You’ve heard me hyping up The Art of War for months, but here’s your chance to read a review of the book by Greg Burgas, a gentleman scholar over at Comic Book Resources. This is the first ever review based on the entirety of The Art of War so if you want to know what a comics pro has to say about the book head over to CBR for the scoop!
“The Art of War is Strongly Recommended, and I encourage you all to pick it up when it shows up in a couple of months.”
Gotta say, the review is totally awesome and you guys need to check it out. It hints at some of the darker points in the book and some characters that you haven’t met yet if you’ve only read the preview. Definitely excited to see such a big site showing The Art of War some love, oh and don’t forget to pre-order the book! The first print run is limited and we want to make sure you get your copy!
I can honestly say that I truly enjoy the maniacal machinations of Mr. Sinister. He’s so malevolent and manipulative in an almost detached, academic sort of way. He’s not trying to be evil, he’s just trying to get his science on.
In particular I loved X-Factor #39. Sick art and a sick story arc made for one amazingly wild ride.
Lease for new place in East Lansing = Taken care of. Rocket Raccoon UMvC3 post = Done. Writing Center shenanigans = Taken care of.
I feel like a king! Now it’s time to take care of my Weekly Want List and do some stuff for The Art of War… I can’t believe that school starts so soon! Unbelievable!
DC Comics Green Lantern: Emerald Warrior Corps #63 – I’m not quite sure what the deal is with the rename but I’m still picking this bad boy up.
Image Comics Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors #4 – Fun book. Deserves a purchase.
Marvel Comics Daredevil #2 – AMAZING first issue! Cannot wait to see what Marvel has in store for Matt Murdock.
Hulk #39 – When did the Red Hulk take over this Hulk book? Regardless, since then it’s just gotten better and better.
Uncanny X-Men #542 – Purchase it out of habit. As long as Cyclops is in it being a bad ass I’ll be happy.
X-Men: Schism #3 – I’m not quite sure how I feel about this series. I’m always a little put off by kid villains and even more so by kid villains who have no qualms with killing, but the art is so phenomenal I think I’ll overlook my squeamishness.
Vertigo Fables #108 – I think you guys know what I have to say about this series by now.
Hellblazer #282 – Possibly might pick this up. It’s a one and done and it sounds pretty cool.
Nothing much to talk about today. Going to be posting some cool MvC3 stuff in the near future as well as some of the Public Domain work I’ve talked about in earlier posts.
I’m just trying to get all my ducks in order for freaking grad school and with all this The Art of War work I’ve been doing, just trying to get people to review the book… BLERG! 40 hours a week plus the 10-15 hours I spend writing and preparing for school is starting to get to me. But enough complaining and on with the comics!
Image Comics Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors #4
Moriarty: The Dark Chamber #4
Severed #1 – I just might pick this up if I can find it. Sounds very interesting.
Marvel Comics The Dark Tower: The Battle of Tull #3
Hulk #38 – I love the Black Fog. I think he’s such a cool looking villain and I’m totally digging the direction of this story. Gotta say this is probably one of my favorite books on the stands today.
Before I blast off into theoretical realms unknown I think it’d be beneficial to lay a solid foundation for the ideas I’ll be talking about later in the series. First and foremost is the term public domain, which I’ll be throwing around a lot and transmuting into an acronym when I get tried of writing it (PD). If something is in the public domain, and in our case we mean any literature in the PD, it is no longer under any sort of copyright protection.
So anyone that’d like to publish, let’s say The Art of War, can. It being written over 2000 years ago puts it out of reach of even the most dedicated copyright lawyers of the period. That isn’t to say that you can copy modern translations of the work though, present day lawyers will jump all over you for that.
Here’s another example: Let’s say you wanted to write a sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” in comic book form. Well Cole Haddon has done just that in his comic series “The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde.” Seeing as the venerable author died in 1894, at the tragic age of 44, and over 100 years have passed since his demise, his work has fallen out of copyright protection and into the public domain and is now open for adaptation.
The same is true for other such masterful authors as Jane Austen, Jules Verne, Mark Twain, Bram Stoker; the list goes on and on. Granted things get a bit trickier if you want to use works penned by the recently deceased authors of our age, what with copyright laws seemingly being pushed back to infinitum by our legislators, but that’s besides the point. For the third and final time – Public domain literature is free of copyright restrictions and can be adapted and tweaked at will.
So how have comic books creators taken advantage of this phenomenon? Over the past few years I’ve noticed 4 main classifications of adapted PD literature in the graphic storytelling medium: 1) Strict adaptation, 2) tweaked adaptation, 3) untold adventures, and 4) the patchwork universe. Of course there are always exceptions to every rule and these classifications are by no means immutable, but I think they do a good job of setting up the ground work for discussion.
A strict adaptation is when a creator takes a novel and transforms it into a visual tale. Here the writer must pick and choose which words to rip from the prose and feed to the reader while the artist must do their best to make sure that their every picture is worth a few hundred words at least.
This has got to be the most difficult PD adaptation a creator can undertake. They hack and slash the time-tested work of a master, reassemble it into something that communicates the story visually, and then find an artist with the ability to make it look and feel right.
Unfortunately, unless the finished product is something of such surpassing brilliance that it outshines its progenitor, most of these graphic novels tend to be merely an introduction to their meatier original material. Great examples of this type of PD adaptation can be found in the Puffin Graphics collection.
Tweaked adaptation occurs when a creator changes the events of the original work to suit their own creative desires. That probably sounds incredibly vague but for those of you well-versed in mainstream comics think about Marvel’s “What If?” books. There the writer changes an important event in the history of the Marvel U, e.g. General Ross originally becomes the Hulk instead of Banner, and then reveals an all-new aftermath over the course of the comic. It’s still a Hulk story with the same events leading up to the Gamma Bomb explosion, but stars a different Hulk.
A good public domain tweaked adaptation is the Wachowski Brothers’ unfortunately unfinished Doc Frankenstein series. In the comics Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s Monster is a super genius hounded by warriors of the Catholic Church.
The Wachowski’s utilized the classic origins of the motley monster (with one or two slight adjustments) to cement the foundations of their tale, but from there tell a decidedly different story in a completely different and original universe!
The tweaked adaptation is almost like a catch-all category for the comics that don’t quite fit into the other more defined classifications. In the end, a tweaked adaptation stars characters from one specific public domain universe and can be subject to an almost limitless number of variations depending on the whim of the creator. They can rewrite history, add new main characters, tell the tale from a different point of view, modernize the story, or take classic characters and put them into an entirely new universe, like the Wachowskis did.
Untold Adventures is a very common type of public domain adaptation found in comics. As of right now I’m not quite sure if the Untold Adventures should be just a sub-category of Tweaked Adaptation, but bear with me. By definition (my own of course) they’re simply stories about public domain characters that haven’t been told by the original author but are told in the original universe. I’d also like to include a few small stipulations: 1) the PD character’s origins remain relatively untouched unless the tale takes place at an earlier date, 2) the setting remains true to the original and outlandish, non-genre events are kept to a minimum (no alien attacks or time traveling madness here).
Any of the recent Sherlock Holmes comics fit the bill for this one. Tarzan comics, which usually begin as adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs original novels, inevitably become Untold Adventures once the creators have run out of material to adapt.
On an interesting note in Tarzan: Le Monstre by Stan Manoukian and Vince Roucher, Tarzan actually goes toe to toe with three other public domain characters: The Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein, and Jekyll and Hyde. While I would consider this an Untold Adventure, it has elements of the Patchwork Universe as well. There is bound to be crossover between the categories and this comic is a perfect signifier of that fact.
Finally we come to the Patchwork Universe. These occur when creators combine different public domain characters and universes into one overarching narrative. In these stories the Big Bad Wolf might fall in love with Snow White, or Sinbad the Sailor might meet John Carter of Barsoom in an attempt to expel H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds aliens from the red planet.
The first volume of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen combines elements purloined from such megalithic authors as Jules Verne, Sir Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, H.G. Wells, and many many more. Bill Willingham’s Fables goes even further, drawing from ancient fables, legends, folk tales as well as the public domain to tell his stories. As I said above the Patchwork Universe contains elements from multiple PD universes and combines them into one narrative. Simple as that.
WHEW! And there you have it, how public domain literature is utilized in comics today. Obviously this is a constantly evolving phenomena, with new comics being written and published daily, but I think it does a passable job explaining just what a PD comic can be. I hope this was informative and I’ve got more on the way so stay tuned!
This week in Unlimited Highlights we relive some of Cap’s greatest exploits from the second Great War. This is the stuff that the film pulls from so if you’re hyping yourself up for what will undoubtedly be an awesomely patriotic punch-fest, you should definitely read up on this jazz.
My personal favorite this week has one of the longest titles for a single issue ever: Captain America Theater of War: Operation Zero-Point #1. Yeah, that is a mouthful but it’s a great issue, a one and done that satisfies on every level. Daniel Knauf and Mitch and Elizabeth Breitweiser do Cap proud on this ish and you’re missing out if you don’t check it out.
Reading Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for the first time was an enlightening experience for me. I was still relatively new to the comics scene and at 16 years old I had just started reading and collecting, using the gas money my parents gave me to get to school to fuel my funny book obsession.
The League introduced me to an incredible new phenomenon far more stimulating than the super hero stories I normally read: it used famous characters from classic public domain literature in a totally original graphic narrative.
It wasn’t until maybe a year, a year and a half ago that I really started to take an interest in comics that utilized these classic texts for inspiration. That’s about the time I started working with Kelly Roman on his on his graphic novel, The Art of War. In The Art of War Kelly takes the ancient military document by the legendary Chinese general Sun Tzu and uses it to construct the backbone of his own original narrative. His is a graphic novel that combines one of the most well read public domain works in history, one written as an instructional manual for waging war, with a unique tale from his own imagination, and the resulting synthesis yields something never before seen in comics.
While doing some editing work on the book I started to think about the strengths and weaknesses of the public domain comics I had read in the past. Things like The League and Bill Willingham’s Fables sprung to mind. I wondered why someone would use characters created hundreds of years ago? Why would they adapt a text without a narrative? What are the benefits of adapting a work instead of creating something completely original? What are the weaknesses?
Thus began an intellectual journey that’s taken me nearly a year to put to paper. While some of the answers to the questions I’ve posed above may seem glaringly obvious, I think it’s an incredibly complex issue without a single easily explained answer. In writing all this I’ve found that I still don’t have the vocabulary to put everything I’m thinking into words, though I shall try my darndest. My goal is to break down what I think are some of the strengths and weaknesses of adapting public domain work to comics and how creators might go about it successfully.
Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more updates, but as I’ve been writing all day my brain feels sufficiently drained. Each subsequent word I type sounds less ideal than the last and so I leave you with the promise of genuine cerebral stimulation in your future, if you are but bold enough to read with an open mind.