There’s a lot more to comics than buff guys in tights.
The world of comics has become increasingly diversified over the years, and now there is huge variety of interesting stories. Movies have made good on adapting comic stories for years – and not just superheroes. Persepolis was a critically acclaimed independent comic that became a critically acclaimed animated film; the recent Blue Is the Warmest Color is another prime example of a comic book (or “graphic novel” if you like talking fancy) being turned into a much-lauded film.
Comic books are able to do a lot of things more traditional mediums can’t: they combine the visual nature of film, the serialized format of television, and the written word of novels into one unique animal. There is a freedom within comics that allows for nontraditional storytelling as well, giving voice to characters that may not usually have a platform or just allowing the story to be told in a weird, nonlinear way. They can experiment. They also have the added benefit of being easily translatable to film.
Here are twelve stories that deserve the big screen treatment.
Bitch Planet comes from popular writer Kelly Sue DeConnick (of Captain Marvel fame), and it tells the story of a futuristic world where women who don’t conform to society’s strict standards are labeled non-compliant and sent to a prison planet. It was inspired by the “women-in-prison” subgenre of exploitation movies from the ’60s and ’70s, but also actively tries to reinvent and subvert the genre through an explicitly feminist lens.
The comic features of a cast of female characters that defy usual standards with both their bodies and minds, not only showcasing women of different races and body types, but angry women, violent women – women with about any emotional or moral complexity you could dream up. It has drawn comparisons to Netflix’s Orange is the New Black due to its diversity and its setting, but Bitch Planet has a different vibe, one that is gritty and dark without the aid of comedy.
The Fade Out
Ed Brubaker is another famous name in comics, particularly for his work on Captain America (you have him to thank for the existence of the Winter Soldier), but he’s created just as much buzz working on smaller titles as he has on larger ones. One of his current titles is The Fade Out, a noir tale set in the dark underside of 1940s Hollywood that follows a troubled writer caught up in the sudden death of a promising starlet.
Hollywood making movies about movies being made in Hollywood is practically a genre unto itself, and the glamour and mystery in the story make it an alluring, unsettling tale. It takes on a familiar formula with new eyes, and has the modern benefit of not sugarcoating the corruption at the heart of the world it is set in. It’s a story that takes the failings of an industry and makes them personal, with well-developed characters just brimming with secrets. Hollywood loves to cannibalize its own history onscreen, and The Fade Out would be an incredible vehicle for that.
Supreme: Blue Rose
Supreme: Blue Rose is notable for its distinct and beautiful art as well as its reality-altering storytelling. It tells the story of reporter Diana Dane uncovering a deep-rooted, dangerous mystery while at the same time never knowing quite who she can trust. She has been hired by businessman Darius Dax to investigate a bizarre occurrence in a small town. It reinvents a series first created in the ’90s, though its connection to that world often feels tenuous; Blue Rose is instead a trippy, sometimes confusing exploration of the meaning of time and how it can shift.
It’s science fiction without clear-cut boundaries, by turns strange and dreamlike. The characters are intriguing, if overly inscrutable, and the very nature of film could do an excellent job of embracing the comic’s more unusual elements (and its visual flair) while still maintaining a concrete through-line and elaborating on storytelling that was at times too opaque.
A graphic novel born of a web comic, Nimona has been critically praised for its epic story and its fresh take on established genre conventions. The titular character is the shapeshifting sidekick to the villainous Ballister Blackheart, and the series follows their misadventures as well as Blackheart’s journey to expose hero Ambrosius Goldenlion as less than heroic. But Nimona is the true heart of the story, with her immense powers and unknown past growing more important as it goes on.
Nimona has magic, knights, dragons, technology, and shadowy government agencies, creating a fascinating and truly singular world. The skewed point of view, which focuses on the antihero – more specifically, focusing on the sidekick of the antihero – allows it to delve into something new and never before seen. It also features a complicated female protagonist, which cinema could always use more of. Colorful and clever, it could be the perfect movie for girls who are always hungry for representations of women on screen that actually feel like them – because even if real girls can’t turn themselves into dragons, they certainly understand the impulse to.
Anya’s Ghost is standalone graphic novel by Vera Brosgol that mixes a young girl’s coming of age – and all the struggles that go along with that, like fitting in at school and crushing on the hot guy at school – with a supernatural subplot. Protagonist Anya accidental picks up a ghost when she falls down a hole and is trapped with the skeleton of a young girl for a day and a night. A small bone finds its way into Anya’s bag, so when she is rescued, the ghost tags along with her.
At first it’s fun, with Anya utilizing her ghost friend to vent her frustrations to, to get advice from, and to cheat on tests – all the usual things ghost besties are good for. But as the ghost becomes more forceful and violent, Anya seeks to rid herself of her translucent pal. It’s a solid story for a young adult audience considering its excellent balance of realistic issues (the disillusionment of growing up as well as Anya’s prickly relationship with her Russian heritage) with ghostly fun.
The Professor’s Daughter
Another self-contained graphic novel, The Professor’s Daughter tells the story of a mummy who falls in love with an Egyptologist’s daughter in Victorian England. Their romantic afternoon out on the town, rendered in lovely tea-toned watercolors, soon turns both farcical and action-packed. Three thousand year old mummy Imhotep IV faces both the demons of his past and the hazards of his present, which include bar brawls and accidental poisoning of police officers.
It’s certainly a strange book, short on pages but not on charm, and it could fit neatly into the curiously developing period-piece-meets-sci-fi genre (such as upcoming film Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), as its humorous tone takes it away from the gothic horror where it might otherwise find an audience. Its closest film companion might be something like 1999’s The Mummy, which blended action and romance to great effect.
Alex + Ada
After being left by his fiancée, main character Alex finds himself unhappy and alone. His grandmother decides that the solution to his problems is a hyper-realistic android to keep him company, in the style of many recent terrifying near-future science fiction films, Alex + Ada features a robot who acts so human that it becomes hard to remember that she’s not. At first, Alex is unwilling to engage with his new ladyfriendbot (Ada) but over time he is increasingly drawn to her, and eventually seeks to give her autonomy and freedom, even though to do so would be against the law and would result in his own imprisonment.
Rachel Rising opens with its protagonist Rachel waking up in her own grave. With no memory of how she got there and no idea how or why she rose from the dead, Rachel sets out seeking answers. There are several curious figures who appear along her journey – including a strange woman who seems to leave tragedy in her wake and also a little girl on a killing spree – and a spooky, disturbing atmosphere permeates the entire story.
The dead coming back to life is one of those tried and true genres that never fails to generate at least some interest, which is unsurprising considering the wealth of storytelling possibilities available in the conceit. Rachel Rising has drawn positive reviews for the strength and variety of its characters (particularly its female characters), as well the ominous and intriguing town it is set in.
Black River follows a familiar story: a ragtag group of people trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, constantly coming up against obstacles from both their brutal surroundings and whoever is left of humanity. They’re searching for an oasis in a desert of horrors, a port of civilization in a world gone to hell. But this particular story became notable for how surreal the horror was and how elastic the storytelling could be, dipping into fantasy and even dark humor.
It is set apart by a cast made up primarily of women, but also by its unrelentingly bleak tone, focusing on the dark realities of such an unforgiving world. In a genre punctuated by dogged optimism and heroics, Black River is the opposite, and that is part of what makes it stick in readers’ heads. It would make a tough movie to watch, but one that would stay with you long after it’s done.
Calling Dr. Laura
The memoir of author and artist Nicole Georges, Calling Dr. Laura is a deeply personal story. It delves into Georges’ complicated relationship with her mother, including the fact that secrets seem to run in the family. Georges is keeping the fact that she’s a lesbian from her mother, but she also suspects her mother has kept the identity of her father from her. She had been raised to believe he was dead, but has grown to suspect that he’s actually very much alive.
In the mode of other memoirs-turned-movies such as Persepolis and The Diary of a Teenage Girl, it tells the story of a young woman figuring out herself and her place in the world. It may be a smaller, contained story free of supernatural elements or larger than life flourishes, but its focus on finding strength within oneself is just as powerful.
Spread is another post-apocalyptic tale that finds the world as we know it destroyed by the spread of a terrible virus – though “Spread” doesn’t just refer to the rapid infection. It is also the name of the horrifying ancient beasts that have infected everyone and who threaten the heroes at every turn. The Spread takes many forms, all of them grotesque, and a mere touch is enough to further the infection. The only chance of counteracting the Spread lays in the teeny hands of a baby named Hope and her protector, the largely silent No (which is indeed a name).
Hacktivist is the unexpected work of actress Alyssa Milano, who brought the story to writers Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly. It tells the story of two billionaire entrepreneurs who start a social networking site that works as a cover for their real project – an Anonymous-inspired group that is seeking to affect change by helping revolutionaries in other countries. A hopeful but also realistic story, it is able to utilize very modern themes, such as the expansion of technology and the growing social unrest in the world.
As technology and the internet continue to break down the barriers of communication and blur the lines between Real Life and Internet Life, fiction that deals with these issues feels increasingly pertinent. Hacktivist represents both the benefits and dangers realistically, making it incredibly relevant to the world we live in now.
What do you think? Did we miss any incredible indie comics that should get the big screen treatment? Let us know in the comments!