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Movies made into graphic novels, and vice versa


In Fortune and Glory: A True Hollywood Comic Book Story, comic creator Brian Michael Bendis does lunch with Kiss the Girls director Gary Fleder. Afterwards, a producer friend explains to Bendis why they hit it off: "Directors ... They eat this comic book shit up. You're talking the visual language. They get that you 'get it.'"

A playful example of the black-and-white autobiographical comic book genre, Fortune and Glory recounts Bendis' experiences seeing his graphic novel Goldfish move through various circles of development hell. Although much of Fortune and Glory consists of nearly identical phone conversations and pitch sessions, Bendis' satire proves engagingly pointed and good-natured.

His experience echoes those of innumerable other comic book creators, as graphic novels are increasingly optioned as big screen projects. And Hollywood isn't only producing would-be superhero blockbusters like Tim Burton's Batman and Sam Raimi's Spiderman this summer, but smaller and quirkier books like Goldfish are getting snatched up as well, by both mainstream and independent filmmakers.

It's always interesting to look at the original graphic novel before the film gets released to see if you can recognize what's on the big screen. Some of the most successful movie adaptations, like Men in Black and Jim Carrey's The Mask, were short-lived titles that barely made a ripple when published, but they found new life as movie tie-ins.

A particularly unlikely candidate for the big screen, nevertheless due in cinemas this fall, is From Hell, based on the shadowy Jack the Ripper book of the same name by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. The sprawling, thoroughly researched graphic novel would seem unfilmmable, as Moore places the Ripper murders in within a conspiracy that ranges from the Freemasons to Queen Victoria, with heady digressions on history, paganism and the battle of the sexes. The film, directed by the Hughes Brothers (Menace II Society), may be intriguing but will probably resemble its source as much as actor Johnny Depp resembles his character -- middle-aged Inspector Abberline of Scotland Yard.

A more recent Moore project, optioned but far from being green-lighted, is the more film-friendly League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. A more light-hearted look at a Victorian setting, Moore offers a superheroic team drawn from 19th century literature -- Captain Nemo, Dr. Jekyll, Allan Quartermain -- who band together to battle Fu Manchu. Kevin O'Neill's kinetic artwork readily connotes a cinematic storyboard, just as Moore's script thoroughly appreciates the pop fiction of an earlier century.

June promises the release of Ghost World, based on a recurring story in Dan Clowes' irregularly published anthology comic Eight-Ball. Rendered solely in black, white and blue, Clowes' serial follows the friendship of a pair of young bohemian girls amid their rootless slacker acquaintances. Film director Terry Zwigoff showed a grasp of the comic book milieu with his superb documentary Crumb. Whether he can do justice to Clowes' deadpan comedy remains to be seen, but the inclusion of Steve Buscemi in the cast is a good sign. Eight-Ball is populated almost entirely by anxious, awkward-looking weirdoes, and indie god Buscemi seems almost too right for the job.

This Christmas DreamWorks' major Oscar contender will be The Road to Perdition, starring Tom Hanks and directed by American Beauty's Sam Mendes. In Perdition, Hank has the role of a mob hit-man whose son witnesses a murder, pitting them both against the forces of Al Capone. The original graphic novel, written by prose novelist Max Allan Collins (a former writer of the "Dick Tracy" comic strip), suggests gangland reinterpretation of Japan's classic samurai comic Lone Wolf and Cub, with illustrator Richard Piers Rayner meticulously rendering Chicago of the 1930s.

Television is also influenced by comics, such as the superhero spoof "The Tick," on Fox's fall lineup and starring Patrick Warburton (Puddy from "Seinfeld"). Far more offbeat and grungy is "The Eltingville Club," a scorching parody of teenaged fanboys, which The Cartoon Network intriguingly intends to adapt as a one-shot special. Having originated in Evan Dorkin's hilariously grungy comic Dork, the four touchy nerds are always at each other's throats, whether competing for a Boba Fett action figure or trying to stay awake for an entire "Twilight Zone" TV marathon. Imagine "Clerks" with teeth.

The example of Clerks writer-director Kevin Smith shows that it's not just a one-way street from comics to Hollywood. Smith has not only done comic book spinoffs of Clerks and his other film projects, but has been lauded for short stints writing the adventures of such characters as Marvel's Daredevil and DC's Green Arrow. J. Michael Stracynski, creator of the "Babylon 5" series, has found a comic book hit with his revisionist take on costumed super-beings, Rising Stars. A rule of thumb: You can often identify comics scripted by writers from other industries because they tend to be unusually wordy.

Another comic book with TV connections going the other direction is Pedro and Me: Friendship, Loss and What I Learned. The graphic memoir by Judd Winick, known from "The Real World's" San Francisco season, recounts his friendship with HIV-positive housemate Pedro Zamora, who died in 1994. It's an undeniably touching story with not very memorable artwork: Tellingly, the book cover uses photographs and not comic art.

Most such first-person stories, like Pedro and Me or Fortune and Glory, tend to be viewed by Hollywood as box office poison -- the title, incidentally, of Alex Robinson's laid-back comic account of young folks in love and at work. Instead, superheroes attract the most attention, even from the least-likely A-list directors. Requiem for a Dream's Darren Aronofsky wants to adapt Frank Miller's gritty Batman: Year One, while Crouching Tiger's Ang Lee has signed to take on the Incredible Hulk. Even as comic books become more sophisticated at depicting everyday reality, moviemakers still want to play heroes.


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