Thursday, August 4, 2011

Time To Make the Manga - How To Do It Right

Some of us geeks (nerds, whatever) are busy worrying about whether we've "won" or not, and what that means sociologically. It might be a relevant question, but it deals with navel-gazing so blatantly that it becomes unsettling, and I would rather read the books and think about them than what it means for comics to be so visible and relevant now. It would undoubtedly lead to me wondering if comics are in fact that mainstream, but no thanks.

One of the best things to come out of the Harry Potter and Twilight (and arguably other) crazes is the focus on Young-Adult fiction, and how reading is seen as fun and worthwhile by a whole new generation of brains that are attached to eyes. Creating younger readers is the first step to creating older readers, which is one step in a huge process of trying to create better thinkers/feelers (or how about "emotionalators"). There are definitely downsides to the onslaught of YA fiction though: an adherence to derivative plots and characters, unimaginative design sense, writing with your agent overlooking the screenplay already-in-progress, and on and on. Focusing on the positive is such a happy thing to do, however, so let's be happy together.

Maybe YA fiction isn't making a "resurgence." It is definitely a genre that has been around for ages and ages, albeit perhaps in a different form than it inhabits now, and Laura Ingalls Wilder would most likely agree. Even her works weren't immune from adaptation, although it took quite a few years before they made it to the glorious Land of Landon. There is one difference between this age's YA fiction and the fiction of yesteryear: the inevitable and potentially lucrative road toward adaptation. It's a road that may or may not lead to its intended destination. Plenty of books go through the adaptation process only to end up in a cul-de-sac, a sad little dead end that people use to turn around when they're lost. The road has existed for a while though, only now people and properties travel down it much faster, with the speed limit increasing year after year.

Now adaptation doesn't just mean TV or film, but comic books as well. No one was surprised when "Twilight" was adapted into a best-selling Manga. Some people also weren't surprised that it was considered to be below average, which is putting it nicely. This same surprise is applicable to "Harry Potter," and how there are no comics of that insanely popular property. Those two parties of surprised people aside, novels making the leap to comics/graphic novels are starting to look not only more like a trend, but like one piece of the media puzzle.

Rick Riordan's "The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians)" was not only adapted into a movie, but a graphic novel as well. Although the movie did horribly, most likely spelling doom for any sequels, the graphic novel sold well enough that other books in the series will see adaptation as well.  This might be the new blueprint for YA novels (or potentially any genre novel); write book, adapt into movie and comic book simultaneously, cross fingers.

Now another series of YA novels is making its leap to comics, with an eye toward the movie screen as well, this time Scott Westerfeld's "Uglies" series. The first book has been adapted into a Manga where Westerfeld will outline the story, with larger writing duties falling to Devin Grayson, and Steven Cumming illustrating. This isn't just another tale of a YA novel trudging down that slow and difficult road toward adaptation though, this is the tale of how someone is thinking differently. Not only that, but thinking about this process from a perspective you love to see, but are often afraid you won't. Scott Westerfeld is thinking about the adaptation of his novels creatively, with an eye toward character.

Yes, his first novel in the series, "Uglies" is in development as a film, and it could be oh so easy to see the adaptation of that same book into Manga form as a quick cash grab, spiced up with a little bit of marketing ploy. That's not what this is though, at least not from where I'm sitting.

Westerfeld announced in San Diego, at Comic Con International, that the Manga adaptation of "Uglies" (slated for publication in May 2012 from Del Ray) will in fact be following the story of Shay, a secondary character featured in the novel as a friend of the main character, Tally.

Rather than offering up an exact adaptation of the novel so many fans have already read, Westerfeld chose to expand on the world he created, and delve into other characters and their stories. Although, yeah, this will definitely work as a marketing technique, that doesn't seem to be foremost in the minds of the creators involved.

I've read all but one of the "Uglies" series, and was a huge fan of all of them. Seeing this news, I kind of groaned, and wondered why exactly I would want to read a comic book adaptation of a book I had already read. Certainly this is a personal preference, but in my case it's one that just doesn't make sense. Having read the book, I had already pictured the characters and their world as I wanted them to look, so why worry about reading/looking at someone else's interpretation? This leads to the obvious question of why then go see a movie adapted from a book, and my answer for that is: actually moving pictures are different than mentally moving.

I love the idea of taking the adaptation process/opportunity in order to expand a fictional reality. It does lead to the question of whether the word adaptation even applies, but I'm not worried about that. I'm worried about being told great stories. Now, knowing what will be in store for me with the "Uglies" Manga, I'm worried that the adaptations of the future won't be as interesting.


  1. Good article.
    I was actually thinking about comic-adaptations of movies just the other day after seeing Super 8. It seems to me, there was a time when there was a comic to every major movie that came out. But they were seldomly good. And definitely not necessary. Any adaptations is problematic. I also think the idea of expanding a story in another medium is something that can work very well.

  2. Thanks man. The shelves of the comic shop usually have one or two comics related to movies, but I always view them as tie-ins, rather than adaptations. Not sure why this is, but that's where my head immediately goes. There were two (or three) issues of "Predators" when it came out, and like almost every other movie-comic, I avoided it very carefully.

    This idea - the "Uglies" adaptation - is a great one. It's definitely not one that would work with every story, but in this case the characters involved are going to become more real to me once I read this. Unless it's poorly written, which is always a possibility.