Graphic novels have always had their cult following, but movies based on them are now thriving too. Jayashree Arunachalam reports.
Detailed illustrations, definitive characters and racy plots that draw you in — it isn't hard to see the allure. Add to this the fact that they're a branch of comic books that demanded — and received — their own, albeit controversial, genre of their own, and it comes as no surprise that graphic novels are the latest Hollywood conquests. Spiderman might still reign supreme at the box office, but the new kids on the block are carving out a strong niche of their own.
From Constantine to Road to Perdition, the movies are coming thick and fast. “Graphic novels have everything, like incredible characters, sex, violence,” says economics student Prema Shivakumar. “They also aren't as popular as comic books, so movies based on them are a smart way of making a slick movie while taking the books themselves to a larger audience.”
Robert Rodriguez managed to strike gold with his 2005 film Sin City, based on a clutch of books by Frank Miller, who also wrote the comic book series 300, the inspiration for the 2007 box office hit of the same name. Hellboy, Watchmen and Kick Ass created their own ripples in a pond that was soon becoming a Hollywood gold mine.
“V for Vendetta was completely mind-blowing,” says 21-year-old Navin Dorai. “The movie was an accurate portrayal of the characters in the book. When you compare graphic novel films to your general comic book films and action films, you can see the difference. Diehard fans of the books might complain about omission of detail, but that's true of any book-turned-movie.” He adds that these films can stand alone as hits without the aid of the book, as opposed to movies like the Harry Potter series.
The key ingredient in graphic novel movies is the technique, like the inimitable mash up of video game and comic book in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. From superimposition to chroma key compositing, the entire texture, feel and shot of graphic novel movies seem to aspire to match up to their paper counterparts.
Not all graphic novels fans might agree though. “Graphic novels can't be made into your typical Hollywood blockbuster because the essence of the novel is primarily built on artwork and illustrations,” says 24-year-old Vidyuth Rajgopal. “The movie versions become too much for the viewer to absorb, because there's audio and video trying to replace it. In a graphic novel, it's just what you see. Even if the artist goes all out, the viewer is still being stimulated only on a single medium.”
Alan Moore himself disliked liberties taken with From Hell, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and V for Vendetta, although the movies themselves have cult followings, particular the last one. “The movies are dramatic but tend to lose their edge,” says photographer Akhil Reddy. “I'd love to see Sarnath Banerjee's graphic novel The Barn Owl's Wondrous Capers made into a movie, if I weren't too worried about how much I'd probably criticise the film version.”
Criticism aside, some things are working in reverse. The frantically successful Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer was quickly followed by the first three movie adaptations, with the first part of the fourth instalment Breaking Dawn set to hit theatres towards the end of 2011. But from book to movie to book again seems to be a short leap, with the Twilight graphic novel being released early this year by Korean artist Young Kim. Anything's possible.