Here at Comics on Film at Movies.com we talk a lot about the characters that have been pervading the comic book medium for over 75 years in the forms of capes, cowls and formfitting costumes. While those stories are definitely popular and fill in much of the desire the world has for its modern mythology, an entirely other sect of comic book storytelling is more often regarded as the true critical darling of the medium. It was in independent and/or creator-owned comics that many of today's top creators (in both comics and now in Hollywood) got their start, telling meaningful stories that came from the heart that weren't attached to characters and universes owned by corporate entities.
While superhero comics have their devoted fans and will always have a presence in our lives, it's independent and creator-owned comics that more often test the boundaries of the medium, away from what can sometimes be restrictive, dense continuities and rigid editorial rules for corporate characters. The best indie stories can often be "done-in-one" issues, or even single story arcs, but even the ongoing titles are not bound by the same rules as superhero comics. This can make them fresh and exciting for readers, as well as very fertile material to adapt to either the big or small screen. In that spirit, let's take a look at five creator-owned series that would likely make for great transitions to the silver screen.
5) American Vampire
Created by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque, Published by Vertigo
Vampire fiction is very hot right now, but it seems that the most popular vampire stories of recent years are far more soft and romantic than they are terrifying, or even shocking. If you've noticed this as well, American Vampire would make for an excellent experience for you. American Vampire begins in 1925 Los Angeles, following a young, aspiring actress named Pearl, who is assaulted and drained by a group of classical, European vampires one night.
Left for dead, she is happened upon by Skinner Sweet, a mysterious and somewhat brutally whimsical man who represents a different breed of vampire: an American one. He drops some of his blood in young Pearl's eye, and turns her into a creature like him. She then discovers more about what she has become, and the results do not suit the young woman very well.
The first trade paperback volume also features backup stories after every chapter written by horror guru (and Scott Snyder's mentor) Stephen King, that further flesh out the history of what makes American vampires different. The storytelling throughout the series is sharp, the visuals in some ways are bone chilling, and the feeling of the day (other than awesomeness) is terror. If Hollywood is looking at exploiting a fresh take on a proven genre, then American Vampire would be perfect.
Created by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, Published by Vertigo
While Grant Morrison has carved a niche for himself in telling extremely unique and innovative superhero stories (like All Star Superman and New X-Men), his true brilliance lies in his creator-owned works. Books of his like The Filth, The Invisibles and Happy! all exploit comic book storytelling in interesting, if sometimes dense and convoluted ways to some readers. Whether or not this is the case for individual readers, though, it does nothing in disproving Mr. Morrison's capability as a storyteller, and the ideas that seem to permeate his brain on a constant basis.
Constant Morrison collaborator Frank Quitely helped to visualize the storytelling effort in We3, a 3-issue comic book miniseries that followed three animals: a dog, a cat and a rabbit, as they flee captivity from the military after being transformed into powerful weapons. Given skull implants allows them a rudimentary form of speech, which in turn gives an extreme emotional "in" to the story, in addition to Mr. Quitely's always fascinating visuals. We3 is a lot of things: an escape story, a touching look inside the minds of animals, and a sometimes shocking look at the potential for human brutality.
While it's easy to empathize immensely with the animals, they also serve as a reminder of the dangers of escalating military weaponry, as well as how even victims of an unjust society are manipulated for a cause. That kind of rich storytelling with many layered themes could make for a terrific film in the hands of the right cinematic storyteller, easily making this list.
Created by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, Published by Icon
Something in the human genome just makes it natural to rebel against authority. In American culture in particular, we thrive on stories depicting rebellion with a cause, likely at least partially because that is one of the ways in which our country was founded in the late 18th century. Fiction, by extension, uses the notion of rebellion against authority often because of how much it inspires us, whether it's stories as old as Oliver Twist, or stories as new as the likes of Logan's Run or even Star Wars.
Scarlet is the story of one such rebellion, though in many ways it's kind of an accidental revolution. Writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev are no strangers to comic book fans, having created an extremely memorable and definitive Daredevil run in the early 2000s, as well as their own individual work across some of the most memorable superheroes in comics. Bendis was the captain steering the ship of The Avengers for several years, in addition to memorable runs with Spider-Man and now the X-Men, while Maleev has across mainstay heroes at both Marvel and DC Comics. Their creative reception in those titles generated a lot of interest in Scarlet upon the first issue's publication, and it has proven to be quite a creative undertaking.
The nature of the storytelling permits some fourth-wall breaking, and while some of the situations inside Scarlet's head would be difficult to adapt to another medium, a stylistic and creative director could likely do a great job if handed the base of the comic book series.
Created by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, Published by Image Comics
Taking a beloved genre that originated on film and mixing it with a degree of mysticism and wonder that a lot of comics often feature may have been foolish in the hands of lesser creators, but in the cases of critically acclaimed writer Ed Brubaker (Captain America, Criminal) and award-winning artist Sean Phillips (Judge Dredd, Marvel Zombies), Fatale has managed to become one of the most fun and engaging creator-owned books to be found in comic book stores everywhere. Brubaker has a well-documented love of film noir and detective stories, and his extrapolation of that genre into something a bit more imaginative is what spurred the creation of Fatale at Image Comics.
Fatale tells the story of a woman named Josephine, who basically follows all of the noir conventions of the femme fatale. The major difference between Josephine and other "dames" is that she seems to be immortal: she's survived from the 1930s all the way into the modern era, and she hasn't aged a day. From that premise, the story follows many of the events of her life across multiple eras, jumping freely between the decades as we get to meet her in each one from the point of view of different men in her life, and the mysterious forces that Josephine is trying to escape: the ones that gave her everlasting life.
You'll rarely find an example of comic book storytelling that can seem hammy on the surface, but is deeply laden with a great degree of resonance and substance as Fatale.
1) Sex Criminals
Created by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky, Published by Image Comics
Normally, I'm not one to sing extreme praise for a comic series that has only put out one issue, but the inherent conceptual strength of Sex Criminals is too strong to ignore. Reading the first issue, you're seemingly taken on a young woman's personal journey in discovering what sex is, and the effects it has on the human body. In her first intimate experience, from her perspective it seems as though time stops, and she spends a great deal of her youth trying to find meaning and explanation for this sensation.
At a party, she meets a young man, and after one thing leads to another, you start to realize the brilliance of the concept. The man that our main character has just been with? He feels it too, because it's more than just a feeling. When these two people have an intimate encounter, then time literally stops. Naturally, this leads them to rob banks. Why not, right?
Writer Matt Fraction is also well known to comic book fans for celebrated runs on Marvel superhero comics like The Invincible Iron Man, The Immortal Iron Fist and the massive crossover event Fear Itself. Fraction's passions, though, as with any creative person, are the stories they craft from the ground up. Fraction's Casanova is another critically acclaimed creator-owned work of his, but the inherent strength, humor and fun of the first issue of Sex Criminal easily makes it one of the most surprising books on the shelves, with enough potential for an adaptation that I'd be really interested to see how it could potentially be adapted.
Those are the picks of this piece, but what are yours? Feel free to leave comments below about creator-owned comics that you feel could be well adapted, or how well you think these picks could potentially be adapted to TV or film! Thanks for reading, and be sure to come back here next week for the latest installment of Comics on Film at Movies.com!
Chris Clow is a geek. He is a comic book expert and former retailer, and freelance contributor to GeekNation.com, The Huffington Post, and Batman-On-Film.com. You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film every Wednesday right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.
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