Since Adrielle is the newest member of PPP, I had the interesting task of choosing my favorite post from only two posts to feature in my contribution to the RRR. One might think this would make the task easier, but it didn’t – both her post on Adapting Comics and her post on Ekphrasis are really nice, and I could have picked either. But I picked the one on adaptation. Why, you ask? Because that post connects most closely with the formal/formalist concerns that often motivate my own work on and thought about comics.
Adrielle concludes her post with the following questions:
How do you think about the relationship between the “original” comic work and its offspring (see, another problematic word!)? What verb best captures the transfer of material (themes, characters, world) from a comic produced in one medium and then re-situated in a new medium (e.g. Dash Shaw’s BodyWorld and Josh Neufeld’s A.D. New Orleans as webcomics turned printed books that are not quite “collections”; Ghost World making its way from character sketches in Daniel Clowes’ Eightball through the Fantagraphics 1997 graphic novel into Terry Zwigoff’s 2001 film of the same name)? Do you take it case by case, or think that there are fundamental processes (and/or effects) that undergird the whole operation of adaptation?
The reason Adrielle’s post resonated with me so much is not so much that I think I know what the answers to these questions are, but rather that these questions only scratch the surface. For example, in addressing the problem of determining the relationships between an original and an adaptation, Adrielle’s discussion highlights the interesting additional question of when a work counts as an adaptation, rather than being merely ‘inspired by’ (this issue is also examined by Henry Pratt in his contribution to my anthology The Art of Comics: A Philosophical Approach). In short, when do two works count as telling the same story?
For example: given two or more works that do tell the same story, how do we tell which is the adapted and which the adaptation? While this might seem simple in most cases (often determined by temporal or intentional factors), in theory it can be complex: Imagine artist A creates novel X. Then artist B creates film Y, based on novel X. Then artist C creates comic Z based on film Y, with no knowledge of the existence of or nature of novel X. It seems that Y is an adaptation of X, and Z is an adaptation of Y. But is Z an adaptation of X? Is there a ‘hypertext” (or whatever) that contains both X and Y as component parts? The answer will depend, I suppose, on the details of our account(s) of adaptation, and our answers to the sorts of questions posed by Adrielle in her post (along with, perhaps, our account of the nature of the media involved, etc.) I won’t, of course, try to answer this question (it seems likely that the exact answer may depend on specifics involved in actual cases). But just noting that the question, and questions like it, are waiting here to be addressed is enough!
Finally, it is worth emphasizing that Adrielle’s post also addresses an issue that I have been losing sleep over recently: long open-ended serialized works (such as comics, but also some film franchises as well as multi-media works such as the Buffyverse and The Matrix) seem to pose novel puzzles for those of us interested in fictional truth. If we can never fully understand a work until we have, in some sense, absorbed it as a whole, and if certain fictions (in particular, serialized comics!) are, at least potentially, never complete, then do we ever fully understand such fictions? Do we ever know, with any certainty, what is true in such fictions? (Think about ret-conning here!) I don’t know the answer, but I think these questions are fascinating and important.