How to adapt your comic book to film

In the following article, how to adapt your comic to film, Daniel Clowes tells us his experience. Although it is not the same to make a feature film than to make a Comic, you should take into account some guidelines, tips, and guides that he gladly offers us, and we offer you, but don’t waste time, read on!

The path from Comic to the big screen

If you are a fan of comics, you probably know Daniel Clowes, one of the most important figures in American graphic narrative. Clowes has given us true masterpieces, such as Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron, David Boring or Ice Haven.

Undoubtedly, his most famous comic is Ghost World, that story about Enid and Rebecca, two teenagers who make a transition to adulthood, wandering around an American city in the 90s, while criticizing popular culture and the people who cross their lives.

In 2001, Terry Zwigoff proposed to Clowes to bring the comic to the big screen.

In this article, we will tell you about Clowes’ interesting experience in this filming, being a comic book artist, who knows the world of feature films. Prepare yourself some popcorn!

Of utmost importance: Adapting a comic book to film is not transcribing it.

como adaptar tu comic al cine

When film director Terry Zwigoff contacted Clowes about making a film, the cartoonist was thrilled. Who would turn down a proposal that came from the director of Robert Crumb’s documentary?

Clowes thought he would just type the dialogue from his comic book Ghost World, change the drawings to descriptions, and write in a “Enid sitting on a bench, says this sentence” style, but when the producer saw Clowes’ script, she couldn’t believe what he had written, and told him that what he had to do was write a movie, not just a transcription of his comic book.

Merging styles to adapt the comic book to film

He set aside his comic book and, together with the director, Terry, they modified the world of the story, creating new characters and developing the existing ones between the two of them.

For Clowes, at times, it was frustrating not to be able to capture on film exactly the tones of voice and attitudes of the characters in his comics, the director and the actors had their own styles.

In the end, the cartoonist realized that you have to let the actors embody the characters with their own sensibilities, and that Terry’s ideas were the right ones to adapt his comic.

You can’t always exactly imitate the aesthetics of the comic book

Terry and Clowes tried to imitate several things from the aesthetics of Ghost World, such as the blue tone, which accompanies the black and white of the comic’s pages.

For Clowes, the atmosphere generated by that color was very special. The cartoonist recalls that when he was a teenager, the age of Enid (the comic’s protagonist), he would walk through the streets of Chicago at 6 o’clock in the morning, and see through the windows of the houses, people who had turned on the television.

The bluish light that radiated in the atmosphere, coupled with the absence of color in the street, was an image that Clowes wanted to reflect of his own adolescence. In the film, they tried to capture that atmosphere. They even filmed with a type of blue light, but as it was not convincing it was discarded.


The cartoonist’s important decisions on the film set

Daniel Clowes was invited to choose the clothes for Enid’s character, and he was also able to decide on the decoration of her bedroom. Can you imagine watching a movie and the objects in a room being exactly the same as in your teenage bedroom?

That’s how Clowes felt when he saw his pencil sharpener in Enid’s room, something very strange and personal.

The differences between writing comic book and film scripts

Daniel Clowes thinks it’s much easier to write a movie script than to write comics. When you write a movie script you can modify more easily, in the middle of the process, events, descriptions, names, and many other things.

On the contrary, if you start drawing a comic book, it is not so easy to move things around. It takes a lot of work to modify each vignette you have drawn.

He affirms that one of the things that most caught his attention in cinema was the instance of editing, which allowed moving things around, and he has even said that he would like to apply that process when making comics.

After trying it in every possible way, he realized that it doesn’t work in comics. If you change something in a sequence, you lose the sense of integrity of the page, and the whole thing falls apart.

adaptar comic al cine

It takes personality to be a film director.

He believes that, to be a film director, you have to have the ability to make people do what you want them to do, without manipulating, but articulating the vision you have for the film.

You have to accept that it is impossible to have everything under control, it is necessary to negotiate, and to do things that you don’t like very much. This is why Clowes tells us that he doesn’t have the right personality to direct films and, fortunately, he continued to produce comics of the highest quality.

What was it like working with Scarlett Johansson

In the Ghost World movie, Rebecca, Enid’s young teenage friend, is played by none other than Scarlett Johansson. When Clowes was asked if he had worked with her, the cartoonist recounts surprising details about their meetings.

He describes Scarlett as a girl who, at the time, when Ghost World was made, was fifteen years old, but far more confident than any adult.

She tells us that, in meetings with producers, in which Clowes and Terry were very nervous, Scarlett would talk without tension about various topics, such as, for example, the best Sushi restaurants in Milan.

foto de scarlet johanson trabajando el comic y cine


Definitely, making a comic book and making a movie are two totally different things. In the adaptations from one medium to the other many things can change, and you have to be prepared for that to happen. Without a doubt, Daniel’s experience is incredible, and it clarifies a lot about what it would be like to adapt a comic book to film.

We hope that Clowes’ experience, told by his own words in several interviews, has enriched your vision on the relationship between cinema and comics!

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