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Nexus Graphica
by Mark London Williams

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Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Paperstreet Comics
Benderspink
Straw Dogs
Scott Pilgrim
Bioshock to be turned into a film, too
House of Mystery
Recent Books of Interest

House of Mystery #1 by Matthew Sturges and Bill Willingham, et al. (Vertigo) House of Mystery #1
DC's horror-hosting brothers Cain and Abel are back in the Sandmanesque "Dreaming" -- even if just barely, in the opening pages -- setting up this House as a new (or rather, resurrected) anthology series. Or perhaps, giving us a disparate band of recurring characters in a continuing series, though it's too early to tell. Once we get the "house rules" down, so we can start to figure out this universe, it might even be good. Stay tuned.

Pencilneck #1-4 by Victor Carungi and Jeff Blascyk (Paperstreet) Pencilneck #3
Writer Carungi and artist Blascyk cover territory thematically similar to Sam Peckinpah's perpetually underrated film Straw Dogs, wherein a (seemingly) passive man is sparked into an eruption of violence. In this case, the eruption lasts about four issues, and the man in question is a bank manager named Jonathan Kincaid. Violent in the hyperkinetic manner of a Tarantino film, the story might be read as a metaphor for the perceived (received?) helplessness of the "average" man in the present historical/political moment. Or it might be just a noir-ish romp with lots of blood. Trying to figure out the character arc of hostage-turned-avenger Kincaid will keep you guessing.

Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O'Malley (Oni) Scott Pilgrim #1
Okay, I hadn't caught up with this much lauded North American manga yet, but Rick K. insisted, and when I found myself on a cross-California train ride, I rectified that particular situation. Itself being turned into a film as we speak, I'd recommend the book for no other reason than a character -- in this case, a 17-year-old Asian girl -- is named Knives Chau. Mostly though, O'Malley -- using a deliberately "primitif" art style -- tells of a group of Toronto-based mostly 20-somethings who drift in and out of rock bands, relationships, and apartments, and live in a videogame world where their own ennui is suddenly shaken loose by someone transporting through a dream portal in their head, or being challenged to a spontaneous fight to the death, in a library or nightclub. I've read the first three volumes, and I'm still not sure what the rules of Pilgrim's universe are, but I like the goofy spirit of the books. Then again, maybe it's just magical realism for the Bioshock generation. This should make a compelling film: Think St. Elmo's Fire crossed with Buckaroo Banzai!

Adaptation

Pencilneck #1
Pencilneck #1
Pencilneck #1
Pencilneck #1
Pencilneck #1

More and more, summer rolls around, and the multiplexes are lousy with superheroes. It wasn't always this way -- credible Superman and Batman adaptations were few and far between.

Now "sequential art" -- to use the late, great, Mr. Eisner's phrase -- is being mined for movie material. On the one hand, because they can -- movie technology can at last freely mimic the fluidity of a comic book panel, and you're no longer stuck with ridiculous looking masked avenger costumes that you actually have to make. Instead, you can recreate them -- the Hulk's green skin, Iron Man's shell -- in digits. Like making them out of pencil and colored ink. Except this time, on a keyboard.

But comics were never just exclusively for the tights crowd, even if, for a few decades there, a glance at any American newsstand would give you that impression. And more and more, the film biz seems to be noticing, as other types of stories get picked for translation to the big (or at least medium) screen. Thus, stories like Perdition and A History of Violence, and now, from the company that produced the latter, another mob-themed pick-up, a four-issue story, indie-published story, replete with its own "history of violence," called Pencilneck.. (See sidebar review). It's currently in development, and the writer of the series, Victor Carungi -- who also publishes the books through his own Paper Street Comics -- talked to us about the very process of translating from panel to screen, and what it is that might interest a producer not particularly looking for the eye candy -- and attendant mythos -- of capes and boots.

How did Benderspink come across Pencilneck in the first place, since all the books aren't out yet?
I check out several different comic book web sites daily to see what is happening in the industry and one day saw a small blurb about New Line working with Benderspink on a comic book series from Devil's Due Publishing. Up until then I had never heard of Benderspink, so I decided to check them out. They looked to be a perfect fit because they are open to submissions from new artists -- you give the pitch and, if they feel that it may work, they'll request a full script. I submitted Pencilneck and another series I'm working on titled The Elite. Benderspink only requested detailed info on The Elite, but I knew Pencilneck would be the series that could translate to film more easily so I sent them both.

I received the rejection letter concerning The Elite a couple weeks later and figured to keep Benderspink in mind for my next project. I assumed they never read the info for Pencilneck because no one actually requested it. However, a month later I got an e-mail from Josh at Benderspink wanting to know if he could get his hands on the final issues of the series. We started talking more from there and things just took off.

How is a comic book/graphic novel story different from a screenplay? Or is it just a screenplay that's already storyboarded? Could Pencilneck have worked as a screenplay to begin with?
At this point, the screenplay is still in development and out of my control but I believe that there are three major reasons for the increase in graphic novels and comics translating into film. Comics provide a vision for a producer in a few short pages. If my business involves finding new properties, it makes sense to look at comics and graphic novels over traditional screenplays because you can read through 10 pages of illustrated artwork a lot faster than 10 pages of script. Comics already have an established audience discussing the property in shops and forums nationwide, which can give the property a grass roots marketing element. However, I think the biggest reason would be that movies and comics are both part of a visual medium. That is why the two can dance so well together and one of the main reasons you are currently seeing more graphic novels and comics being optioned.

Personally I have always wanted to work in both fields. I have had a love for comics since I was in elementary school, creating characters as far back as the fourth grade and I spent my college years working with 16mm film, animating clay figures, writing screenplays, and editing until 3 in the morning. As I started to work on Pencilneck I realized that I could make my 100 million dollar action movie for a fraction of the cost, so yes, I believe that the "scripts" for the issues could easily be translated into a screenplay. In fact, I write my comic scripts in a screenplay format as well, so the transition should be fairly seamless.

It makes sense that the movie biz would find superheroes attractive fare, now that film making technology has caught up with "comic book ideas." What do you think is the appeal for the film biz in a gritty crime drama like Pencilneck?
I was enamored with Spidey and the X-Men as a teenager, but when I got back into comics after college I discovered that there was more out there then your standard superhero book. Books like the Brian Michael Bendis' Jinx can tell a great story without the capes and I think the studios are starting to realize that there is more to comic books then just people with costumes. They can be adult, can hit large audiences, and can get the same emotional impact involving characters who are both human and superhuman.

The interview with Carungi brings up larger questions about where narrative is headed -- even prose is so heavily fused with visual tropes and filmic motifs (and I say this as a novelist) -- that one wonders if we've come full circle, in our storytelling, back to cave paintings. Though it is also, specifically, the dance of text to image on a comics page that creates a tension in the storytelling unique to the medium. Whether film adaptations can ever fully capture that "contrapuntal essence" of a good comics story is still a lively question. And perhaps the subject of a future column.

Carungi, meanwhile, is at work on other projects, and overseeing a collected trade edition of Pencilneck, which can currently be purchased online.

As ever, the inimitable Mr. Klaw is up to bat next column. See you in a month.

Copyright © 2008 Mark London Williams

Mark London Williams considers that being a Gemini allows him to be both visual and literate, unless in his case they cancel each other out. He writes not only the Danger Boy time travel series from Candlewick Press, but has worked as a journalist covering both entertainment and politics, and currently the intersection of both as a columnist for the trade paper Below the Line. He's also written videogame and comic scripts, including the tale "Bigfoot vs. Donkey Kong" in The Big Bigfoot Book, from the late, lamented Mojo Press.


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