

Burke uses Stan Lee and John Buscema’s book, ‘How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way’, as the dynamics that is being applied to comicbook films which I don’t contest. It’s still the best book to understand super-hero dynamics. I did however recently discover DC Comics have their own Guidebook version from publisher Watson-Guptill spread over at least 4 books, a 5th if you include writing, but not looked at yet, despite being released in 2002 and don’t appear to be in regular print. If nothing else, it demonstrates how little impact they’ve had compared to the Marvel book which is in how many prints now.

Probably the biggest problem with this book is the number of footnotes. 28 pages at the back of the book and most containing important information. I know scholarly authors write their books like the way they write their theses but surely, for the mass public to read their books, they either need to incorporate the information into the main text or have the footnotes on the relevant pages. It isn’t as though it will change the page count much.

Apart from that, there is a lot of useful information here that should make you think and just how quickly the super-hero or comicbook film has become its own genre. Considering that there are 3 pages of them listed at the back of the book and money made, I doubt if any studio can ignore their profit-making potential. Whether the bubble will burst is debatable. The failures so far don’t seem to have dented the enthusiasm. Whether there have been enough to pick out the absolutely perfect comicbook film is more debatable. Nevertheless, Liam Burke shows the mechanics of the film and what the directors have done to accommodate the artistic style. I’ve even learnt a new term in ‘Dutch framing’ which is at a camera tilt.

GF Willmetts

September 2017

(pub: University Press Of Mississipi. 372 page illustrated indexed hardback. Price: £56.95 (UK), $60.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-62846-203-6. NB: Paperback: $30.00 (US), £25.50 (UK))

check out websites: www.upress.state.ms.us and www.eurospanbookstore.com

Category: Books, Comics, Films, Superheroes

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

Comments (6)

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  1. avatar DMcCunney says:

    “I think the prize one in the introduction is from Paul Levitz who explains the problem of which version of Batman, let alone story type, you want to base a film version of the Dark Knight on. It did make me ponder on whether this is why the comicbook publishers are doing all kinds of variants now to ensure no director can say they did such and such a version first.”

    No, that’s not why publishers do it.

    “Likewise, the reason why many former comicbook readers don’t go and buy the comics after seeing the film is, apart from the incredibly high prices current individual comics sell for, the current versions of the super-heroes aren’t the same as when we grew up.”

    It’s all about the *money*. A while back, a member of a mailing list I’m on who is a comics fan talked about how high quality scans of the books were available online the day after release, he could help track where they came from, and who did he speak to at Marvel and DC to help put a stop to the piracy? The short answer was “No one, because they don’t *care*.”

    At this point, the economic value of superheroes is characters to be licensed for film and TV adaptations. Marvel made more money from licensing Spiderman for the *first* film than they made from the entire run of printed comics (*including*, I believe, the newspaper syndicated strips.) Following films were pure gravy. The printed books are essentially test beds to develop characters which might *become* licensable properties.

    And comics fans really should be used to changes over time. Even if you only get the printed books, long standing characters have been changed over the course of the comic’s existance, as publishers try to make them more attractive and relevant to current audiences. (I stopped reading Marvel comics in the late 60’s when the angst level suffered by the characters got to be too much for me. I’d stopped reading DC comics earlier out of boredom.)
    ______
    Dennis

    • avatar UncleGeoff says:

      Hello Dennis
      In terms of cost, I was going from the perspective of the older fan not wanting to go back into comicbooks full time.
      Knowing the American departmentalisation, the money from licensing doesn’t go back into the comics but to the parent company and the share-holders which is why comicbook costs haven’t come down.
      If you were coming back to the comicbooks today, the number of re-imagings and changes, not to mention the number of failures from these from both of the main two would make anyone wonder what they should take an interest in. It isn’t just characters but the entire universes. On top of that, the current regime is to do massive epics than the more, shall we say ‘conventional’ adventures we were brought up on.
      Geoff

      • avatar DMcCunney says:

        “In terms of cost, I was going from the perspective of the older fan not wanting to go back into comicbooks full time.”

        Whether you are likely to do that depends on the book and the characters. If you care enough, you might still read the printed comics, but you might not follow as many as you once did.

        “Knowing the American departmentalisation, the money from licensing doesn’t go back into the comics but to the parent company and the share-holders which is why comicbook costs haven’t come down.”

        Unconnected. What makes you think comic book costs could come down?

        If nothing else, comic books are priced to at least cover their cost of production, and that has risen. We are a long way from when the title of Dick Lupoff’s “All in Color for a Dime” history of comics was a true statement. (I’m old enough to remember when it was true, and that was 50 years ago.)

        And as mentioned, the publishers aren’t really trying to make money on the printed books. They have no incentive to reduce the price of the printed books to sell more copies even if they *did* apply revenues generated from film licensing to it. They sell enough to cover the costs of doing it, and to indicate which properties might become candidates for licensing.

        Fundamentally, whether you want to buy printed comics and whether you can afford them is your problem, not the publisher’s. They don’t care whether you come back or not, and there is no reason why they should.
        ______
        Dennis

        • avatar UncleGeoff says:

          Hello Dennis
          Whatever the choice, the films don’t match up to the comicbooks or else the sales would have gone up comparable to the films.
          Had some of the licensing money gone back into the comics then some of the costing might have come down. The situation is still pretty much as before. The major production cost comes from selling advertising space. If it doesn’t do that, then the price goes up.
          Neither of the Big Two allow new comicbooks to develop a following anymore neither. Again, all down to money.
          Geoff

          • avatar DMcCunney says:

            “Whatever the choice, the films don’t match up to the comicbooks or else the sales would have gone up comparable to the films.”

            Nonsense. The audience for the films is an order of magnitude *greater* than the audience for the printed books. The vast majority of those who go to see the films may never have *read* the books on which they were based, and won’t be concerned with fidelity to the books. Nor would I expect any of that audience to *start* reading the book because they’d seen the film. If they liked the film, they’ll be waiting for the next one.

            “Had some of the licensing money gone back into the comics then some of the costing might have come down.”

            Nope. The economics don’t work that way. The publishers will *not* use film/TV licensing revenue to *subsidize* the books so they can be sold cheaper. They have no reason to do so.

            “The situation is still pretty much as before. The major production cost comes from selling advertising space. If it doesn’t do that, then the price goes up.”

            I think you mean “the major *revenue* comes from selling advertising space”.

            But comics have the same issues affecting *any* magazine publication that relies on ads to pay the bills. Magazine publishing in general is hurting, because ad dollars are finite, and adversisers want measureable *results*. Advertising has increasingly moved online in consequence.

            Subsidizing the price of comic books to sell them cheaper would not boost sales enough to affect that. And advertisers are concerned with demographics. They want ads to be seen by people who might want to buy what they sell. What are the demographics for comic books? Who reads them? What advertising might be placed there that has a hope of selling what the advertisers offer? It won’t be the sort of stuff the comics used to have, because the current comics reads are no longer children. The medium is aimed at and read by grownups.

            “Neither of the Big Two allow new comicbooks to develop a following anymore neither. Again, all down to money.”

            They still do allow books to develop followings: as mentioned, printed books are test beds for stuff that might become licensable. But how long they’ll give a title to develop a following has probably dropped. It’s analogous to TV – how long do you let a series run before you decide it isn’t working and cancel it? In TV, that window is short, because it costs so much to develoip a series and shoot and air an episode.

            Along that line, I was bemused by the current Agents of Shield series, which was slow out of the box and taking a while to develop a following. What saved it was that it was “in-house”. The studio that made it, the distributor that sold it, and the network on which it aired were all DisneyCo properties. This gave it a longer shelf life. In other circumstances, it would have been off the air a while ago.
            ______
            Dennis

          • avatar UncleGeoff says:

            Dennis
            A lot of people go to see films irrespective of their source. A successful film will attract more people, most of whom wouldn’t be comicbook fans originally. When a film like ‘Green Hornet’ didn’t get a similar word-of-mouth, it didn’t get the extra viewers. We are talking about older comicbook fans who might have been stirred to take up their old interest though and this hasn’t happened which makes my comments valid.
            Considering the comicbook readers of today are less in number today than when we were young means they are failing to recruit the next generation. Ultimately, all they will really be interested in is the films, which gets much of its source material ideas from the comics which will no longer exist and have no part in the make-up of the next generation of people to create more films. We’ve all seen the failures of the past when the people creating them have no real interest in the medium. If the bubble bursts, no films and no comics. That would be something that wouldn’t be recoverable. One needs to feed on the other.
            I haven’t checked out many of the current comicbooks but they do have less advertising than in our day and if it reflects the diminishing newspaper sales thanks to the Net, it can’t be depended on for revenue.
            DC’s failure with one of their New 52 realities recently testifies that even modern comicbook readers don’t like all these changes and it was gone within a year speaks for itself. They want instant returns these days.
            TV series aren’t run in quite the same way as comicbooks. There’s a pre-sale of half or full seasons world-wide. Shows have been pulled before giving a finale all the time in our genre. The clout with SHIELD was it was connecting links to the films that kept it going long enough to capture viewers. In contrast, ‘Gotham’ is faring less well.
            Geoff

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