Aug 26 2009 1:18pm

Resurrecting Television Through Comics

Something that’s become popular of late is continuing defunct and canceled television shows in comic format. Joss Whedon is the biggest player in this game, continuing the stories of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Season 8 from Dark Horse) and Angel (After the Fall, IDW). Farscape has seen a string of miniseries from BOOM! Studios continuing its story. Pushing Daisies is going to see a continuation in comic form from DC. Ditto for Jericho from Devil’s Due.

I am of two minds when it comes to this phenomenon.

Generally, I think it’s great. Most of these shows (with the exception of Buffy) were canceled when they still had a lot of life in them. There are stories left to tell, stories that their creators, no doubt, still have rattling around in their heads. And in the cases mentioned above, those creators are intimately involved with these comics, either writing them directly or at least guiding their development. This is a good thing. It lends the comics legitimacy and promises that you will be getting the series as the creators had intended it. These works are ‘canon’, as authentic as the television series that birthed them.

But there’s something that stops me cold. Something that prevents me, a comic reader, from picking up an issue or even a collection of one of these series. And that’s the medium.

Don’t think I’m dissing comics, because I’m not. But comics are not television just as they’re not films. To me, a television show is more than just plot, dialogue and visuals. To me, the actors are an integral part of a television show. Would Captain Malcolm Reynolds, of Firefly, be as engaging a character without Nathan Fillion playing him*? I think not. And even if it was Whedon writing Mal, anything that Fillion brought to the role is lost in the pages of the comic. Likewise for the chemistry between characters—like Aeryn Sun and John Crichton from Farscape. You can write it, and show it in static images, but it seems to me that it would never quite match the crackle between the live actors. And I just can’t bring myself to check out a watered down version of a series I love.

I realize that I may be in the minority here. And I do find myself wondering where the creators would take the show. I’m tempted to pick up Buffy Season 8 or the Angel series and revisit the characters and the world that I watched so faithfully. But then I see those characters on the page, trying so hard to look like Sarah Michelle Gellar and David Boreanaz and somehow that kills my interest. It’s a strange paradox—the more they look like the people on television, the less interest I have. Because maybe those characters don’t really have life apart from the actors who play them.

So I put it to the readers—how do you feel about these comic continuations? Do you find it better than nothing at all? Or is it as valid as the television show to you? Or is Joss Whedon just writing fanfiction in his own universe? Does anyone else share my peculiar aversions to these? I’m interested in your opinions.

* While Firefly is not one of the series that Whedon has continued in comic format, Whedon has written Firefly/Serenity comics that bridge the period between the series and the movie.

Rajan Khanna is a graduate of the 2008 Clarion West Writers Workshop and his fiction has appeared in Shimmer Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn with his two cats, Chloe and Muppet.

Marcus W
1. toryx
I feel exactly the same way. I love the idea of the stories continuing, especially as their creators intended. The story is what drew me to each of these shows and I'm pleased that it's the story that's driving their new life as comics.

Yet the comics themselves are...souless for lack of a better word...for me. It's become too obviously two-dimensional. I've bought the first two parts of the Buffy Season 8 comics graphic novel edition and I just can't seem to be caught up by the story. It's simply too flat.

I can't help but wonder if I'd feel the same way if they were written in novel form. I'm inclined to think so since I don't like novelizations of television or movies, nor do I like non-canon continuances of stories taken out of those mediums. The writing doesn't equate to the acting and production for me, at least so far.

I wish I enjoyed the comics as much as others have.
2. Lsana
I tend to dislike them, though for a different reason: I don't read comics. I understand abstractly that the graphic novel is a legitimate storytelling medium, but I can't pick up one and get absorbed in the story. I imagine it's something like how a dyslexic feels trying to read a novel; I'm having so much trouble trying to assemble the pictures into a coherent narrative that I never get into the story.

Obviously, this is a problem with me rather than the stories themselves, but it bothers me that there is a continuation of these great series that I will never get to experience.
Amy Young
3. ceara
When they're done well, I feel like the actors really are in there, somehow. I think that in the best comic continuations, the characters became imbued with those things their actors brought to them, and they show in the comics as well. I'm not generally one to "hear" dialogue when I read it, but this style of comics is an exception, because I always hear them in the voice - and the "voice" - of the relevant actors.
4. Caitlynn Legris
See, i feel the exact opposite way. There has never been a series that had captured my heart quite like buffy has and for christmas a couple friends of mine got me the first 2 issues of the TBP's. Not only am i a serious comic lover but i found that i knew the characters so well from the original series that it was easy to imagine they're tone, cadence, and put together sentences and phrases that sounds, to me, as they were actually coming from the characters themselves.
Meagan Brorman
5. nutmeag
I'm with most of y'all on this thread--the actors make it for the characters. Once you've seen their quirks and mannerisms, it's hard to look at a 2-D version (granted, I'm not a huge comic book fan to begin with). Still, I'm glad they're out there so that readers can know the continuing story. I'll probably pick up Shepherd Book's story once it comes out, just because I'm dying to know his background.
Iain Coleman
6. Iain_Coleman
This makes me think back to the 1980s, when Doctor Who Magazine had a long run of comic strips written by Steve Parkhouse, featuring the Fifth and then Sixth Doctors, that were far superior to the stories being broadcast on the TV.

I don't buy the "comic strips can never be like the actors" argument. Good comics writers and good artists can bring a character to life just as well as good screenwriters and good actors.

The important thing is to use the medium well. Those Doctor Who strips succeeded so well because they told stories that could never be told on TV.

I haven't read any of the comics mentioned in te article, so I can't comment on them. But if you think they don't succeed, could that be because they are trying too hard to be like TV stories, and not exploiting the possibilities of the comic strip?
7. joten
I don't really read comics much, so I am ambivalent, but I guess it's better than not getting closure for your shows. IO9 had a rant about this here.
Samantha Brandt
8. Talia
I'm for it. Whether its in comics or book form, inevitably the scenes I look at/read end up playing out in my head with the actors in question assuming their intended roles. So it works out well for me.
Rajan Khanna
9. rajanyk
@6 - good point about using the medium to its best effect. I think that's an aspect that I overlooked. I'd like to see examples of that, though, definitely. Much in the same way that animation can be used to create effects that are impossible or too costly in live-action, I think comics can give us things that we couldn't get on television.

To the people who said that they imagine the scenes in their heads - that's definitely a plus for the writers who can rely on the established performances of the actors to play off of. I wonder, though - would the same effect be possible with a novel? Or short story? Does the art add anything, do you think? Or is it used to its best effect?
Iain Coleman
10. Iain_Coleman
@6 - good point about using the medium to its best effect. I think that's an aspect that I overlooked. I'd like to see examples of that, though, definitely.

If you are able to buy, beg, borrow or steal a copy of Doctor Who: Voyager (A collection of comic strips from Doctor Who Magazine, comprising a complete story arc) that's probably the best illustration of what I'm talking about.
11. sofrina
i can't agree with the notion that the characters have no life beyond the actors' performance. fan fiction itself disproves this. it only exists because the characters are so fully realized that they live walk around in other people's heads.

on occasion i've enjoyed the comic btvs because the stories can be realized without the limitations of the real world (fx budgets, etc.) i never really got over the those kendra fight scenes in "becoming." i noticed during the first airing that her fighting was way down from her previous episode. turns out her stunt double was out of town, so they had to make do with the actresses moves. the only flaw in a superb episode. in comic form, we don't have to be disappointed by the occasional crap f/x (beljoxa's eye).

i read all of the btvs "tales of the slayers" collections. those were great short stories. granted, different characters for the most part, but drawing from the same conceit. it's a shame pocket stopped doing them.

it is down to the writer across all formats to make the story work. if the writing is inferior, no actor is going to mask that. if the actor is not equal to the material, however, we'll clearly see who was at fault and simply wish someone better had been cast. the quality of the writer's work will shine through no matter what.
Rajan Khanna
12. rajanyk
@11 - that's a good point as well, and something I hadn't considered. We often hear (or read) stories about how plots were changed or not fully realized because actors weren't available or budgets didn't allow for them or the sets had been struck, etc. None of that matters in the context of the comic book and so, at least in some ways, that story could potentially be more true to the vision of the creator than if it had appeared on television. That's a good point.
13. NancyM
Like Lsana, I'd agree that they work better if you're used to reading comics. I was pretty excited to find a continuation of the Buffy story. But every change of scene I'd be wondering "Who's that blonde girl? Oh, it's Buffy". Clearly others don't have that problem; maybe like reading it's a skill that requires practice.
Ian Gazzotti
14. Atrus
I am a comic reader and I don't usually like comics or animations based on film and TV characters, with few notable exceptions, because of the very same problem: unless very well done, they to miss that don't know what that makes them feel alive the same way as their video counterparts. It is slightly better with novels, thought it depends much more on the skill of the writer.

I think the perfect medium for out-of-screen adventures is the audiobook, as it has many of the advantages of the comic format (no budget restrictions on your alien or fantasy stuff), and I prefer to listen to the original voice and imagine the visual quirks and mannerisms rather than look at a drawn figure trying too much to look like an actor. The obvious example is Big Finish, that gave the 5th and especially the 6th Doctor a new life and much better adventures than they had on TV.

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