One Fan's Opinion

Thu, January 7th, 2010 at 3:28pm PST

Comic Books
Erik Larsen, Columnist

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So - I have a Twitter account.

And yeah, that's great. Now everybody can follow me and know how many of my back hairs have turned gray and other fascinating subjects, but the 140-character limit really makes exploring any topic in any kind of depth challenging (to get an idea of how few characters 140 is - I would have had to have stopped saying the above right before I got to the phrase "other fascinating subjects," midway through the third sentence of this column). That, or you end up posting a gazillion times and it annoys the hell out of everybody who was following you just to hear pasta recipes and back hair updates.

Some have suggested a blog - others, more frequent updates on my Facebook page or in the graveyard called MySpace, but I thought - what the hell - I had a column on CBR at one point. Why not ramble there whenever a rant rears its ugly head?

And so - I'm back.

I was talking about comics in comparison to movies and TV shows and cartoons and whatnot.

We started talking about the Savage Dragon cartoon. "Savage Dragon" ran on the USA network for two seasons, for a total of 26-episodes. As many of you know, the Savage Dragon animated series is not available on DVD officially, but it's all over YouTube. It's not commercially or legally available, but it's on YouTube, and there are bootlegs available at nearly every convention I've frequented. Because I wasn't super hands-on with the show, I feel oddly detached from it - it's on YouTube illegally, but I don't really give a shit. I feel more strongly about the bootleggers because they're profiting from my creation. The videos on YouTube are shitty quality, but free. If you want to watch shitty quality videos, well, there you go. I own the character, but not the show. Not sure what the contract with Universal said, and I'm too lazy and apathetic to look it up. I think we can both get in each other's way and prevent it from being put out, but I'm not entirely sure. Thus far, Universal (who owns it) doesn't seem all that interested in doing anything with it. It's under their radar.

At some point I'd like to release it commercially, and my imagined audio commentary would begin, "Whoa, you paid for this? Y'see, that was your first mistake - your second was loading it in your DVD player..."

In any case, the cartoon is a pretty stripped down, cleaned up and bland version of the Savage Dragon comic book. There's no character progression to speak of. You can watch the episodes in any order you feel like. A few voices are pretty good, while others (including Dragon) are woefully miscast. It's not awesome, it's not awful, it's more meh.

Sure, I'd allow or work on another Savage Dragon cartoon if the opportunity presented itself. It was still cool in a way to see my character move around on a screen and come to life - even if it was a bland, sanitized life that didn't grow or change.

Some folks asked why it wasn't a straight adaptation of the comic book or why it had no real character progression. The answer is that my comic book was too racy for a Saturday morning cartoon show and that, because of how it was produced, we couldn't be assured episodes would run in any particular order. But in addition to that, the comics are too short. A comic book would have run maybe ten minutes, and we'd need at least twice that. And then there was the problem of guest stars - I didn't own every character that ran through the book, and I would have to jump through hoops to make that happen on TV. Ultimately, it just seemed a better option, but fans, being fans, tend to persist.

We're talking "Savage Dragon: the Motion Picture." A script is being hammered out and deals are being made and pitches and all that fun stuff. The script is based roughly on the Savage Dragon series (and its initial miniseries) up through #21. I mentioned that there are a lot of revisions and alterations, and a flurry of tweets followed from frantic fans asking why I would dare alter a single line from the Savage Dragon comic they loved so much.

I started to go into it there, but space was limited and I didn't want to tweet a hundred tweets on the subject. The simple reality is, again, a faithful adaptation simply isn't possible. I knew that, and so I recommend using a chunk of the series as the spine of the story and taking liberties with it.

The thing is - a faithful adaptation would not work. A single comic book would translate to 15-20 minutes of screen time, but taking a string of ten issues as a script would make for an awful, rambling movie. Works great as a comic - and as the story of a character's life - but not as a movie.

Now, not every comic book is that way. These days, a lot of miniseries are written for the intent of being made into a movie. The trade is a movie pitch - the art is storyboards - it's ready to go - film it! But that's not what I did and it's not what I do. My goal always is to write and draw a good comic book. I didn't get into this business to write or direct movies. I got into this business to write and draw comic books. "Savage Dragon" is a swell comic book, but it's no movie script.

A good movie needs a certain kind of structure. My comic works as a comic - not as a movie. A comic can set up a plot and pay it off in 30 issues - a movie can't. In an adaptation, you've gotta pick and choose.

As much as I adored Stan Lee & Steve Ditko's "Amazing Spider-Man," "Amazing Fantasy" #15 married with "Amazing Spider-Man" #1 through 9 would have been a shitty movie. There's no closure, there's no character arc. It's a string of awesome adventures, sure, but it would just ramble on for a couple hours and abruptly end. Not a good movie.

Same deal with Savage Dragon. You've got to look at it and choose a character arc and a story spine. Movie begins here - Chicago's gone to hell - everything looks hopeless - they need help - BOOM - there's Savage Dragon, a super-powered amnesiac found naked in a burning vacant lot. The spine becomes him finding a life and growing into his role as a police officer and then facing Overlord. I like the comic, too - I'm really fond of it - but I'm familiar enough with the two mediums to know that what works for one doesn't necessarily work for another.

And that's part of the problem - knowing the mediums and their limitations, advantages and whatnot. A number of writers from TV have worked their way into doing comics, and some get it immediately and some don't. When talking about comic books and what comprises a comic book, some equate a comic book with literature and others with movies or TV shows. Some will say that an original graphic novel is the equivalent of a movie, and that a single issue of a comic book is the equivalent of a TV show. A trade paperback is the DVD.

Thing is - comics aren't that. And they're not really the equivalent of chapters in books, either - not even chapters of books that have been serialized in magazines. A reader may buy a magazine, and that serialized chapter may be one of the reasons they buy it, but it's seldom the sole reason. A reader buys a comic book because they want to read that comic book, and its contents are usually that one story and nothing else. If you find a chapter of a book serialized in a magazine unsatisfying, you still have a whole magazine to read and enjoy. If you don't like an issue of a comic book, you don't like the entirety of that comic book and you may not have a reason to purchase another.

The Comics/TV episode analogy only goes so far as well. Some writers from TV seem to view a six-issue stretch as a single one-hour episode and an individual comic book as a segment from one commercial break to the next. That's where things get really dicey. Y'see, an isolated comic book really does need to be a satisfying episode on its own, or a reader is unlikely to find it engaging enough to continue with. Readers wait for the trade when individual comic books become too insubstantial, and a small, unenthusiastic readership can result in a publisher opting not to collect a series.

American comics aren't manga. Manga's more like the magazine with the serialized article I mentioned earlier. In their original form, Japanese comics are 300 or more pages long, weekly, printed on pulpy, crappy newsprint and they serialize dozens of different strips in each book. Each strip can afford to be a fraction of a story because there are a mess of them running in each book - not so with American comics. In America an individual comic book is out there on the stands on its own and it should stand on its own. It should have something of a spine - a progression - a purpose.

There are those that argue that the traditional comic book is dead or dying and that the real endgame is the trade. That's the DVD collection. That's what will, with any luck, be kept in print and placed on shelves to be read and reread. I disagree. I think comics have their purpose and that a comic book has an ingredient that no collection will ever have - an ingredient that will forever make it that much more thrilling and that much more exciting than any collection will ever have.

Time.

When a reader can simply turn the page and find out what happens after a cliffhanger, it's really not much of a cliffhanger, is it? A monthly comic book can deliver that, "holy shit, now what's going to happen?" moment better than any trade ever could, because you're kept in suspense. The answer isn't there and you can't do anything to make that month pass any faster, no matter what you do.

You guys with your trades and your DVDs - you're like babies. And when you cry for that titty, that titty is right there - it appears as if by magic. You're a bunch of crybabies, and those of you wishing for the demise of the monthly comic book and the rise of a trade only really are the biggest babies of the lot.

With those writers that treat comics like a segment from one commercial to the next - I'm with you - nobody wants to drop a few bucks on a fragment of an episode, but a good comic book is a wonder to behold. And I'll be there for that, month after month.

But that's one fan's opinion. Feel free to have one of your own.

TAGS:  one fan's opinion, savage dragon, erik larsen

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