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Comic books make great movies, comic strips not so much

Augusta Chronicle Columnist Steven Uhles looks at the recent success of comic books characters raking it in at the box office and how comic strip characters have struggled to translate on the big screen. He looks at some of the notable attempts with Dick Tracy, Popeye, Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon, and Annie.

It is, I suppose, no surprise. After all, comic books, like movies, are built around the idea of long-form visual storytelling. Popular characters are often elevated to mythic proportions and the rapid pace and eye toward action make them natural film properties. Comic strips, on the other hand, are another story.

Although filmmakers have long striven to exploit the built-in audience newspaper comic strips enjoy, the results have, by and large, been uneven and forgettable.

Community Comments

#1 Donald Rex Jr
@ 1:20 pm

Popeye, Flash Gordon and Annie are great classic films that hold up well and will always do so in my opinion. The new comic book movies that are thrilling audiences today seem doomed to feel cheesey in the future as new special effects techniques supercede current ones, Already films like 300 and others made only a few years ago are difficult to watch.

Dick Tracy had some problems but it had more good, fun aspects that make it hold up even in terms of its effects.

Prince Valiant? Not so great.

#2 Rich Diesslin
@ 3:05 pm

I don’t think there is an easy way to say one works better than another … has to do with all elements of film production from the screenplay to execution to casting to, etc. Some producers can take a concept and make a classic, and some can take a classic and make it crap. Too many variables.

#3 Gerry Mooney
@ 3:14 pm

Yes, this sort of glosses over the comic book-based bombs that have littered the multiplexes for years. There’s no formula and no guarantee.

The reason The Avengers has everyone’s attention at the moment is Joss Whedon. A great script makes everyone look like a genius.

#4 Scott Lincoln
@ 4:08 pm

All things being equal I suspect the serial aspect of the aforementioned comic strips and comic books lend themselves to more character and therefore story development, which translates better to TV and movie scripts.

Pure gag strips are kind of like video games in that both excel in the medium they were created for but don’t have a long shelf life as movies because character development is only taken so far.

#5 Dan Olson
@ 11:51 pm

“Although filmmakers have long striven to exploit the built-in audience newspaper comic strips enjoy, the results have, by and large, been uneven and forgettable.”

That wasn’t always the case. Between 1938 and 1950 there were 28 “Blondie” movies made.

#6 Kevin Frank
@ 9:05 am

I would pay any amount of money to see a “Calvin and Hobbes” movie ( if Watterson was involved).

#7 Howard Cruse
@ 11:54 am

The Broadway musical based on “Li’L Abner” did an amazing job of capturing the look and spirit of AlCapp’s mix of corny gags and sophisticated satire. Happily, the movie carried over most of the original Broadway cast and the loopy cartoon style of the sets.

#8 Michael Pohrer (MJ)
@ 12:08 pm

Instead of focusing on full length features for comics, there should be a look into using shorts again (This would probably translate best for cartoon strip properties.) before each feature film. I can see this as a viable option.

#9 Pete McDonnell
@ 12:16 pm

There’s a Prince Valiant movie? Movie studios want to put out high concept “tentpole” films and are willing to spend vast sums of money on films showing CGI effects, explosions, heros & villains battling it out, and superheros just fit that bill? Comic strips don’t have those elements, and don’t become giant event-type films.

#10 Mike Curtis
@ 7:28 am

Someone had already mentioned the 28 BLONDIE movies. There were hundreds of theatrical POPEYE cartoons made, and only 17 SUPERMAN ones. Let’s see, two SNUGGY SMITH movies, four ANNIE movies, LITTLE IODINE, THE PHANTOM in serial and feature form, HAROLD TEEN in silent and sound, JIGGS AND MAGGIE as a series of shorts, lots of JOE PALOOKA movies, and when you get to the silents you have THE GUMPS, MUTT AND JEFF, HAPPY HOOLIGAN and many others. Before film, plays were done of LITTLE NEMO, BUSTER BROWN and YELLOW KID.

Why somebody could write a book, and I would buy it.

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