Ian Gibson: Turning comics into films – and vice versa

Ian Gibson, who has spent decades drawing Judge Dredd, muses over the move from one medium to another...

Hitchhiker's Guide. Not a great movie

It’s not all one way traffic, and it never has been. Just look at the sheer number of films that have grown from comics: Superman, Batman, The Hulk, Spider-man. No, I haven’t forgotten the X-men or Fantastic 4. But if list them all I won’t have room to say anything. Note that I didn’t mention Dredd, though…ooops!

In the other direction, from film to comics, goes Star Wars (Droids, X-Wing, Boba Fett etc) – now there’s a mini-industry in itself! – along with the recent Buffy comic, Hammer House Of Horror, the Bionic Woman (which I’ve been involved with in the past) and probably a trickle other shows like Doctor Who and Star Trek. Hey! Some place there’s probably even an Oprah comic!

There have been convoluted twists like Conan: a book series; a comic series and a film series. Or Hitchhiker’s Guide: a brilliant radio show, a wonderful series of books, a TV series, a pretty lame comic series (which I refused to be involved with) and an even lamer movie. And I’m sure that there are many who are more versed in the media who can cite lots more examples.

I was even invited to do a comic version of the Bible many years back. And that started out as stone tablets, papyrus scrolls, a series of contradictory books, a whole string of movies and pamphlets and wars and political upheavals and Papal enunciations, with even some born again radicalisms thrown in. Jeez! But the plan fell through, as the voice over for the accompanying audio was supposed to be Alec Guinness. And he was too busy making some obscure science fiction movie at the time.

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The difference, apart from that of volume, is franchising.

Star Wars is a franchised group of titles which is held in the tight control of Lucas folk. The Hitchhiker’s Guide had to avoid using likenesses of the TV actors for copyright reasons. But the fact that the writer for the comic didn’t understand, or hadn’t read the books, didn’t seem to bother the editors.

The Avengers TV series comics I did for their 30th anniversary had to get approval from the actors to use their likeness, those that were willing to offer that option. And the reason none of you were aware of the anniversary, let alone the comic, was because on that very day, Stormin’ Norman was kicking up sand in the Desert Storm, and the headlines had no room for anything else for weeks.

I wonder how that turned out? Any idea who won?

The point of this ramble, if there is one: when a film is made from a comic they take the concept and throw most of the rest away including the creators. Ask John Wagner. Ask Alan Moore.

When a comic is made from TV or film, it has to follow strict guidelines laid down by the studios.

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So, I think it’s safe to say that the travel is definitely a speed-restricted cone-zone one way and a multi-lane super highway the other.

But at least it’s not all one way traffic.

More by Ian Gibson on Den of Geek: Advice and observationsThe Economics of ComicsLetter from an anarchistManga, anime, and MiyazakiThank you for the comics