comic book naturalism


Steven Spielberg years ago had bought the movie-rights for the adventures of Tintin. He held them for some time, then gave them back, without ever having made a movie from them. Word has it that he meanwhile simply deemed it to be an impossibility to make a movie out of those comic books. The major problem with transposing characters and narrative content from one medium to another, e.g. from comic books to the silver screen—no matter if animation or meatspace-acting—is the imagination of the audience. For example, while reading a comic book you involuntarily give your own voice to the main protagonist, the one the reader identifies with. Now, if the protagonist’s voice in a movie based on a comic book doesn’t match your imagination, suspension of disbelief comes to a grinding halt, you immediately drop out of immersion, mental reflection sets in, and you start to hate the movie.

The Incredible Hulk

During the last years I several times made the opposite experience. Movies based on my kidhood’s cherished super hero comic books perfectly matching my fancy, especially concerning motion and animation. I just love Spidey swinging through the Big Apple’s canyons, The Incredible Hulk fighting helicopters, and Transformers folding and un-folding, navigating through urban landscapes so well-known to us. All this came to my mind again when earlier this week I watched the trailer for Transformers (2007), and wondered why I was so excited by those moving pictures. It is because the motions of the super heroes on the silver screen exactly match my imaginations of their motions while I read the according comic books. Quite analogous to the issue of the voice. You look at a graphical representation of e.g. Spider-Man in action between skyscrapers. The drawing doesn’t give you the motion, it only hints at it, it only becomes alive within your mind. With all the recent super-hero movies I now can see my imaginations on the screen. The visuals exactly match the visions in front of my mind’s eye—the same experience Philip K. Dick and William Gibson had with Blade Runner.


Of course today there are the technical possibilities for naturalistically rendering animated characters, especially the advancements in computer graphics are to be named. Well, that’s the necessary basis, for sure, but not the decisive element, I think. Crucial is that the people creating those visuals have the same imaginations as I, and hundreds of thousands of others have … because we all are of the same generation! No matter if raised in the United States or in Europe, we all were socialized during the same epochs of an already almost global popular culture. Our imagination became synchronized to a certain degree—we collectively share a culture.

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