Reading Television by Alex Correa
Television viewers. The whole lot of you. Whether it's on network TV, Netflix, DVD sets, YouTube or torrents (tsk tsk), you've all binged on a particular series. With the immense popularity of the Walking Dead and much talked about Flash, Gotham and Hellblazer on the horizon, is it time to look at comic books as an untapped medium for television properties?
It's time to look at comic books as a replacement for your favourite television shows. Despite your fancy, there will be at least one graphic novel that can meet the quality and particular feel of your favourite show. With that in mind, here is a look at currently popular episodic shows and their comic book counterparts.
JUSTIFIED and PREACHER (Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon)
One need not look very far when searching for the comic book equivalent of the take-no-guff, tough as nails modern-day cowboy sheriff, Raylen Givens from Justified. Jesse Custer delivers this in spades as he attempts to accomplish the impossible by finding God (literally, not metaphorically). Aided by his beautiful, gun-toting girlfriend Tulip and a one-hundred year old vampire Cassidy, there is no shortage of moral ambiguity. As is the case with the cast Justified, from lead protagonist Givens to the wildcard Boyd Crowder, there are some very questionable actions perpetuated by mostly everyone.
Despite the radical shift in genre and plot, the tone and atmosphere of both narratives are congruent to the point of interchangeable. Preacher delivers a beautiful, while at times over the top, representation of 20th century Americana. Add a more than adequate amount of sex and violence (thank you very much, 90s Vertigo Comics) and you have an action-thriller worth of Elmore Leonard.
GAME OF THRONES and KILL SHAKESPEARE (Conor McCreery/Anthony Del Col/Andy Belanger)
Being the originator of a myriad of tropes found in all sorts of dramas, to link a television show to anything Shakespearean is sort of a cop out. But when dealing with the realm of the Medieval fantasy, discussing similarities is not only forgivable but mandatory.
Where George R. R. Martin's epic focuses on the chase for the Iron Throne as a symbolic item of power, Kill Shakespeare features a quill of reality altering power. The players? Perhaps the greatest characters in literary history: Hamlet, Richard II, Juliet, Iago, Lady Macbeth, Puck and others. Is it fair to say that these timeless characters are the archetypes of many of those found in Game of Thrones? Just look at Cersei Lannister's character arc and you can see how her hunger for power and deceptive use of her family mirror Lady Macbeth's own story. That barely even grazes the surface.
Fantasy, sex, violence, political agendas, deceit and power all combine neatly in many timeless Shakespearean plays. Although Kill Shakespeare is not part of Shakespearean canon (it's a funnybook, after all) Del Col and McCreery remain faithful to the source material even through the creative amalgamation of stories.
Finally, The comic, like GoT, delivers on exactly what you'd think of when you hear the word “Shakespearean”. Which is death. Lots and lots of it.
BREAKING BAD and HELLBLAZER: DANGEROUS HABITS (Garth Ennis/Will Simpson)
Yes, cancer. Yes, desperation. Yes, the selling of one's soul for personal gain.
John Constantine is a man who's clock is ticking and will stop at nothing to get what he wants, leading him to walk an unscrupulous path. Can the same be said about Walter White? Absolutely. But where one walks the path of magic, the other does so with science... And a bit of meth.
TRUE DETECTIVE and FROM HELL (Alan Moore/Eddie Campbell)
True Detective's swampy, post-industrial setting of modern-day Louisiana is a far cry from 19th century London. Or so you would think. A detective on the trail of a sadistic serial killer after a rash of gruesome murders does have a Jack the Ripper-vibe regardless of setting. But what links the two even further is the subsequent uncovering of brutal details surrounding the investigation. I'm not one to drop spoiler bombs haphazardously, so I will keep it brief since both are steeped in morbid conspiracies with existential insights on death and beyond. As the mystery unravels, the lead protagonists becomes more volatile and unhinged – with good reason.
Not to say that series' writer Nic Pizzolatto is indebted to Alan Moore in any way, but this little factoid should pique your interest. From Louisville's Courier-Journal in 2010, Pizzolatto shares:
The first time I got excited about writing was reading comic books by Alan Moore and Grant Morrison as a kid. Growing up in southwest Louisiana, in a house without many books, the sophistication and depth of their stories were really mind-blowing for a kid. Source.
There you have it. A peak into Pizzolatto's formative years and it involves Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. Now doesn't it all make sense?
NEWSROOM and NIGHTLY NEWS (Jonathan Hickman)
Is this one a bit obvious? Aside from the similar titles, the most important commonality between Newsroom and Nightly News is the fact that they were both created to be a mouthpiece for their respective writer who had become increasingly unhappy with the state of American news sources.
Clearly there's no shortage of disparaging critiques to be made about Fox News or CNN but both Hickman and Andy Sorkin use those faults as the focal point of their narratives, although to different ends. Where Sorkin's Newsroom takes on a passive media-driven route, Hickman opts for a much more violent path involving a journalist-killing terrorist group. Both are effective for different reasons yet guilty of being a bit preachy at times. However, the message is the focal point and they never lose sight of it.
And if you believe you'll miss Jeff Daniels' fantastic performance when reading Nightly News, take solace in the fact that this is one of the most uniquely produced works in comics by the man that went on to be the driving mind of the Marvel Universe in 2013.
AMERICAN HORROR STORY and LOCKE & KEY (Joe Hill/Gabriel Rodriguez)
Often times, the horror genre has the unfortunate distinction of being host to poorly thought out offerings better classified as “torture porn” or “gorno” (legitimate terms, I thought you knew?). A far cry from memorable movies like The Exorcist or a myriad of Stephen King books or Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing, which have all delved into the psychological traumas amidst the supernatural terror. This is where FX comes in with a very risky episodic horror show that wound up revitalizing and revolutionizing television horror. The ambition shown by the creators of American Horror Story has indeed paid off as viewers are tuning in and once again taking a vested interest in the kind of tales that scribes like Stephen King mastered decades prior.
Enter Joe Hil and the mind behind recent horror masterpieces Horns and Heart-Shaped Box. The literary successor as well as actual offspring of Stephen King, Hill takes his talent where his father has not: comics. Locke & Key, like AHS, shone a spotlight on the horror genre for its respective medium, amidst all the rampant gornography (okay, I made that one up). Putting aside the supernatural tropes, haunted house scenarios and dark, morbid secrets that both Locke & Key and AHS (first season) share, they both also place focus on richly developed, complex characters tied together by a tense family dynamic. Therein lies the most captivating and driving force of both stories. And let me just say: it was about time.