Logan Ludwig did something near and dear my heart and that of my friend Scott, who writes on adaptions. He did an in-depth book on comic adaption to movies, called Moving Panels: Translating Comics To Film. It’s a deep dive on a subject that’s not only interesting, but more important today than ever. Logan let me interview him so we can find out more on his work.
1) First of all, tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
I’m a media/pop culture obsessive who has been deeply immersed in everything from comics to tv to video games since I was young. When I headed off to college that wound up leading me to study at Wesleyan University specifically in order to major in Film Studies there. Those four years shaped just about the entirety of how I think about art and the ways audiences interact with said art. It also led to me understanding just how satisfying I find writing about media and the storytelling capabilities of all the forms of entertainment that I enjoy. Once I graduated I continued writing about art and eventually wound up back at Wesleyan as the administrative assistant for the Film Studies department. It’s a great place, in that I truly believe in what the department offers to the students, and that it also lets me have a stable environment to pursue whatever strange ideas I want to when it comes to my writing. I may have to write in my off-work hours but that also means I don’t have to worry about anything resembling money when it comes to my writing so I can examine and dive into whatever niche/non-commercial idea happens to strike my fancy at the moment.
2) Have you written any other books beside this one?
This is my first book. I’ve written a fairly large amount of reviews and criticism, a whole bunch for Sequart in particular, but this is the first time I’ve finished a larger project. I don’t expect it to be my last, but I’m also fairly happy to have it off my plate for the moment. A book’s a big investment, I’ve been working on this one on and off for about 7 years or so, and while I’m certain I’ll find something else that will motivate me to embark on a similar project it’s nice to not have something so large looming over me at the moment.
3) So let’s ask – what inspired you to explore this issue of adaptions so specifically?
In part, it’s because the book started as my senior thesis project back when I was in college. As I was a film studies major who loved comics about as much as I did film I wanted to figure out some way to write a thesis that dealt with comic book aesthetics rather than a topic solely focused on films. As this was back in 2008 the comic book adaptation craze was really just beginning and it seemed like a particularly fruitful avenue of study, in that an aesthetic examination of adaptations could potentially yield interesting answers about the strengths of each medium while also highlighting the ways that the two were distinct even as more and more films were turning to comics as a readily available set of stories for adaptations.
4) What was the most unexpected finding of your book? What truly surprised you?
I don’t know how much I was truly surprised in my research and writing. Which isn’t to say that I knew what I was going to find out, but that I went in with a fairly open mind and tried to let my work guide me to conclusions. That in turn means it’s hard to be horribly surprised since there aren’t too many preconceived notions in place which might turn out to be wrong.
5) Without spoiling too much – since we want people to buy your book – what were the major findings you had?
One of the biggest aha moments for me in writing was when I stumbled upon the concept of time as a major dividing factor between the media. It’s not exactly an unexpected dividing line, film moves forward at a set pace while comics are static, but it’s also something that I didn’t hook into as extensively as I might have until a decent amount of time into the project. Comics and film do share a decent number of traits and tools but their individual relationships to time and its progression slowly but surely emerged as one of the most important factors setting the media apart. Seeing the ways that comics could play around with chronology in relatively subtle, deft ways all through things like page layout and panel design was fascinating and similarly noting how film’s linearity helped shape so many of its storytelling decisions was fascinating and something that really crystallized the ways that the media differed for me.
6) We’re in an age of a lot of comic book adaptions – do you have any theories on why that is and if it will last?
At the moment, I think the answer is pretty specifically the success of Marvel Studios. Obviously comic adaptations were starting to be more popular before Marvel’s remarkable success, as evidenced by me embarking on this project just months after the first Iron Man film was released, but the current era of cinematic adaptations of comics we find ourselves in is absolutely driven by Marvel’s domination of the theaters and their invention of a subtly new style of blockbuster film making. The films are tapping into the shared continuity aspect of comics and in doing so have transformed cinema into a strange hybrid of television and film, at least on a storytelling angle. By making every film part of a larger tapestry Marvel’s successfully created a brand that can launch unknown properties and give every new project a built in safety net. In the increasingly difficult market that has favored caution from movie studio executives it makes perfect sense that they would attempt to mimic this approach. Summer blockbusters take a lot of money to make and a failure can lead to disastrous financial consequences, attempting to create a universe that binds a series of movies together for maximum profit makes a lot of sense, and tying that to properties such as comics which already have built in fan bases is just one more way to try and insure against failure.
It’s hard to say for certain if it will last, I absolutely believe it will decline at some point, but like many other genres I think we’re going to be seeing superhero stories on film for a good long while. The popularity may wane, a la the rise and falls of genres like the western, but now that superhero films have truly broken through to the mainstream I doubt they’ll ever entirely disappear. The same goes for more generalized comic adaptations. They’re currently all the rage, but at a certain point the studios will find new raw source material and I’m sure comics won’t be quite as picked over for adaptations once that occurs. Although comics are uniquely suited to selling films. Unlike books its easy to flip through a comic and be presented with a world and concept that’s already visualized and present. It’s simple, coherent material that already looks, at least in part, like a film. While comics work differently than movies, as my book argues, at a basic level they seem similar enough to make the process of adaptation appear easier and more readily obvious which in turn is likely at least part of the reason we’ve seen so many comic adaptations in recent years.
7) Having seen so many comic adaptions, which do you feel (if you can play favorites) is the best, as in most true to its roots and effective?
My personal favorite is Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, mostly because it’s both respectful of the source material and totally willing to change and rework it when it best suits the needs of the film. I’ve never been a particularly big fan of overly faithful adaptations. I generally find that the more the adaptation tries to mimic the source material the worse it ends up being. Any adaptation needs to find its own reason for existing and in doing so needs to reevaluate the source material for what fits with this particular interpretation of the work. This applies in particular to when works are moving between visual media as the concerns that shaped the story in one medium might not apply to the concerns that will shape it in another. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World works so well because it’s first and foremost a movie. It restructures the story, heightens certain aspects of the world, and drops others all in the name of making the best movie possible. It’s an adaptation certainly, but it works beautifully on its own rather than existing primarily as a sign post that points back to the original, superior work.
8) What did you not have time to explore when writing this book?
Just about anything that didn’t relate specifically to aesthetics. The book is necessarily focused on a fairly narrow portion of the adaptation process both in that it’s working to find a concrete line of division between the media while also trying to dive deep into what that division says about the two different media. That means the subject matter has to be relatively restricted for the book to have any chance of finding worthwhile conclusions, otherwise it could easily spiral off in a thousand different directions and wind up being of little use.
9) So after this, what’s next for you?
For the moment, smaller bits of writing here and there. I write regular TV criticism for Sequart on comic book inspired shows and have an idea for one or two other long form projects. Those are still far too early to really talk about though.
10) Any tips for other writers who might want to write about media?
In general it’s the same advice I’d give to just about anybody who wants to write. Keep writing. It’s easy not to write, I’ve fallen into the trap many times myself, but the only way to have a finished product is to finish something. The more you write the better you’ll be and once you’ve started figuring out exactly what your identity is as a writer and a critic things can start to happen, both in terms of the quality of your work and your success in getting the work out there to the larger public.
Thanks Logan. And you know where to get his book!