Comic book adaptations of movies do not have the greatest of reputations. They generally condense the movie into far less of the sum of its parts, stripping the movie of its unique perspective, voice, scale and soul, everything but plot. And even then…
You know, essentially what a movie adaptation does to a comic book. Despite their comparable graphic immediacy, they are very different media in how they treat a scene. a character and a story.
In the seventies and early eighties, they were a way to relive the adventure in your head, flicking through these condensed panels, but the arrival of the VHS to the mass market killed that.
So what to do when you have a graphic adaptation of the Megan Fox breast vehicle Jennifer's Body, a movie told from the perspective of a demon disguised as a high school seductress and her best friend? Simple, you switch the perspective and in a series of short stories, you retell specific moments with a lot more background from the victim's point of view. And it really works.
Rather than the comic adaptation stripping out material to make it fit the space, the books finds small aspects of the movie and blows them up, adding character monologues, flashbacks and scenes of introspection, using some of the hottest indie artists on the market, a move which makes the book look very different than what you might expect from a mid-level license-heavy publisher. These are slice-of-life stories from a jock obsessed with the size of his testicles, a foreign student trying to find the truth of America, an indie kid who hates how his life is being eaten away and the quiet kid and his true love. Pieces that wouldn't seem out of place at Fantagraphics or Drawn And Quarterly until, um, well, Megan Fox turns into a demon. But it works, there's an inevitability to each piece that haunts each panel, we know they will die and die horribly, it's watching someone fall off a skyscraper, following their thoughts and twists as they head towards concrete.
And damn it if this novel doesn't pull off some wonderful artistic tricks along its flightpath. The way music played live transforms one character 's perspective is something Phonogram should have done first, but didn't. The caricature style of Jim Mahfood adds depths of character and emotion with each distorted panel, the jock gaining size and presence as his ego rises, crashing into a shrivelled weasel as he fails.
This is a themed anthology rather than a movie adaptation and it's all the better for it. Ideally, a cinema goer will have a richer experience for reading this comic, gaining new background details to characters, while not having the narrative thrust of the movie spoiled for them. And for those who have seen the movie when they pick up the book, they'll be placing scenes rom the movie in the gutters between panels.
And that's how you adapt a movie to comics. By making it complementary not supplementary. It's an unexpected surprise lying under the covers. A bit like Jennifer herself…
Jennifer's Body is published today from Boom! Studios.