Friday, October 28, 2016

Comic Book Violence Translated to Film

This post was originally published on the 3twins blog. Lightly rewritten.

I decided to post it here because of my personal reaction to the season premiere of Walking Dead (maybe I should do a whole post on that, ha). One of the things I have found interesting on forums discussing the episode is that there seems to be a comic book loyalist camp who defend aspects of Season 7, Episode 1, that other viewers might have an issue with (particularly when it comes to violence, tone and pacing) by loudly yelling: BUT IT'S CANON. Fair enough. But I have yet to see anyone actually discuss how readers of comics can interact with still imagery differently then film, and how when translating a comic book (or graphic novel) to film the writers, directors, editors, etc. are making decisions for the viewer that effect how they interact with the narrative. A comic can be translated in a number of different ways and still be canon and true to its source material. And without further ado:

Comic Book Violence
Art can paint a striking picture of a very ugly scene in the same way that a violent novel can use words to shape the way a reader interacts with the scene described. I have found that when violent comics are translated into film, even stylistically, there is the idea that in order to be true to the comic, the film must display graphic violence in minute detail. I think it’s interesting to look at the way we interact with horror and violence in drawings versus live action. Or how the art itself affects the impact of the scene.
Pretty Deadly often uses stylist violence as a visual metaphor. Would the intent of the artwork be captured in directly translating the scene to live action?

Chew is a black comedy comic book about a detective who must literally eat parts of the bodies of evidence in order to have visions of the deceased’s lives to help him solve cases. Drawn in a cartoonish style of bright pastels, the story is able to deal with violence in a comedic way that relies on the art for its punchline.

If translated into live action, would these scenes be funny? A graphic scene of the main character being vomited on would technically be canon.
In a critical look at the translation from comic to film of WatchmenJason Haggstrom discusses the use of over-the-top violence. Haggstrom points out how in the source material the readers are shamed for enjoying violence in comics, even as they read a violent scene.
According to Haggstrom, “But Snyder’s film never allows for a moment of such self-reflexivity. The audience is never asked how they feel about graphic violence; instead, they are simply forced to participate in the director’s own personal cinematic fetish for showing it. Snyder’s overemphasis on graphic violence only serves to appease the gore-seeking audience—those who enjoyed the same tactics in Snyder’s previous, gore-heavy films, Dawn of the Dead and 300—while turning off the average viewer and alienating the book’s thematic use of violence as a method of superhero deconstruction. Instead, Zach Snyder’s adaptation of Watchmen simply revels in violent images for their own sake.”

The question of whether a viewer interacts differently with stylized live-action versus a static-drawn image isn’t easily answered (as the answer, of course, depends on the person).

There have been films that try to capture the feeling of a comic through stylistic live-action, like Sin City or 300. Many people view these films as works of art in their own right.
But, readers can quickly glance over an image of violence that makes them uncomfortable in a way viewers cannot when that single panel or page becomes an extended scene in a film or TV show. A single line of text or a single image can becomes every action that panel represents. How much time does a reader spend looking at a violent image? In a film, that choice is made for you.

Would this be a brief camera shot, or a repeated online beating that lasts minutes or more. Is one more true to the comic then the other? The answer of course, is going to be entirely subjective based on the way one reads the comic.
Of course, there isn’t one right way to interact with art. And for many, violent imagery in film might elicit a more emotional abstract response as a more stylistic drawing of violence does for me. Or a viewer might see a violent live-action scene as more emotionally honest than the way a drawing can abstract an upsetting concept.
It’s not wrong to make a violent live-action flick that represents drawings of violence as it would appear in real life, but I don’t think it is always a more authentic way of translating comic books to film. 
As film renditions of comic books become increasingly popular, I hope we will see even more experimentation in how comics are translated to film. An animated Chew movie in the style of comic series is in the works, and the popularity of movies like Sin City encourage more stylistic live action films to be made.
How do you feel? Do you interact with comic imagery differently than the same story in live action?

I'm sure there are many fans who enjoyed the season premiere, and there is nothing wrong with that, but the very discussion of what canon means when translating comics to film, particularly in terms of violence is very complicated and I hope that can be a part of fans conversations.

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