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5 Graphic Novels Perfect for TV

Two episodes of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” are in the books and already it’s a thing to behold.  It has officially been picked up for a second season. That should tell you something.  Never before has live action media so perfectly captured the essence of a comic book series, and it got me thinking that maybe TV is in fact better suited to adapting graphic novels. One of the great things about TV is that it can tell a story more leisurely and a saga that originated as many issues over many months or years should not be crammed into a two hour movie. Surely “Watchmen,” for whatever you think of Zack Snyder’s 2009 film, could have benefited from the twelve-part miniseries format. So I’ve compiled this little list, in no particular order, of graphic novels I think would kick ass on the telly.

DC: The New Frontier
Darwyn Cooke’s 2003-2004 re-setting of the DC Universe in the 1950s is some of the best superhero writing ever done. Each of the characters are nuanced and realistic despite the hyper reality of the premise. Essentially, it’s the origin of the Justice League put in historical context where the rocket was a thing of wonder and communism was an omnipresent fear. We get to see Hal Jordan and J’onn J’onzz journey through life prior to their super days and get glimpses of some of the lesser known DCU backlog of characters, like the Blackhawks and King Farraday. “Mad Men” has proven that period shows can work, so why not slap a cape on Jon Hamm and make him Superman?

Like a lot of nerds in the world, I worship at the altar of Neil Gaiman (my excitement at him writing an episode of Doctor Who for the upcoming season cannot be overstated) and few people mix horror and fantasy in quite the same way. We’ve already seen how well his work can be adapted to the big screen in “Coraline” and “Stardust,” and his novel “Neverwhere” was made into a BBC six-episode series in 1996. With the special effects excellence on science fiction television these days, the story of the Dream King Morpheus, an inconceivably powerful and ancient being trying to make up for billions of years of sins, could be beautifully realized. If she show became a hit, it could conceivably go on for many many seasons since Gaiman’s comic series ran for eight years and spans ten collected volumes. Bon appetit!

“Maus” tells the story of writer-artist Art Spiegelman’s father Vladek’s strife before, during, and after the holocaust. It’s an intensely moving story of struggle and strength made even more interesting by Spiegelman’s artwork, which depicts different nationalities as specific animals, with Germans portrayed as cats and Jews portrayed as mice. A television adaptation of this would be tricky for a number of reasons, but the anthropomorphic animal element doesn’t have to be. Animation is again being taken seriously and it is integral to the success of this project. In 2007, Marjane Satrapi’s equally weighty graphic novel “Persepolis” was adapted to film in the very same visual style in which it was drawn and there’s no reason that “Maus” couldn’t be done the same way. The story must be told in this fashion or not at all. If the characters’ species were changed to humans, the effect of the story would be greatly diminished.

Y: The Last Man
A zombie apocalypse story except replace zombies with women, Brian K. Vaughan’s “Y: The Last Man,” tells the strange tale of a mysterious deaths of every male on Earth, even embryos, with the exception of a single man named Yorick and his pet Capuchin monkey, Ampersand. A new, all-female society is struggling to make sense of the abrupt change and militant groups begin to arise and cause havoc. There’s so much in this series that would translate very well to television, with lots of characters and a thru-line objective and various smaller threats to deal with throughout. It would also give a lot of female actors a chance to shine as they’d be doing things not normally depicted on television. More than likely, this one would have to be on HBO or Showtime as there’s quite a lot of excellent swearing, violence, and of course the inevitable sexual content. And speaking of pay cable….

A television version of “Preacher” could not exist anywhere but an HBO or Showtime. AMC is known for pushing boundaries, but this would take the cake. Then it would throw the cake outside onto a passing disabled person and shout a number of obscenities at them before smiting them with the wrath of God. For those who haven’t read Garth Ennis’ “Preacher,” and I’m ashamed of you for it, it tells the story of a divinely possessed preacher, his ex-girlfriend, and an Irish vampire who attempt to literally find God while being pursued by the Saint of Killers, an evil Clint Eastwood. But that really doesn’t do it justice. It’s a pitch-black comedy with loads of violence and blasphemy that also happens to be deeply spiritual. Any adaptation of this is going to be tricky, no doubt, but it’s not impossible. It’s merely a matter of dealing with the subject matter in a tasteful way. Yes, I just used the word “tasteful” when talking about “Preacher.”

So, come on, Television. Let’s get going on this.

You’re welcome.


Images: DC, Vertigo, Pantheon Books

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  1. Joe Bennett says:

    Nick Spencer’s – Morning Glories Even though it isn’t finished yet, it seems to me it would be a home run for an ongoing series.

  2. ajatfm says:

    Preacher is my absolute favorite on all-time, and Y is second. All 5 of these are in my top 20 somewhere, great picks. I agree with most of the assessments, I would love to see these as TV shows or movies. Every time I hear anything about Preacher, Fables or Y I just get so bummed out because I’ve gotten my hopes up so many times by rumors and “talks”. I guess that’s how it works though. I wouldn’t mind seeing a Strangers in Paradise TV series or a Bone series. When RASL wraps up, I’d love to see that too.

  3. RJ says:

    I agree with Brian, Dark Knight series. Wow, Batman kicking Superman’s boyscout ass would make for great television. Y:The Last Man would be a seriously compelling drama, as well. HBO really needs some substitution during the time True Blood is in hiatus during the winter months.

  4. The Valentine says:

    Im sorry. Although the AMC Walking Dead series is pretty kick ass, it lacks in the zombie killing department. Ive read the available installments of the walking dead graphic novles and compared it to the series and noticed that the AMC series is too dramatic. Needs more shooting. That is my only complaint. Thank you. 🙂

  5. tuffhippy says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. Maus was my first graphic novel experience, and it was a doozy. I too clamor for more stateside popularity for Neil Gaiman and his amazing talents. Would love to see a newer version or even a rebroadcast of Gaiman’s “Neverwhere”, as well.

  6. Mtm2 says:

    I disagree about Transmetropolitan. And I think Spider would do something disgusting on your head if you suggested it anywhere he could hear…

    Transmet is all about the written word. Truly disturbing visuals, and an endless flow of really twisted commercials, but the story works because you get these snapshots of his life in every panel. Frozen moments that suggest what’s going on, what just happened, and the absolute horrors that are going to happen next.

    Besides, “shat unto unconsciousness” is never going to be funny on TV or the silver screen. It works just fine when you try to imagine it for yourself…

  7. robertoelbueno says:

    100 BULLETS!!!!

    It would be easy to execute, could work on non-subscription networks and would serialize so perfectly.

    Like a more complex version of The Wire, but equally engaging and gritty.

  8. Walter says:

    I agree with every selection except New Frontier, I always figured if Warner Bros wanted to do a live action JLA story they would do it on the big screen…and set in modern times.

    There are numerous Vertigo titles that are more well suited for TV (no superpowered beings/special effects heavy scenes) like 100 Bullets, The Exterminators or Scalped?

    Chew and Icon’s Criminal series would be good television also imo.

  9. Brain says:

    What about Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Something about an aging Batman trying to make sense of an ever-changing world around him is compelling.

  10. Marc says:

    Twere the “Neverwhere” TV series that came first. And was pretty shite in my opinion. Made for a great novel though.

  11. Seija says:

    Y: would be a sweat as show. They could even try to do a movie of it, but they would have to cut down alot of side stories and follow Yorick alot closer.

  12. Rory Santino says:

    Two from the Way-Back Machine:

    Scud: The Disposable Assassin – This was an often hilarious and surreal comic about a robot assassin. Written and drawn by people who were obviously thinking of it as a TV series or movie all along it has frantic pacing and lots of violence. They even listed voice casting for all the characters at the front of each issue (John Malkovich will always be the voice of Scud to me…). There was interest from Hollywood in the mid-late 90’s, but Rob Schrab and Dan Harmon have enough clout themselves now that I’d love to see them get this made into an animated or CGI series.

    Quantum and Woody – Another 90’s series. Two friends end up with superpowers due to bands attached to their arms, except they have to bang the bands together once every 24 hours to keep the powers and avoid dying. Another, well… odd… series, it mixed action and humor, riffing on the sitcom and superhero genres equally. The perils of roommates, body-switching, and having a goat as a sidekick all were addressed. It was modestly popular at the time, but I think it could be fun…

    re: Warren Ellis. Would love to see Transmetropolitan: The Series. Would also love to see the same for Global Frequency or Planetary (both of which are great series material), but as with most of Warren’s material, you have to commit to the budget to do it right and commit to the “weird” factor to do it right. Sadly, few outlets are willing to do both right now.

  13. Wodwose says:

    Great list. I would also include Warren Ellis and Derrick Robertson’s “Transmetropolitan”series (collected in ten graphic novels under DC/Vertigo, but started under DC’s failed HELIX imprint). Deep politics, social commentary and an exploration of futurist memes all wrapped up in a bow of over-the-top violence. It also has a wealth characters and a slowly unfolding plot that is never boring. I feel it could keep people engaged over multiple seasons in a way that ‘Heroes’ just couldn’t muster.

  14. Rob says:

    Excellent list! Rumor has it they’ve been trying to do Y The Last Man for a while as a feature film with (Shudder) Shia LaBeouf. You right a TV series would be suited much better to the serial nature of this series. I’ve thought for a while now, you could turn Darwyn Cooke’s version of Catwoman into a pretty kickass TV series. With great characters like Ted Grant and Slam Bradly, it would be like Alias meets Dragnet.

  15. Jason says:

    Eric Kripke, creator of Supernatural, is working on bringing Sandman to television.

  16. Jordan says:

    I would love to see a Y: The Last Man, TV series. Ever since I started reading DMZ, I’ve always wanted it to be adapted into a series of movies or even better a TV series. I think that would be awesome. 😀

  17. Ryan says:

    I think all the marvel knights stuff would work really well on FX especially heroes for hire, with Luke Cage and Ironfist.

  18. The already made an animated movie of Justice League: The New Frontier and seeing as how it is not an ongoing comic, I don’t think it would work as a TV show, maybe a TV mini-series. I do agree that Y The Last Man would be a great TV show.

  19. n8ertot says:

    they tried …

    “We were budgeting and everything and it was getting really close to going,” Johnson told The Continuum. “But the new head of HBO felt it was just too dark and too violent and too controversial. Which, of course, is kind of the point!

    “It was a very faithful adaptation of the first few books, nearly word for word. They offered me the chance to redevelop it but I refused. I’ve learned my lesson on that front and I won’t do it again. So I’m afraid it’s dead at HBO.

    “I’ve heard someone is in the process of getting the rights to turn it into a feature film. I hope that happens. But I hope it happens as a series of movies as one movie couldn’t do it justice. I really love that story and I dedicated a lot of my time to honor Garth’s work. But it wasn’t meant to be.”