Monthly Archives: January 2014

The trouble with adaptations

One of the joys of my current class (Writing for Comics and Animation) is that I get to talk about adaptations and the art of doing one in comic or graphic novel form. As fans of popular properties, we’re always excited about the aspect that something we really enjoy will be presented in a different format: when we’re a fan of a book, we want to see the movie; when we’re a fan of a game, we want to read the comic. The problem with adaptations is that there is no possible way to make everyone happy. Let me ‘splain.

Most writers, when tasked with the responsibility of an adaptation want the freedom to make changes, most of them subtle, but changes nonetheless. Most of the time writers are forced to make changes of some sort simply to fit the medium. Since I’ve only ever done comic adaptations from other formats (I’ve done film, game and novel all to comic), the biggest challenge is fitting it all in. So the writer has to take the number of pages allotted by the publisher, and figure out what parts are vital and what parts can be cut or reduced. There’s a lot of work in that the writer wants to be true to the original…but there are only so many pages. In comics, the pictures don’t move!

The problem with changes, though, is hardcore fans of the property don’t want you to change it in any way. They’re hardcore fans because they love everything about it. They love it so much they just want to see the exact same thing but in a different way. Trust me, if you fiddle with their beloved story, you’ll hear how wrong you were to do so!

Don’t believe me? Think of recent films that have been released based on novels or games or comics. How many times did you hear someone commenting on the “changes” made? I heard people talk about the recent Ender’s Game adaptation and how it made changes at the end. Some liked it, some didn’t. Or what about the superhero movies? Just spend some time googling (what a cool new verb!) them and you’ll see endless debates not only about how good or bad the films are, but how “true” they are to the original (I personally hated the fact that the web in the Toby Spider-Man was biological—I thought it changed the character of Peter Parker too much!). I also remember seeing Starship Troopers when it hit the theaters. At the time I was so mad because it was nothing like the Heinlein book on which it was based. However, I saw it a few years later (it a group setting where the group wanted to see it, not me! So I just went along like a good guest!) and—knowing that it was nothing like the book, I thought it was a decent sci-fi movie. It was NOT the Starship Troopers of the book, but it wasn’t a horrible movie (this is in reference to ONLY the first film, fyi).

Then there are those fans who want to have something different, who prefer to get something that adds to the original so they don’t just get the same thing. Stray too far, though, and it ceases to become an adaptation. If you remain close, it’s “based on.” However, when you write completely original material simply in that setting (as I did for Planet of the Apes: Blood of the Apes), then it isn’t an adaptation at all. Those, from a writer’s point of view, are fun to write.

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Northridge Earthquake 20 years later

Some events in a person’s life stay with them forever, most of them firsts: first kiss, first touchdown, first car, etc. Other events as so big to us that they just embed themselves in our memory and stay there. There are two times in my life when I really thought I was about to die.

Twenty years ago, the Northridge earthquake struck at 4:30 in the morning. I was in bed, sound asleep, having been up late and out on the town the night before. BJ and I went with some of the people she worked with at CSUN to a comedy show in downtown LA. We had a great time, but came in late.

People asked me if I knew what it was when it hit, after all, I’m a Mississippi boy and I’m more accustomed to tornadoes than earthquakes. But the answer to that is absolutely yes—I knew exactly what it was. And it scared the crap out of me.

The quake, 6.6 or 6.8, depending on the source reporting, lasted for about 40 seconds. We lived on the bottom floor of a two storey apartment complex on campus and I thought it was about to fall in on BJ and I and kill us. We didn’t know what else to do, so we just held on to each other.

For 40 seconds we told each other over and over that we loved the other…and hung on tight to one another.

It’s fortunate it was dark and we couldn’t see anything because I think that would have scared us even more. We’d have seen items flying across the room. The dresser at the end of our bed was on the opposite wall, upside down.

For 40 seconds, I thought I was about to die.

When it stopped, our first thought was to get out. As we exited our bedroom into the long hallway, we discovered we had about a foot and a half which we could walk: the closet doors which lined the hallway had buckled out leaving us that small room to walk. Because we couldn’t see, I felt my way along the wall. When we turned the corner, the hallway door was open so I reached in and grabbed a coat.

Our feet crunched through the living room a small ways to the door. What I couldn’t see then, was that my two bookshelves had emptied all the contents into the living room. Items from the small kitchen that was attached, had found their way to the living room and most of it shattered. We lost all but a couple of pieces of the good china we’d received at our wedding.

I could probably go on for a long time about that night and the following months, but you probably wouldn’t want to read that much. BJ was the highest ranking school official on campus for several hours—we lived there, duh. She dove in to the task of caring for all the students on campus—she wrangled her crew together and put volunteers to work. It was pretty impressive.

A lot of people took really good care of us after that—after all, we’d lost our place to live! My colleagues at Malibu proved that they weren’t “just” colleagues and in fact were extended family by helping us sneak in to our apartment—which had been condemned—and get all of our belongings out and moved to a storage unit. Tom Mason and his wife let us live with them for a while—something I’ll never forget because we were essentially homeless at that time. We lived in a residence hall at the Jewish University on Mulholland after that until CSUN had a new place for us to move in to and return to campus.

I had problems sleeping for about year after that.

Even today, if I feel the house shake, a little chill runs down my spine.

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Silverberg’s The Time Hoppers and Simak’s Enchanted Pilgramage

Well, I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t have a New Year’s resolution of not missing a blog…that resolution would already be blown. Geez. I didn’t even realize I’d missed last week when I sat down to write this entry.

I’ll catch up on writing stuff next time. This time I want to talk about my holiday readings. I was sans internet for about a week during Christmas (some of that time intentional) and I got some good reading in. As you probably already know, I’m a fan of classic science fiction and I got in two books I’ve been wanting to read for some time.

Clifford D. Simak’s The Enchanted Pilgrimage was the first of the pair. This is my least favorite of the two. The content should not have really surprised me as the story is exactly what the title suggests: A odd assortment of characters who embark on a pilgrimage peppered with magic. Not a big reader of fantasy, there were a few odd characters that I initially had trouble getting a handle on: swamp goblins or some such. After wadding through the explanation, I was fine, but still a little unclear as to what a few of the characters were.

The short of it is a university librarian finds a secret page in an old book and decides he has to take it to a forbidden area where he thinks there is another university that can help him understand the language and meaning. As he goes, he picks up others who accompany him on this quest, including the swamp goblin (or whatever) who wants to return a special sword to the Old Ones.

There’s obstacles, of course, but not a lot of real tension. They figure things out one thing right after another and keep moving. It’s not a terrible read at all, just not something to keep you on the edge of your seat. A nice light read…exactly the kind of thing I was looking for over the holidays!

I also read Robert Silverberg’s The Time Hoppers. You know that I’m a big fan of time travel, time stories, etc. Generally, if it has “time” in the title, I’m going to pick it up and look at it. Heck, my novel of 2010 has the “flavor” of time travel. Unlike Simak’s book, I didn’t exactly get what the title led me to believe. “Hopping” implies multiple hops. Not so in this book.

The main character is a “CrimeSec,” a futuristic policeman. With rampant unemployment, people have found a way to “hop” out of their time and go to sometime in the past where it is assumed they can thrive. It is the CrimeSec’s job to find how the hoppers are leaving and to capture the equipment being used. Seems the ruler of the world (people are given numbered ranks based on status—the only #1 is the person who rules the planet) wants to get the equipment so he can simply toss dissidents into the past and be done with them. Problem is, they’re deathly afraid of messing up the past for fear they’ll mess up the timeline and cause themselves to not be born.

The funny thing is the date they begin recording “hoppers” arriving is 1979. The book was published in ’67, so it makes sense…it was still kinda funny. This one was an enjoyable read. Anyone else ever read either of these books and if so, what was your take on it?

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