We’re living in a golden age for comic book movies, but even with that being the case, it can be kind of rare for a film to arrive in multiplexes, faithfully guided there by its original creator.
Having the original creator also show up as a writer or even director can work wonders, however, as this sextet of comic book cinematic gems prove.
30 Days of Night
This fun vampire flick from 2007 actually started life as an unsuccessful movie pitch, was adapted into a comic book series when that didn’t work, and then turned back into a movie when the comic proved successful. Creator Steve Niles turned in the initial draft for the movie, although it was then given a revision by Stuart Beattie, one of the writers from the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and screenwriter Brian Nelson.
Niles, however, stayed involved and was reportedly happy with the shooting script. He returned to write a straight-to-video sequel in 2010, which followed Niles’ original vision even more closely.
Director Robert Rodriguez deserves so much credit for taking a stand to get comic creator Frank Miller a co-director credit on the 2005 adaptation of Miller’s Sin City series. Told that only “legitimate teams” of filmmakers could share a director’s credit, Rodriguez essentially told the Directors Guild of America to shove it — quitting the guild to prove his point.
Sin City wound up defining a generation of comic book movies with its (then) unusual visual look, and while Rodriguez was by far the more accomplished director of the directing duo, the style was all Miller’s.
Akira’s a unique entry on this list for a couple of reasons. First of all there’s the scale of the project: creator Katsuhiro Otomo literally spent 8 years of his life and 6 phone book-sized volumes telling his story in comic book form, only to turn around and create what was then the most ambitious Japanese animated film ever made.
Second of all is the fact that, unlike every other film on this list, Otomo (who took on the role of co-writer and director for the movie) was adapting a story he hadn’t yet finished telling — since the movie came out in 1988 and the manga only concluded in 1990.
The result is two different versions of the same story, although both told by the original creator. To this day, that remains pretty unique.
Daniel Clowes is kind of like what Wes Anderson would be if he was a comic creator: crafting quirky personal stories set in worlds which seem just that bit stranger than our own. Ghost World is notable for featuring an early starring (and star making) role for Scarlett Johansson as a cynical, smart-mouthed teen.
What could have been just another millennial teen comedy, however, becomes something far more poignant in the case of Ghost World: my personal favorite film on this list. And the fact that Clowes was retained as screenwriter is surely a major reason why.
Years before comic book movies became the box office leviathans they are today, 1999’s Mystery Men lampooned the genre perfectly. The film tells the story of a misfit bunch of superhero oddities, including Mr. Furious, The Shoveler, The Spleen, Invisible Boy, The Blue Raja, and assorted others who try to save Champion City after the takedown of Superman stand-in, Captain Amazing.
There’s a great cast — including Hank Azaria, Eddie Izzard, Ben Stiller, Geoffrey Rush and others — but the real star is co-writer Bob Burden. The author of the offbeat Flaming Carrot Comics upon which the flick is based, the fact that Burden’s oddball sense of humor was allowed to so directly carry over to the movie is one of the reasons it works so well.
Chances are, Persepolis is the film you’re least likely to have heard of on this list, but more than any other it perfectly illustrates why it can be so important to have the writer of the original comic (or graphic novel in this case) carry through to the screen adaptation. Based on a comic series by Franco-Iranian artist Marjane Satrapi, Sartrapi also co-writes and co-directs the animated movie version.
And what a movie it is, too: a deeply personal story of Marjane’s childhood growing up in pre-revolutionary 1970s Iran. Funny and authentic, this is exactly why you don’t snatch away an artist’s vision and hand it over to someone else to bring to the big screen.