It’s hardly a secret that AMC’s breakout hit of the decade, The Walking Dead, is based on a monthly comic book series created by writer Robert Kirkman, and artist Tony Moore, which was launched in 2003.
What may not be as well known, and something I hadn’t really thought about it till I came across this intriguing post on popwatch.ew.com is how often this cross-pollination occurs between TV and comics.
There have, of course been any number of comic books that have made the leap across to the small screen including Smallville (which is the most recent variant of the Superman origin story), which ran for 10 very successful seasons on the CW network in the US, Batman, and the X-Men, and all have been successful to one degree or another.
But what I had never thought about till I came across the excellent article on popwatch.ew.com was why this is happening so often these days.
It’s not simply the fact that both forms of media lend themselves to great epic storytelling. As Robert Kirkman points out in this quote from the post by Clark Collis, it has just as much to do with the changes in the way television is choosing to tell its stories:
“Television has become more and more serialized. It’s moved into much more of a model where there are important plot details that continue from episode to episode. That’s something which has been in comics so long — we’re getting to the point where the two mediums really go hand in hand.”
You can see this shift in shows like Once Upon a Time, Grimm, and Fringe to name a few, all of whom have elements that are discrete to a particular episode but who also carry from episode to episode an overarching storyline and mythos that provides a context for everything that happens in the show.
It is fuelled in part by the fact that many TV writers also write and produce comic books, something that a newly minted comic book writer, David Schulner, discovered when he pitched the idea for his new comic book series, Clone.
“I write for television, and I brought this as a TV idea to the producers at Circle of Confusion (a management and production company), who are involved with Walking Dead and Robert. They said, ‘What do you think about turning it into a comic?’ And I said, ‘If someone teaches me how to write comics, sure.’
“And they said, ‘Don’t worry about that part, just develop it how you would develop it for a television show.’ Then, once I told people I’m writing comic books, they went, ‘Oh, I’m writing comic books too!’ All my friends, I realized, who are writing for TV and writing for film, also do comic books or they do comic books and also write for TV and film.”
He is in good company. Talented TV writers like Joss Whedon who brought us Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, and the big screen adaptation of Marvel comic book series The Avengers, as well as his own dark Horse Comics series, Fray, and Eric Wallace, writer for sadly departed cult TV show Eureka, and author of Mister Terrific and The Foster Anthology comics, also work extensively in both mediums.
But it’s David’s new comic book series, Clone, that illustrates quite powerfully how deeply connected the two art forms have become.
It centres on a man who discovers on the eve of his wife giving birth that there are multiple versions of him in the world and that someone is trying to kill them all off. It sets off an existential and physical crisis as he has to simultaneously run for his life while trying to work out who he is exactly when he is no longer unique.
It’s the sort of exciting premise that would have made a brilliant episodic TV show, with an intriguing overarching mythos to underpin it all, and indeed, as David’s earlier quote confirms, that is exactly what he intended it to be.
But from the little I have seen of Clone, it works equally as well as a comic book, since that medium perfectly captures both the look and feel of a TV show with perhaps the added benefit of some of the layered internal narrative a printed form affords a storyteller.
In fact, it tells its story so well that I, a man who is not known for darkening the doors of comic book stores, may well be lining up to purchase the series and will be treating it like any of the TV shows I watch.
If this is the future, it’s a very exciting one and bodes well for the golden age of creativity this new digital age, and the collaboration it affords, has ushered in.