Logan Ludwig | Moving Panels: Translating Comics to Film (Sequart)

I had great hopes for Moving Panels: Translating Comics to Film, but unfortunately it reads more like a series of undergraduate papers.

 

 

 

Some of the most highest-grossing movies in recent years have been adapted from comic books or graphic novels, including Marvel’s The Avengers ($623.4 billion worldwide lifetime gross, according to the website Box Office Mojo), The Dark Knight ($534.9 billion), and the Iron Man franchise ($409.0 billion for Iron Man 3 alone). The adaptation of content from one medium to another can be a tricky business (as evidenced by the latest Fantastic Four movie, currently holding a 8% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes), and raises interesting questions about differences and similarities between the two mediums, as well as why some adaptations succeed and others fail.
 
Some scholarly attention has been focused on film adaptations of comic books, but there’s plenty of room for more work in this area. There’s also room for a popular book on the subject, one that is informed by film and comics scholarship but presents its arguments and analyses clearly and concisely, with a minimum of jargon. I had great hopes for Moving Panels: Translating Comics to Film, but unfortunately it reads more like a series of undergraduate papers than either an addition to the scholarly literature on adaptation or a popular book that would appeal to fans of films and comics.
 
I’m sorry to say that, because I like the general approach to analysis taken by author Logan Ludwig, who holds a Film Studies degree from Wesleyan University. His approach is informed by the techniques of neoformalism, which begin by paying close attention to individual works rather than beginning with assumptions based on psychoanalysis, Marxism, or anything else. Two of the leading proponents of this approach, Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell, are masters at using information drawn from close technical analysis to analyze how particular films achieve their effects, and to draw conclusions based on evidence in the films themselves rather than imposing some Grand Theory on them, and I was hoping for something similar from this book.
 
The heart of Moving Panels is Ludwig’s close readings of several comics and their film adaptations, including The Invincible Iron Man, Sin City, Persepolis, Watchmen, and the Scott Pilgrim series. The discussions of the comics are supported by examples, but no such visual materials included for the films. Perhaps this is due to copyright problems, but it’s a serious weakness and makes the discussions overly weighted toward the comics. The inclusion of some screen shots, or even sketches of particular sequences, from the films discussed would have made this a more useful book.
 
A more serious problem is the quality of the writing, which is padded and academic in a way that will try the patience of most general readers (I’m a long-time academic myself, and this kind of writing tries my patience as well). Where outside of class papers and bad journal articles do people say things like “I’d now like to look into the issue of adapting material between media. I intend to deploy a variety of case studies….” or “Now that the minor characters have been established, it will be useful to move on…”? On a related note, Ludwig’s descriptions of individual scenes are much too long and bury his useful insights under a heap of words. The trick in writing a useful analysis is not to include every detail about the object of study (although that approach may be useful as a preliminary exercise), but to select the specific information required to support whatever point one is making.
 
Failure to make those choices, combined with Ludwig’s embrace of the tics of undergraduate paper writing, combine to make what could have been an enjoyable and informative read into an interminable slog. It’s too bad, because he does have a talent for analyzing comics and films, and one can only hope that he will produce a better book in the future.
 
Moving Panels is available as a trade paperback from createspace.com and amazon.com and as a Kindle edition from amazon.com. More information about the book is available from the Sequart web site. | Sarah Boslaugh

 

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