Monday, June 23, 2014

How to Write a Dear Hunter Graphic Novel

The thing about adapting one medium to another's very hard.

Adapting a comic into a film seems like an easy task, but it's not.  There are things that work on the page that don't work in a film.  Whether that be thematic or an actual visual...there's just stuff that works and stuff that doesn't.  For instance...if 'Watchmen' had used the actual ending, most of you non-comic types would have said, 'What the fuck was that?  That was the stupidest plot twist ever!" (Not that one, the first twist) and walked out, maybe some of you even demanding your money back.
Sometimes it works...
...and sometimes it doesn't.
 The common misconception is that comics act as storyboards...but in my opinion, that's almost never the case.  It takes a great director, someone with a real vision, to decide what's going to play and what isn't...and I've brought some visual aids.

Why did one work and not the other?  Well, mostly content.  These are both pretty far out of context.  Haha.

'Scott Pilgrim' is a great
example of a writer/director knowing he has no business improving on the source, and simply making it work for a different medium.  'Daredevil' is an example of some great ideas executed very poorly, in my opinion.  Knowing your content and what you're providing for the story is probably the most important thing I've found so far in adaptation.  But the examples I gave are comics-to-film.

Things change when you're adapting a 6-act conceptual record story into graphic novels.  Which is why this entry is about how I'm writing these books and why I'm making the choices I'm making.

The first thing that needed to happen was to have an overall view of the story, which I described in the last post.  With a 6-act scope to work with, Act 1 changes a great deal.  The focus becomes clearer when you know who you're writing for.

Act I is about the boy.  The Mother and the Pimp and the Priest are obviously relevant...but Act 1 is about the boy.  It needs to be about the boy, because if I put together this great story about characters we don't focus on in the other books, I'm failing as a storyteller and leading readers to a place I don't want to take them, and they'll find it's a place they wouldn't want to go.

Learning to adapt these records into books has been a process.  Like anything else, it takes time to figure out what's going to be part of that process.  Sitting down and working isn't difficult for me, but it can border on tedious sometimes.  I get easily sidetracked by things and lose focus a lot.  Phone, internet, neighbors, etc...these are things I'm good at tuning out.  It's the creatively stimulating things that can get me caught up.  Very often what I do when I'm working though is use those distractions to my advantage.

TV is one of them.  I'm a writer.  I went to film school, so my natural inclination is visual stimulation.  I found the best way to use this was to put something on I know I can ignore because I've either seen it 1,939,506 times or it's so bizarre or monotone I'll only be interested in turning my head for a moment.

My secret for Act I: Terrence Malick's 'To The Wonder'...

A little haunting, right?  Lubezki knows how to set the mood.

Closer to the visual vibe of Act I in terms of land...but it'll probably be greener.

This film is pretty meta.  Or not.  I'm not entirely sure.  I still don't know the plot.  I just know Batfleck is in it...Rachel McAdams is in it...and it looks beautiful.

But I do know that I can put it on in the background and crank out 10 pages easy.  The style of storytelling in Malick's later work helps me too.  A little courage is always needed when you're telling a story that is a lot of internal monologue (If you've seen 'Adaptation.', you'll understand my deep-seeded fear of voice-over.)  I'm less afraid seeing how he makes it work (or how it doesn't work, depending on your feelings on the matter) ...and when I was working out Act I in my head, I realized that'd be the only way we'd see any kind of dialogue in the latter half of the book.  And while there isn't much dialogue...the dialogue in there means something...each word.  It's what you get from a dose of Malick work.

The other major distraction for me is music.  As I've said before in one of the blogs...I do not listen to music when I work, and No...the irony doesn't escape me.

The Dear Hunter live.
I realized fairly early on though in this process that my 'no music' thing was going to have to change because I was having ideas while 'researching' (aka listening to the available Acts on repeat) that I needed to 'feel' in order to write.  What's worse is knowing how things are performed live, and knowing that energy.  I wanted that on the page.

So what I decided to do, to amend this...was to listen to the records before I started working each time.  Each time, I'd prepare my work station while I plowed through Act I.  But I realized pretty quickly that Act I wasn't enough...and then Act II became a huge part of me working on Act I's structure.  It's amazing to me the world Casey built, how co-dependent each act is on the next, building to something greater every time, but at the same time, creating parts of a story that could absolutely stand on their own.  I found visual motifs and little pieces of dialogue I wanted to use.  I captured this energy in myself, let it fester while I listened closely to every word and inflection, trying to find more little pieces to keep in my head...

...and then I'd turn it off and get to work.  I can tell you right now, there is very little lyric-to-dialogue adaptation in Act I.  If there is, there's almost no literal translation, either.

Doing an adaptation like this requires a lot of research into the lyrics and music, and how that encompasses a theme.  Acts II and III have a pretty decent plot structure while Act I requires a looser and very ethereal take, much like a Terrence Malick film.  Thematically, all the stories require a different approach because they're all stories relating to different experiences of the human condition.  Love, Lust, Hate, Survival, Happiness, Revenge,'s all in there.

This isn't just a boy-meets-girl kind of story.

This Friday, I deliver my Illustrator's draft of 'Act I: The Lake South, The River North' and then immediately start prepping Act II.  Evan has some pages worked up already from what I've been sending him, and I hope in the next few days we can show you guys a glimmer of what we've been working on...maybe a character design or two?

Act I...about to turn into pictures.  Wow.  Hope you guys are as excited as we are.


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