The release of Oblivion marks the first film released by Radical Studios, whose publishing arm develops comics “with the assumption the comic book will eventually land on the big screen,” according to founder Barry Levine in an interview with Script Magazine in 2009. The effectiveness of this practice has yet to be seen, but for now, let’s evaluate the pros and cons.
The first pro, which many of you are no doubt thinking of, is the fact that comics are a visual medium. When you decide to tell your story in this medium, you’re effectively getting preproduction out of the way. Not only do you hammer out the story into a structure that has a beginning, middle and end, you also have storyboarding and production design taken care of as well.
The second biggest pro is that it allows you to see if there is an audience for the story without taking a huge financial risk, which the practice of filmmaking is almost becoming notorious for. Unless the pages were done by Michelangelo, then you’re mostly likely not going to spend millions of dollars getting a comic miniseries created, as most of the expenses of the medium are primarily printing and marketing. This means you do not have to pay the ridiculous paychecks that the Hollywood A-listers are asking for, until you know that there’s money to be made with a film adaptation.
The third major pro is that you are also given the opportunity to create a fan base, increasing the chances of success for a film adaptation. Why do you think the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises made so much money? It’s because the books created a strong, loyal fan base that was willing to fork over their hard earned dollars at the box office.
The first con ties directly to the third pro, as a fan base isn’t always guaranteed. If your high-concept idea doesn’t resonate with comic readers, then there’s a pretty good chance that it won’t resonate with a movie-going audience. Contrary to popular belief, comic readers can tell the bad stories from the good ones. Some people make a living pointing such stories out.
The second con is that the story could end up becoming too big for the silver screen. A six issue miniseries or graphic novel is one thing, but a series that is either a really long series or even an ongoing is hard to adapt to film. This is especially true if the high concept story covers a large span of time, as some stories can either focus on the events of a single day, such as Ulysses by James Joyce, or the length of human history, such as Osamu Tezuka’s Phoenix. This kind of scale can be very intimidating to a Hollywood studio looking for a film to make.
The third con would be the potential for poor business practices and executive meddling in the various properties. This was prevalent with the company Full Fathom Five, which sought to do what Radical Studios are doing today, except with young adult fiction novels. This was the same company that gave us I Am Number Four, and was notorious for recruiting writer’s fresh out of college and having them sign contracts that didn’t even allow them to retain creative rights to their works published by the company.
On that same note, executive meddling has also led to the downfall of many potentially successful films. While some meddling is necessary, when things get out of control in an expensive business venture, there have been many horror stories where executives mandated drastic changes to a story in order to make it more “marketable.”
In the end, Radical Studios future practices and properties are hinging on the success of Oblivion. If it does well, then it will give studios the confidence to develop more of the company’s properties for the silver screen. If it tanks, then the practice would have to be revised in varying ways, such as scaling back the budgets of these adaptations in order to reduce financial risk. Only time and money will tell.