Friday, November 15, 2013

Week Twelve: Dan Clowes and the Comic Book

This week we examined the graphic novel, or as Dan Clowes prefers, the “comic book”.  His works, Ghost World and Art School Confidential, were humorous and in some cases relatable.  Both examine an awkward time after graduating from high school and the transformations associated with adolescence. 

Ghost World was my favorite of the two and having seen the film prior to reading, it was interesting to analyze the adaptation.  Some scenes from the comic book, such as the diner scene with Weird Al and the girls’ obsession with the “Satanists”, were depicted very similarly in the film.  Much had to be added, however, in order to have a strong enough plotline and appropriate length.   

In class we discussed how comic books are commonly adapted into films.  My first thought was, “of course – the story and visuals are already laid out for the director.  It must be easy.”  After reevaluating, however, the challenges of such an adaptation became clearer.  When turning pre-established dialogue and image into a motion picture, it’s the director’s duty to mimic, or at least build upon, the visions of the artist.  The director must take into consideration the characters, setting, and mood, leaving very little leeway or artistic license.  Of course the director could take his own approach, but he might leave comic book fans disappointed by giving their favorite characters a different look or attitude. 

That being said, I think Terry Swigoff did Clowes’ work justice.  Ghost World is incredibly quirky, awkward, and presents two distinct personalities that seem angry about absolutely everything and treat life as a joke.  That’s not to sound negative, though, for Enid and Rebecca are amusing and even lovable to an extent, and Swigoff seems to have captured them very well.  In addition, his camera angles, stage, and even the strange dance sequence at the beginning all echo the original tone set by Clowes. 

I think audiences should be impressed by the success of transferring a comic book to the big screen.  Novels may have a book cover that set a “starting point” for a film director; Chris Columbus used Mary Grandpre’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone illustration as a model for casting Daniel Radcliffe.  However, there was plenty of room for establishing his personal vision.

Picture books are on the same turf as comic books.  The animation of The Polar Express greatly resembled Chris Van Allsburg’s original work.  It wouldn’t have felt right without visuals similar to the children’s book illustrations.   How the Grinch Stole Christmas is another great example, especially because they turned cartoon-like images into a live action presentation.  The wonderfully whimsical Dr. Seuss was certainly evident throughout Ron Howard’s adaptation.

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