Sunday, 2 February 2014

All These Channels and Nothing Worth Watching

To some people “adaption” is a dirty word. The idea of a story told in one medium being transferred to another is seen as a slight on the original. To an extent I can understand this view. Ironically it’s adaptions that slavishly adhere to their source material that tend to fare worse. This tends to be because the people working on the adaption are trying to recreate something using a different set of tools. They want to do the original justice but don’t have the means to do so. A good adaption will take the core concept and story points from their source and rework them in their new medium. Finding new ways to show what makes the original so enjoyable is the sort of approach I think suits adaptions best.
While I can understand this feeling it’s not one I tend to agree with. I think if something is adapted well then there’s a point to doing it. It can find new things to say or new ways of saying things the original already said. It can lead to a better understanding of the original. Most importantly no adaption takes anything away from its source material. If it fails the original is still around to be enjoyed.
The reason I mention all of this is that I thought it would be a nice change to write about something other than a good or bad comic book. There are loads of comics out there that I think would work well as television shows. Twenty-odd pages a month is rarely enough space for a writer and artist to fit in plot, character development, interesting ideas, and a bit of mystery (all those things that are so important to something being enjoyable). Television adaptions would create opportunities for exploration that comics deny, and would also make more people aware of some very good series.
I’ve picked out ten comics, as much because I like round numbers as for anything else, that I think would be interesting TV shows. They are listed below.
Read a review here.
I’m not keen on the comic book but the general idea of it, characters from fables, myths and nursery rhymes are all real, is incredibly strong. Certainly strong enough to support a TV series for a few series. The original plot is a meandering mess though. That would be best left behind. A show showing how Humpty Dumpty gets by living on a farm in North Carolina is what I want, not an attempt at a modern epic.
Read a review here.
A straight adaption of Sandman could work but it would need a pretty beefy budget. A vaguer adaption would work better, taking the general concept and more interesting characters of the book and doing a show more about dreams and reality than the machinations of Morpheus. The Sandman is often only a bystander in the comic. There’s no reason he couldn’t be someone who appears in a minor role in every episode of a TV series, having his own plot (based on Gaiman’s original) revealed over time.
Superheroes have been popular with moviegoers for over a decade now. There have been successes, like Smallville, and failures, like Heroes from series two onwards, on TV screens during this time. Right now there are no superhero themed shows that mean much to anybody and Powers could change that. It blends superpeople thrills and spills with the police procedural genre and does it well. It works very nicely as a noir flavoured comic but a different tone would probably be needed for television. The basic idea of a police department that focuses on superpeople, and the main characters of Walker and Pilgrim, seem ideal.
American Vampire
A new strain of vampire (an American vampire, obvs) is created in nineteenth century America. The comic follows that strain, in the form of first-of-the-new-breed Skinner Sweet, through the following decades. It might sound a little True Blood but it needn’t be. The focus being on a new kind of vampire, rather than the love lives of vamps that must adhere to the rules we’ve all become familiar with from fiction, would set it apart, as would the historical setting.
Ignition City
Read a review here.
I noted when I wrote about this that it felt as though Warren Ellis had treated it like a TV show. At only five issues long there are loads of things about this world that aren’t explored in enough detail. The book is set on a steampunk island that used to be a rocket base, an interesting location for a TV show (it strikes me as very BBC Three). In just five issues Ellis created a cast of characters that you could easily imagine interacting for a dozen episodes before newbies were required. Plus there are aliens. It’s a very broad canvas for a TV adaption.
This is a comic series set in New York City during a civil war between the United States of America and the secessionist Free States of America. The central figure is a reporter named Matty Roth, who’d make an ideal lead character in an adaption with an ensemble cast. Or an entirely new cast could be created, because what makes Roth ideal as a lead character is that he is suitably bland and uninteresting. It’s the general idea of America going through a civil war that would make this an interesting adaption, not any particular character. An ideal adaption would just use the broad premise and focus on the mayor’s office, the police, the army, and the secessionists struggling for control of the city, with only hints as to the wider picture.
Y: The Last Man
Read a review here.
Two things would make Y worth turning into a TV show. The first is the relationships between the characters. Brian K Vaughan did a good job of writing friendships that grew over time and natural dialogue. The other would be the central mystery of how Yorick survived the plague that should have killed every male on the planet. A TV adaption would be the ideal opportunity to create a new ending that does the series as a whole justice. The one we have is too confusing and at odds with what’s gone before to be completely satisfying.
Also in Y’s favour is that it’s a story that has affected the whole world. It can be as big or as small as people writing it want it to be. A big budget could see parts filmed in Israel and Europe (like the book) while a smaller adaption could simply focus on the trek across America. The entire plot of the original could be scrapped and the idea could be reworked to focus on a small town harbouring the last surviving man.
Read a review here. 
Preacher is a very rounded comic book, making it one of the better suggestions on this list. It’s known for being humorous, violent and having a cast full of grotesques. What it’s less noted for is being a love story, which it is, and for being pretty heavy on action in places, which it is. Jesse Custer is a genuinely likeable protagonist (or at least he is when written, careful casting would be needed to retain that), something that I find pretty rare in TV shows. Cassidy, Assface, the Saint of Killers and Herr Starr are a supporting cast who feel like they were created to be seen on TV.
The central plot is something that would probably need to stay. Without it Preacher doesn’t work. But the journey that’s taken and the interactions between the central characters could be altered to make something new and interesting. Preacher is one of the best comics out there for TV adapters.
There’s been talk of putting Preacher on TV for years. The latest news on that is that it’s happening and Seth Rogen is involved. Personally I’d cast WWE star The Undertaker as the Saint of Killers. But that’s me.
100 Bullets
Read a review here.
Crime dramas and ongoing mysteries have become big parts of TV schedules over the last several years. So have mobsters. 100 Bullets has all of this (obviously, I wouldn’t mention it otherwise). None of the shows mentioned here could run indefinitely but 100 Bullets would come the closest. The basic idea of a shadowy cabal having secretly controlled the United States for centuries is easy enough to understand but complex enough to spend time gradually revealing. And of course the Minutemen are the sort of thing modern television viewers seem to love.
There are so many stories from the series that would be great on screen and there are lots of original things that could be done with the idea of people being made the offer of the untraceable gun. In fact all new offers and how they play out would make nice to or three minute pre-title sequences.
Locke & Key
Read a review of the first volume here.
A feature length pilot was made years ago but nothing came of it. Apparently Fox didn’t think it would work as a series. They’re wrong. Locke & Key is perfect for a TV show, so much so that I’m amazed a series doesn’t already exist. There’s a worthwhile plot that runs across the book’s six volumes that would be ideal as a programme’s central focus, with each volume having its own arc that could be used for either an entire series or multiple episodes. There’s a great template waiting to be used.
But what would really make a TV version of Locke & Key worth it would be the ability to do something new with such a great concept. It was always very clear in the comic that there were other keys that hadn’t been used or even seen. Filler episodes or new arcs could be created to make the most of that fact. There’s so much that could be done with the idea of the keys.

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