Adapting the walking dead [long]


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Slightly longer comparison between comic to tv series adaptation

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  • Circulation averages around 60,000-70,000 at the moment. It was 2012’s biggest sales success due to issue 100 selling 360,000+ copies. This is a far cry from the initial 7,000 print run for the first issue.The Walking Dead received the 2010 Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series at San Diego Comic-Con International.
  • We’ll be familiar with what Pascal Lefèvre (2007: 2) refers to as ‘the issue of primacy’ wherein audiences experiences of an adaptation or franchise will be shaped by their initial entry into the world on offer. Applied to The Walking Dead, the size of the audience drawn to the TV series dwarfs the comic book ‘original’ by a considerable amount. Joseph Lord ( estimates that the comic book fans make up 0.006% of the fan baseDespite the rather modest comic book fan base, it’s not uncommon to hear adaptations like this being critiqued for what Robert Stam refers to as a lament for what was lost in translation (2005: 3), whilst dissenters ignore what has also been gained
  • In his critique of this process, and in keeping with other post-structuralist accounts of adaptation studies, Stam and several others have questioned the tendency for a regression to authorial intent, the privileging of an hierarchy of texts, as well as the pursuit of the ‘original’ hypotext. 
  • Brooker (2012) presents a convincing deconstruction of the notion that there is an original source text when applying poststructuralist approaches to the Batman franchise, there is still space for a consideration of the author role as part of the broader meaning-making process. In a related vein, Jonathan Gray’s (2010) analysis of the plethora of paratexts that circulate around popular franchises suggests that the notion of an authentic singular source of textual authenticity can be limited when it comes to understanding how popular meanings are negotiated.
  • It is this tension between the sense of loss and what has been gained that will be addressed presently when looking at some of the paratexts dealing with the adaptation of The Walking Dead. The producers of the TV series were sensitive to these tensions in their attempt to negotiate with fans of the comic book, upon whom they were initially reliant when it came to garnering support for the adaptation. It is the contention of this paper that the success of Robert Kirkman’s long-running serial comic book has fed into such discussions, whether they take place across internet forums, at comic book conferences, or in official and unofficial promotional material alike. The paratextual material and discourses that circulated around the production of the TV series were keen to draw affinities between the two iterations of the franchise in so far as they sought to draw on the comics as a guarantor of aesthetic and narrative quality. However, the producers were also keen to emphasise the pleasures and the gains offered by the adaptation to a different platform.
  • In the marketing drive that took place before the television airing of The Walking Dead, the role played by Robert Kirkman was interesting. The show was previewed at San Diego Comic-Con in Summer 2010, a huge annual event that draws large numbers of comic book fans, and attendees were given access to AMC’s production team and cast. Kirkman’s proximity to the new venture was used as an anchor of authenticity, whilst also pointing to the author function of Frank Darabont, and the potential offered by being able to create a new iteration of The Walking Dead, one that was not beholden to the comic.
  • Clearly, the potential audience were primed for the type of textual changes we might expect from an adaptation, yet the attempt to shape expectations and audience response sometime slipsHere Kirkman struggles to articulate the similarities and differences…
  • Great deal of risks involved in adapting a comic book about the zombie apocalypse. Never been done in a serialised format before. The zombie tends to exist as a the poor cousin of horror narratives, primarily due to the inherent characterlessness of the monster (unlike the vampire, the werewolf, or other supernatural creatures). Also, until relatively recently, there’s not been a great literary tradition from which to draw inspiration from. All the other major networks rejected the Kirkman/Darabont pitch for the series. We can see the rhetoric of risk and risk management in some of the show’s accompanying literature. Note the status attributed to the serialised comic, as well as the broad tradition of filmic depictions.
  • There are multiple instances where in the cast and crew evoke the comic source as a sort of storyboard, as if this legitimises the adaptation 
  • Storyboards aren't always used in television due to tighter schedules meaning there’s less time to develop them. The ‘Making Of…’ also is keen to highlight the importance of the comic book aesthetic and the presence of the comic creator:
  • Comic #7 in flashback
  • Adapting the walking dead [long]

    1. 1. @rob_jewitt
    2. 2. Context ‘The issue of primacy’ Lefèvre, 2007: 2 ‘Elegiac discourse of loss’ Stam, 2005: 3
    3. 3. Adaptation is the norm There are precious few stories around that have not been ‘lovingly ripped off’ from others. In the workings of the human imagination, adaptation is the norm, not the exception Hutcheon, 2006: 177
    4. 4. 1. Discourse of fidelity in official paratexts 2. Comparison between comic and TV series
    5. 5. Comic-Con 2010 Video from Season 1 Blu-Ray ‘Making of’ feature
    6. 6. Same but different? Video from Season 1 Blu-Ray ‘Making of’ feature
    7. 7. Managing risk 1 ‘First, we knew we had something that had not been done before. There is a lot of pressure in that, but there is also great opportunity. We knew we had a great team, and we had total confidence in the quality of the comics as source material. If we didn't have the comics as a road map, it would have been a much harder decision’ Joel Stillerman, AMC’s senior vice president of original programming, production and digital content
    8. 8. Managing risk 2 ‘We also had a healthy interest in the genre, well-executed, in series form … Notwithstanding the long history of zombies as a popular film genre, a zombie series was something we had never seen on television before. That uniqueness always interests us.’ Charlie Collier, AMC’s president
    9. 9. Storyboards 1 ‘The graphic novels are kind of like a rather exotic storyboard … Some of the more iconic images we did reproduce pretty accurately’ David Tattersall, director of photography, Ep1
    10. 10. Storyboards 2 Video from Season 1 Blu-Ray ‘Making of’ feature
    11. 11. Visual narrative We’re very fortunate to have a visual narrative to draw upon in designing The Walking Dead … You are able to see the entire arc of the show, and of course, we found ourselves inspired to use some key images. First and foremost is Rick’s approach to the skyline of Atlanta. That was such an iconic panel from the comic book that it had a great influence over my work Greg Melton, production designer
    12. 12. Cleary visible organs/origins? 28 Days Later Night of the Living Dead
    13. 13. Cleary visible organs/origins? Dawn of the Dead Shaun of the Dead
    14. 14. Cleary visible organs/origins? I Am Legend
    15. 15. Episode 1 – Days Gone Bye
    16. 16. Episode 2 - Guts
    17. 17. Episode 3 – Tell It To The Frogs
    18. 18. Episode 4 - Vatos
    19. 19. Episode 5 - Wildfire
    20. 20. Episode 6 – TS-19
    21. 21. AMC’s promotional material
    22. 22. Comic-Con 2010 poster
    23. 23. Season 3 promo material
    24. 24. Season 3 promo material
    25. 25. Characters across platforms
    26. 26. Characters across platforms
    27. 27. Characters across platforms