I’ll be the first to admit, I’m an annoying “the book was better” moviegoer and television-watcher.
Although I fully realize you can’t fit an entire 600-page story with all the trimmings into a two-hour time slot, or that you may have to pad out a one-shot or tweak an established book or comic series with some extraneous people-storylines when translating it to the small screen, I’m weird about my details.
Some translations I felt were right on the money; if anyone but Alan Rickman portrayed Severus Snape in the “Harry Potter” movies I wouldn’t have watched them. Some details just didn’t fit my own vision: Katniss Everdeen’s formal “fire dress” in the Hunger Games movie — glaring disappointment for me in an otherwise extraordinarily well-done adaptation. What I’m taking way too long to say is, nothing can match the “motion pictures” in my imagination when I read…and I know I’m not the only one with that train of thought.
Therefore, good readers, I devote this month’s column to guiding you towards ways to paint your own visual images based on your genre of interest, as well as give you some pre-done images with which you can use your cognitive abilities to bring to life. In other words, here are some book and comic recommendations based on some favorite television shows and movies.
I’ll avoid, of course, popular film or television franchises based on books, as well as book and comic “extended universe reading rippling from mega franchises like “Star Wars,” “Star Trek” “Buffy The Vampire Slayer,” etc. Honestly through, do I need to tell you fans of “Walking Dead,” “Game of Thrones,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Dexter” or any Marvel, DC or indie comic book adaptation that if you aren’t reading the books or comics from which these were spawned you are really, really missing out on some great stuff.
Parental “do-I-really-need-to-clarify-this?” warning: Most of these shows are for older viewers, but I do have some great all-ages book recommendations mixed in. Common sense encouraged before reading.
The movie and show: “Chronicle” and “Heroes.”
In the sci-fi “Chronicle,” a trio of high school boys gain some increasingly intense powers after finding an (let’s say alien crystal) underground, while in the television drama “Heroes” a group of ordinary folks world wide suddenly discover they possess a wide assortment of abilities from flight and time jumping to Wolverine-style healing factors. Although each of these stories takes a slightly different approach to the “whys” and “hows” of these powers, they both take a “realistic” look at what would happen if everyday people gain superhero-like abilities, including those who aren’t emotionally mature enough to handle these powers.
The reads: “Brilliant” and (for younger readers) ‘Takio” written Brian Michael Bendis.
I’m pretty much going to stick with the master, here. “Brilliant,” illustrated by Mark Bagley, came out prior to “Chronicle” but shares a similar vibe. Set in college, these young adults (by age, not maturity) gained their powers by actually using their scientific know-how to invent them. Whether are not they are smart enough to know how to control them remains to be seen.
In “Takio,” Bendis and artist Michael Avon Oeming give a pair of adoptive sisters powers in a familiar way — an accident at their friend’s father’s lab gone awry — making them the first two “real” superheroes in the world, or so they would like to think. They still have to face sibling bickering, playground politics, grades and curfews. Don’t let the “All Age” moniker fool you, Bendis’s wit and biting one-liners are intact in this one, as well as his knack for dialogue and storytelling. Plus, you can read this one aloud to your kids, the lines are so much fun.
The shows: “Grimm” and “Once Upon a Time.”
Here’s a case of same ingredients, different recipe. NBC’s “Grimm” is a gritty crime drama in which a detective inherits his family legacy of kicking the collective butt in the underworld of magical creatures that influence the popular fairy tales. ABC’s “Once Upon A Time,” is a little more comic, a bit more family-friendly take on the fairy tales as several fairly tale characters, primarily Snow White, are placed far away from their “happy endings” (living in today’s world with little recollection of who they are) by a curse from the Evil Queen. These shows, although both with large followings (as well as a bevy of “fairy tale” updates from “Snow White and the Huntsman” to the forthcoming “Jack the Giant Killer”) have gotten criticism for messing with the original storyline.
However, I’ll let you “purists” in on a little secret when you get irritated with those who “stray from the story.” The Brothers Grimm didn’t write their beloved fairy tales; and they’ve said as much. These stories are German folk tales they collected from several individuals, which means there is no one right way to tell them. That’s the beauty of storytelling.
The reads: For “grown ups”: “Fables” by Bill Willingham and Jasper Fforde’s “Nursery Crime” books.
Personally, I think all these Grimm retellings spawned from a murmuring of people wanting to see a series based on Willingham’s Vertigo comic series of fairy tale and storybook creatures living in the human or “Mundy” world in modern day. This series, and its spin-offs “Jack of Fables” and “Fairest,” not only tap into the well-known characters including Snow White and Big Bad “Bigby” Wolf (who make up the main power couple of the series) but bring in several of the “sideline” characters from Rose Red to Russian folklore figure Baba Yaga.
Yes, the horror comic “Grimm Fairy Tales” by Ralph Tedesco is another popular comic based on these fairy tales, but “Fables” definitely seems to be the jumping off point for the battling network series.
Fforde is best known for his “Thursday Next” series which deals with a group of dedicated enforcers keeping fictional stories in line, Fforde’s pair of Nursery Crime books follows the sleuthing of Chief Inspector Jack Spratt solving crime in the underbelly of literature in “The Big Over Easy” (Humpty Dumpty) and “The Fourth Bear.” His next Nursery Crime, “The Last Great Tortoise Race,” is currently in the works.
For younger readers “The Sisters Grimm” mysteries by Michael Buckley.
Siblings Sabrina and Daphne Grimm who find themselves living in a community of fantasy and fairy tale creatures, aka Everafters. This series of nine books is a great young reader’s parallel to “Fables” as the Everafters deal with modern life (Cinderella is a radio personality who gives relationship advice…go figure), but adults will enjoy these reads as well. Written in a fun, and well slightly Grimm manner, these stories are great for those who enjoyed series like Lemony Snicket’s “Unfortunate Events” or Trenton Lee Stewart’s “The Mysterious Benedict Society.”
The movie: “Hotel Transylvania.”
I’m going to be a little psychic here, as this computer-animated movie doesn’t come out until September, but if my own kids’ and their buds are any indication, this is going to make a buck or two, despite the potential for it to be skewered by critics (but isn’t everything nowadays). Easy plot, here. Dracula, a successful hotelier and over-protective father, runs a resort getaway for monsters wanting to escape the horrors and stress of living in a human world. The monkey wrench hits the works when a typical Euro-touring human wanders in the hotel and falls for his “young” daughter….and the zaniness ensues I’m sure.
The reads: “The Intergalactic Bed and Breakfast ” series by Clete Barrett Smith.
Smith’s first two books in the series, “Aliens on Vacation,” and “Alien on a Rampage,” is a sarcastically witty young reader’s novel about a boy named Scrub who goes to work for his grandma’s “lame” little bed and breakfast in Washington state. However, this quaint little inn turns out to be an undercover operation for aliens taking a holiday on Earth. If this discovery isn’t enough, Scrub gets the dubious pleasure of chaperoning these “guests” around without being caught by the town’s already-suspicious sheriff. The third book, with the tentative title “Aliens in Disguise” comes out in 2013.
Shameless self-promotion time: for an all-ages comic read of a similar nature, check out mine and my daughter’s review of WE Comics’ “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” by Patrick Rieger and Mark Sean Wilson on this site. In these stories, two vacationing boys find themselves working as busboys after stumbling across an “out-of-this-world” hotel.
The shows: “True Blood (HBO)” “Being Human” (SyFy) and “Teen Wolf” (MTV).
Here’s a trio of “monster” dramas about teens and/or young adults just trying to blend in and get along in the world today…with a little blood (or synthetic blood-sucking), drooling, evaporating and peer pressure….all while still looking better than the average human and being accompanied by really cool soundtracks.
The reads: “American Vampire” by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque and Christopher Moore’s “Bloodsucking Fiends” trilogy.
The “American Vampire” comic has been around since 2010, and shows the evolution of the latest vampire “species” living in the good ol’ United States. The series starts in the Old West and is currently hovering around the mid-20th century giving glimpses of some great (and not-so-great) moments in our nation’s legacy.
“Bloodsucking Fiends,” and its follow-ups “You Suck: A Love Story” and “Bite Me,” are Moore’s profanely funny, yet charming tales of a plane-Jane San Francisco redhead who unwittingly is turned into a vampire…giving her a new confidence in her life. Joining her in this world is her “would-be” geeky writer boyfriend, and assorted Goths, geeks, villains and street people who make her newfound undead existence a little more interesting.
For younger readers: “Rumblewick’s Diary” series by Hawn Oram and “Skulduggery Pleasant” series by Derek Landy.
“Rumblewick” is about a particularly frustrated witch’s cat whose job is to make sure his charge, the young witch Hagatha Agathy (aka Haggy Aggy) stays on the right path to witchdom….which she sooo doesn’t do. She’s too busy trying to do “othersider” stuff like ballet and rock and roll. Unlike other books about monsters trying to fit in, this one is from the perspective of one trying to prevent this from happening, and it turns out to be just plain fun. Easy read for grades three and up, and pretty cute and funny for any age. Oram has also written the picture book “Mona the Vampire” about a girl and her cat trying to go the other direction and become a “full-time” fiend. I recently found out the Rumblewick series is being made into a movie by Dreamworks, so READ IT FAST.
Landy’s seven-book “Skulduggery Pleasant” series is part film noir, part comedy, part fantasy/horror about a skeleton detective and his young teen sidekick keeping the world’s forces of evil at bay. Read them for the mystery, but keep them around to see how sometimes the most human characteristics can come from those who aren’t even human at all.
The shows: “Terra Nova” (Fox) and “Primeval (BBC)”
I almost didn’t include this last two shows, but I would be letting myself down. I love dinosaurs.
Portals and Dinosaurs is really all you need to know about these two shows. The extremely short-lived “Terra Nova” takes place around 30 years in the future, where a colony has been set up amongst the dinosaurs 85-million years in the past (thanks to a recently-discovered portal) to help stop the bad guys from stripping the “past” of resources and thereby destroying the “future.” Great premise, but too much “human drama,” not enough dinosaur fighting.
“Primeval,” BBC’s series inspired by how awesome they made the dinosaurs look in the “Walking With “Dinosaurs” special, is a little menagerie of scientists, government types, a zoo-keeper and a computer nerd fighting a big menagerie of dinosaurs, giant bugs, and even a dragon (thanks to a recently-discovered portal). Not as well-written as “Terra Nova,” but much more fun in a “Ghostbusters” meets “Jurassic Park” sort of way. A North American (made in Canada) spin-off “Primeval: New World,” is coming out soon for Yanks who want to watch British-style programming without needing subtitles.
I liked both these shows not just because my older daughter (now 10) can watch them with us, but because I’m relatively sure there is a portal to another time, and I’m even more sure it’s somewhere in the chaotic abyss of my closet.
The reads: Barry Sonnenfeld’s “Dinosaurs vs. Aliens” by Grant Morrison and Mukesh Singh. “A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury.
Here’s where we get to hit a couple of classics along with a brand-spanking new graphic novel by Liquid Comics created by Sonnenfeld, written by Morrison and with outstanding art by Singh, “Dinosaurs vs. Aliens” is the story of the great battle in history that somehow never made it into the history books. This time, its dinosaurs who fight off an alien invasion of Earth, and in many ways put us “intelligent humans” to shame in their know-how and strength. Although this was also supposed to be a potential movie as well, there are at least two webisodes available through Yahoo. Please, please, please read the comic first, though…then go to Kinko’s and make big posters of the awesome art.
Bradbury’s short story “A Sound of Thunder” is one of the most recognizable examples in literature of the “butterfly effect,” or where time-traveling tourism (including dinosaur-hunting excursions) are a reality. Just don’t stray from the path. Fast moving, quick and exciting, it was written in 1952, takes place in 2055 and travels back in time to the age of dinosaurs. Sounds like a form of actual time-travel to me.
For younger readers: “Dinotopia” books by James Gurney. “Journey To The Center of the Earth,” by Jules Verne.
Jules Verne’s “Journey” is the classic tale of professor Otto Von Hardwigg’s quest to prove his theory of volcanic tubes running through the center of the planet takes him through adventure after adventure, including a run-in with dinosaurs in a place where prehistoric animals still dwell. Do not mistake this classic with the cheesy 3-D big screen adventure loosely inspired by it. Verne was dinosaurs, steampunk, and science fiction before it was cool, and his work is still the pinnacle in many ways.
“Dinotopia,” and its three follow-ups, are the journals of Arthur Denison and his son who wash up on a “lost island” shared peacefully by humans and dinosaurs. More than just an adventure story, Gurney created an extensive society, with a history, hierarchy, military and cultural descriptions and even an alphabet. Even those who don’t want to be bogged down by the text can enjoy the extensive illustrations.
I’m fudging a little on this last one, because there has been a not-too-horrible television special based on “Dinotopia.” However, there is no way to translate onto screen every detail that makes these books such a beautiful read. These are books I recommend keeping out so kids and adults can look through them again and again, and find something new each time.