Once upon a time, there was only one way to really discover and experience the adventures of Marvel‘s unique brand of superheroics: reading the comics. These days, though, kids can follow the adventures of Marvel’s heroes and villains without ever touching printed paper or downloading digital copies of the monthly serials thanks to the rise of Marvel-based movies, animated shows and video games.
Joe Caramagna is doing his part to merge several of these worlds with his work on the “Marvel Universe” line of all-ages comics, which uses artwork from episodes of Marvel’s animated series to bring the stories to the printed page — or, for that matter, the tablet screen. We spoke with Caramagna about what it takes to adapt an episode of an animated show to comics, and, of course, his latest “Marvel Universe” project, a four-issue series that kicked off earlier this week, bringing the title characters of Marvel’s upcoming “Guardians of the Galaxy” animated series to the world of comics.
CBR News: Before we talk about “Guardians of the Galaxy,” I want to get into the production of the “Marvel Universe” line of comics. How does it work, and how long, on average, does it take you to do one of these comic adaptations?
Joe Caramagna: It takes a lot longer than I thought it would, that’s for sure!
What I do is watch the episodes — many, many times over. I watch the episode straight through, then I watch with an eye for what to keep and what to cut, then I watch it in slow-mo to pick just the right frames to use for my panel layouts. Watching, watching, watching! Then I watch to do a dialogue pass, but because I have to cut so much of the episode out for space, most of the episode’s dialogue has to be rewritten or tweaked, though I try to keep as many of the original lines as I can. But because I do every step of the project myself, I have the luxury of rewriting as I’m lettering and that helps me save some time on the back end.
You work on these books while lettering a multitude of monthly Marvel titles, so you’re a pretty busy guy. What makes these Marvel Universe books such a compelling assignment for you that you’re willing to add them to your workload?
They’re a challenge. Taking an episode that’s measured in time and turning it into a comic book that’s measured in space and page count is difficult. Yeah, it would be easy to make each page a 12-panel grid and copy and paste the teleplay into word balloons and you’d get a comic book adaptation, but what I try to do is make good comic books out of them. I get to use my art training to arrange the frames into page layouts that make sense from a storytelling standpoint, even without dialogue, and I get to write enough original dialogue to scratch that itch as well. Some issues turn out better than others, but the intent is always to make good comic books, not just straight adaptations.
On average, how much opportunity do you have to do original scenes or dialogue?
On the adapted books, original scenes are out of the question. Original dialogue happens quite a lot, though. Like I said before, so much has to get cut that some dialogue doesn’t make sense. Also, without the benefit of motion, certain shots and scenes aren’t as clear in print as they are on TV, so a shriek or a grunt has to replaced with lines that better explain what’s happening. I add some touches here and there to try to give a different experience to those readers who might’ve already seen the episode, and I like to throw in some Easter eggs for the benefit of the parents who are reading to their kids — or to themselves!
What do you enjoy most about the animated incarnation of the Guardians? How similar and how different are they to the characters featured in the film and comics?
Like all of our animated series, we’re making this accessible to audiences who may only know the characters from the feature films versions. You’ll find, for example, that Star-Lord has the same humor and swagger of his big screen incarnation. Given the format of a television season, we’re able to take the characters in different directions and explore different facets over the season than perhaps in other mediums — all while making sure we don’t stray from what makes these characters so recognizable and popular. So if you love the Guardians from the film, comic book or interactive gaming incarnations, you’re going to love them here.
As “Marvel Universe Guardians of the Galaxy” is only a 4-issue series, are you pretty much adapting the first four episodes of the cartoon?
It’s a mix between original and adapted material by me and some of the folks that are working on the animated series for Marvel Animation. Plot-wise, I’m not allowed to say, but it’s not an adaptation of the first four episodes.
If readers take to “Marvel Universe: Guardians of the Galaxy” and Marvel asks you for more, would you be up for adapting more episodes into further issues?
If you ask anyone at Marvel, they’d tell you that I have a problem saying no to any assignment! [Laughs] I love the work, and want to do as much as I can while I still can. I don’t know if they have any plans for more after this — I hope they do!
I know very few adults who only started reading comics once they reached adulthood, even though a vast majority of comics these days are made for an older audience. If this industry is going to thrive, kids have to fall in love with the medium. One of the best ways for parents to share their universe is to give them comics based on things they’re already familiar with from TV and movies. It happened to me — I was first introduced to Spider-Man on TV and then fell in love with his comics because of that. Now look at me!
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