Thanks to a string of successes stretching back to “Batman” in 1989 and taking center stage in 2012 with “The Avengers,” comic books clearly have fallen into favor among the Hollywood crowd.
With crisp visuals that provide a snapshot of key story elements and action, comics have turned into the perfect source material for screen adaptation.
Sure, there are plenty of failures, but the successes have been especially rewarding for both the viewers and the film companies.
Just this week I was looking through Dark Horse Comics’ 2007 reprinting of “Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser,” a collection of comic stories of two rogues’ adventures in the steamy, sweaty and stinky fantasy city called Lankhmar.
In fact, the comic company stated back then that their prime reason for getting the comic published was to jumpstart a film franchise.
The series was originally published by Epic Comics in 1995 with art by Mike Mignola. But hold on — Mignola, creator of Hellboy, isn’t the creator of of Fafhrd or the Gray Mouser, and neither is Howard Chaykin, the comics’ writer.
Instead, the characters trace their origins back to writer Fritz Leiber, who introduced the characters way back in the 1939. Their stories continued to be published for decades and their popularity grew accordingly, even if they never reached the cult status of the likes of Conan the Barbarian.
In a Comic Book Resources article, writer Chaykin sums up the enduring appeal of Lieber’s stories: “It’s smarter, it was more urbane, it had a definite kink to it that was an edge to the material, and it was funny.”
But if the stuff is so darn great, why hasn’t someone been interested in making a movie?
Do movie producers need pretty pictures to get their attention?
Are they so dense they can’t just see what gets reprinted again and again?
Don’t they realize people are still talking about these stories, years after their publication?
Can’t they just e-mail Comics on the Brain and ask “Hey, what would you like to see turned into a movie?”
The apparent answer to all those questions seems to be “No.”
Instead, it has become more than apparent that movies, especially high-concept ones, have to be spelled out first in another medium first, and lately that key medium seems to be comic books.
In a sense, comics can serve as the Cliffs Notes for movie directors too busy to discover the original format for the story. Comics are quick and easy reads, after all.
You can finish one sitting on the toilet.
More importantly, comic books offer the script, storyboards, costume designs, camera and lighting guides in one simple package. Once you’ve got the comic, half the work’s done.
Hire some actors, turn the camera on and you’re set to go.
So, if you’ve got a great idea for a movie buzzing around in your head, CotB suggests that you make it a comic first. If you don’t, don’t come complaining to us if it takes a few decades to make it on to the silver screen.
(And yes, by the way, all those Fafhrd and Gray Mouser comics … and the short stories that preceded them … are darn good. Go check them out.)