The Adaptation Process


The above panels are from a webcomic by prominent comics blogger Chris Sims, posted about two weeks before the release of the film adaptation of Watchmen. They parody what many fans feared at the time – that the plot of Watchmen the movie would deviate from that of the graphic novel so substantially that there beloved classic would be ruined. Though Sims’ webcomic was meant to be humourous, it accurately reflect the fears of many fans.

Because of those fears, Zach Snyder, the director of Watchmen, decided to go for a very literal adaptation of the book. Most fans were pleased. Reviews at comic book news sites like Newsarama, Comic Book Resources and video game news site IGN praised the faithfulness of the adaptation.

However, box office returns were rather disappointing. The movie cost around $130 million to make, and only made around $185 million worldwide. Reception among professional movie critics was divided. Review aggregator Metacritic gave it 56 out of 100, while graded it at 64% positive, barely “fresh” according to their criteria.

Many critics blamed the faithfulness of the adaptation. David Edelstein of New York Magazine, for example, wrote in his review, “They’ve made the most reverent adaptation of a graphic novel ever. But this kind of reverence kills what it seeks to preserve. The movie is embalmed.” Similarly, writing in The Washington Post, Philip Kennicott called the movie a “bore” that “sinks under the weight of its reverence for the original.”

Watchmen was a tricky case. Had any more been changed, the outcry from the comic book community would almost certainly have been drastic, given the reverence for the book.

Thankfully in the case of Runaways, this problem would be not nearly as monumental as it as in the case of Watchmen.

Art by Humberto Ramos, who REALLY doesn't know how to draw Asian eyes. GEEZ.

Though it has a loyal following, Runaways is a relatively low-selling comicbook. According the website The Comic Chronicles, the best selling Runaways comic of 2010, Runaways Vol. 10: Rock Zombies, only placed 483rd in the year-end list of the 1000 best-selling graphic novels and trade paperbacks. It sold only 2,000 copies.

Now, those figures reflect how many comics were ordered by retailers through Diamond Comic Distributors. It does not reflect books sold through online retailers. Furthermore, in September, Marvel Comics, the publisher of Runaways, switched from Diamond to Hachette for its distribution for traditional book stores, which might also skew the sales figures for Runaways.

Nevertheless, these sales figures reflect the fact that Runaways is not exactly the institution that Watchmen is, and that there is therefore far more leeway in adapting it for the screen.

Furthermore, whereas Watchmen was a one-off story, albeit told in a 12-issue miniseries, Runaways is an ongoing story. This means that the actual plot is not as important as it is something like Watchmen.

That is not to say that we should not be concerned about fan reactions at all. For instance, in the ongoing real life adaptation of Runaways, there was some controversy over the casting call for the character of Nico Minoru due to the fact that the notice did not specify that the character was Asian-American. The story was picked up by several other sites and Marvel had to revise the casting call. That sort of thing creates bad publicity.

In any adaptation process, a balance has to be made In between being accessible to new audiences and retaining the fans of the source material. In McClouds text Understanding Comics “Blood in the Gutter” he states “the art of comics is as subtractive an art as it is additive and finding the balance between too much and too little is cruical to comics creators…” (McCloud 85). Although Watchmen as a comic was successful at achieveing this balance, when adapted into a film it concentrated too much on additive detail and less on the subtractive detail. Creating a very literal adaptation which sadly did not achieve the success it was aiming for.
In our case, our group would definitely lean away from the Watchmen way of doing things, and maintain the balance between additive and subtractive detail.

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