When bringing a popular TV show to comics, nailing the tone, characters and continuity of the series is a must in selling the printed continuation to die hard fans. And making a straight adaptation of the series biggest stories brings an added layer of precision and pressure with it. Luckily for IDW's currently running "Angel: A Hole In The World" mini series (which adapts a popular episode written and directed by show mastermind Joss Whedon), the writer at the helm of the adaptation has experience in this arena.
Scott Tipton helped bring both the classic puppet-themed episode "Smile Time" and the series finale "Not Fade Away" to comics last year. So when it came time to make the dramatic, tragic tale of "A Hole In The World" to comics, IDW called Tipton back to the job as well as artist Elena Casagrande. With the third issue of "Angel: A Hole In The World" hitting comic shops this month, CBR invited Tipton and Casagrande to pull back the curtain on their adaptation from the nuts and bolts of pacing a comic series to match a TV presentation to pulling off covers that evoke the best elements of the episode.
Scott Tipton: I’ve been lucky enough over the past year or so to have been chosen to adapt some of the most popular episodes of Joss Whedon’s series "Angel" to comic-book form. The first, "Smile Time," was a lot of fun – one of the more fun episodes of the series, “Smile Time” was a Muppets-style action romp, with lots of room for artists David Messina and Elena Casagrande and myself to have some fun with the story and even add a new scene or two. The second, "Not Fade Away," was a more by-the-numbers re-presentation of the series finale by myself and artist Stephen Mooney, in which we felt it best to play it strictly by the book, since the episode was much more serious in tone, and so beloved by the fans.
Our current project, however, "A Hole In The World," brought with it a whole new set of challenges. Artist Elena Casagrande and myself were tasked with adapting what’s considered the most tragic and emotionally wrenching storyline in the entire series, the slow and agonizing death of Team Angel member Fred, and her rebirth of sorts as the ancient goddess Illyria. It’s Joss Whedon at his best, and horrifyingly compelling television, but it’s not exactly action-packed, and depends more on tragedy and pathos than punches and kicks to tell its story. I had to admit, I was a little concerned. Elena, however, had a somewhat different reaction:
Elena Casagrande: For me, it was "Woo-Hoo! I'll be back on 'Angel' and doing one of my favorite episodes!" I was very enthusiastic. I was looking forward to drawing Illyria, her ancient power and the wonderful detachment in her icy eyes. But I was also interested in capturing the love between Fred and Wes, and then their pain and their sadness.
I was worried about capturing the likenesses of all the actors; I wanted it to feel like it was really them. I think that by the final issue, I'm on the right track! I was concerned also about my ability to achieve the same feelings of the episode; I know it's impossible, but I think that in its differences from the televised episode, the comic adaptation conveys its feelings to the reader, and if I could achieve this, I'm happy.
Scott: So where do we even start? First off for both of us was watching the episodes in question, “A Hole in the World” and “Shells,” and then watching them again. And then watching them again. I’d only seen the episodes once, upon their original broadcast, and they certainly didn’t disappoint; not only were they some of the best work of the series, they were also brutally sad in places, while surprisingly funny in others – par for the course for a Whedon series, when you think about it.
Casagrande: Before, I had watched them two times, once in Italian and once in the original English. To prepare for the project, I watched them about three times, but often I re-watched the individual scenes every time I needed to consult one of them.
Scott: From there, we had to figure out just how to break up the two episodes over the course of five issues. This required one more viewing of the episodes, this time with pen and paper in hand, taking down every individual scene over the course of the two shows, to give us a list of every sequence we’d need to include in our allotted 110 pages. (And unlike "Smile Time," there was no thought of adding new scenes to his adaptation: not only did it just seem like heresy in a story this serious, but these episodes are so dense, there just wasn’t the room for it.)
Casagrande: I would have liked to, but it was very hard to think of what was really worth including.
Scott: With our master scene list in hand, we then went over the sequences in question and gave each a tag, SHORT, MEDIUM or LONG, indicating how much time we felt we needed to give each scene, not just in terms of action, but for emotional intensity. Since so much of this story is the slow deterioration of the Fred character and Wesley’s helplessness as he’s forced to watch the love of his life die, we knew we had to make sure that those moments got just as much emphasis as the flashier action scenes.
Once we had a rough idea of how the pacing would go, we tried to find four satisfying chapter breaks so as to split the story into five issues, and as luck would have it, things fell right into place; so much so that we were able to take the unusual step of plotting out the entire miniseries, page by page, all at once right from the start.
Casagrande: It's unusual for me to be so involved in the plotting of the series from the very beginning. It was very satisfying and interesting. I really enjoy working as a team: I can better understand the intent of the writer and the writer can understand my work. It's really beautiful to work so very close, and it also makes the process itself much easier.
Scott: With the entire series now plotted out, we decided to get a little ambitious with the covers. Elena suggested doing a mosaic cover, connecting all five issues thematically with the opening maw from Illyria’s sarcophagus, symbolizing the moment when Fred was lost.
Casagrande: I wanted something to give to the readers that would "push" them to buy issue after issue, but also something that links the whole story of the two episodes.
Scott: After we hashed out what the five covers should be, Elena did a rough concept sketch:
That was followed up by a more detailed layout, which went to IDW Bossman Chris Ryall for approval.
Casagrande: The cover concepts are arranged by a specific design. In the first cover, Wes and Fred are together and happy, and in the last they are enemies. In the second cover there's destruction, and in the fourth, creation. And the "nitty-gritty" of everything, the cause of it all was in the center, in Illyria's circle. There's also a color-link between them; if you notice, the color palette changes from the red to the blue, as if to recreate the life and the death...and the passage from Fred to Illyria.
Tipton: Chris loved the idea, but was concerned that the cover concept for issue #3 might not be visually strong enough.
We then came up with two alternative covers, with Chris opting for the second one:
Here’s the final result, which Angel fans will be able to assemble for themselves once all five issues have been released.
With Elena working on the covers, I began work on the script for issue #1. Working from a copy of the teleplay, I began converting the rather sparsely detailed screenplay into a full comics script. Although I had seen the episodes recently at that point, I elected not to review them again while scripting, preferring to let the action in the screenplay dictate how the “camera” angles and panel-to-panel pacing play out. While I always write full-script, describing the page layouts for each page and all the action and perspectives for each panel, I’m also lucky enough to be working with extremely talented collaborators, and always tell them to feel free to do things differently if it makes the page stronger.
Casagrande: I always follow what the writer wrote and then I try to give it what it needs to be as readable as possible. I consult the video before every scene, especially to help me recreate the background. There are a lot of settings that you seem to know, but when you have to draw them in different situations (like for the laboratory scenes in issue #3) you have to recreate them in 3D in your mind. I like to be as close to the original as possible.
I think the toughest to achieve were the sequences of Angel and Spike in England. The scene is really dark on the screen, but I had also to make it understandable on the page.
Tipton: One of the real challenges in doing these Whedon episode adaptations, quite frankly, is making sure to retain all the dialogue. Whedon’s dialogue is such an integral part of what makes the show so popular, I’m loathe to cut any of it for space. I’m always afraid the line I might cut is some reader’s favorite. As a result, we were working extra hard to make sure the dialogue flowed naturally with the panel-to-panel storytelling, with Elena even providing marked-up guides for when we would turn the issues in to be lettered.
Casagrande: Whenever I had made some changes on the script, I'd try to provide the guides in order to ease the work for the letterer. The dialogue is so important in these episodes, we want to make sure the timing is just right!
Tipton: In this age of online streaming video and DVD season sets, with more availability for classic TV than ever before, some people have questioned the need for these kind of direct episode adaptations.
Casagrande: I think that if you're an Angel fan, the comic version is another fun and exciting way to experience the series, and for those who never saw the show, well, it's a really good story!
Tipton: For me, it's no different than adapting a film to the Broadway stage, or translating a novel to the movies: the very nature of reconceptualizing the material is a transformative one. The mind takes in the material as comics in a different way than it does as a motion picture, and if we've done our jobs right and worked hard enough, everything we love and admire about the material will show up on the page as well.
If you ask us, that's the only thing that makes it worth doing.
The third issue of "A Hole In The World" goes on sale in February. Issues 1 and 2 are still available at comic shops nationwide.