Dorkin Walks "Beasts of Burden" from Comics to Film

When news broke that Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson's Eisner Award-winning "Beasts of Burden" had been optioned for a CG-animated movie, fans of the dark yet whimsical series applauded producer Andrew Adamson's eye for bringing the unique comic to film. Adamson and Aron Warner, his partner at Strange Weather Films, will serve as producers, as will Dark Horse Comics publisher Mike Richardson. Reel FX's Ed Jones and Cary Granat will animate the script by "Jack the Giant-Killer" writer Darren Lemke.

"Beasts of Burden" began as a series of short stories in Dark Horse's "Book of..." anthologies, taking home an Eisner award in their inaugural outing "Stray." In four short stories, a 4-issue miniseries and a one-shot crossover with Hellboy, the animals of the Burden Hill neighborhood -- who can speak to each other but are not otherwise anthropomorphized -- solve supernatural mysteries. Though there is considerable warmth to the series, due in no small part to Thompson's watercolor art and Dorkin's lively characterization, "Beasts" veers far from the funny animal genre, dealing often with death and showing the dogs (and cat) behaving with deadly ferocity when needed.

The movie is expected to debut in 2013, but, as Dorkin noted on his blog shortly after the film option was announced, a lot can happen between now and then, as the volume of optioned comic book properties that have failed to materialize on the silver screen would attest. Nevertheless, Dorkin spoke with CBR News (in his wry fashion) about his hopes for "Beasts of Burden" on the big screen.

CBR News: First, congratulations on this deal! Were you active at all in pursuing "Beasts of Burden" as a movie, or is this something Dark Horse cooked up on its own?

Evan Dorkin: We've been aware of the option offers that were made since the miniseries came out. Dark Horse handled them and Mike [Richardson, Dark Horse publisher] forwarded the particulars of the serious offers to Jill and me to look over and consider. One offer was apparently so insulting Mike didn't even send it to us. 

Do you know to what extent you'll be involved with this movie as it comes together?

I'm assuming Jill and I won't be offered any involvement in the project. It's a rare production that wants the comic creators involved in any meaningful way. I'd certainly be available for consulting work, and I don't think it would hurt any for them to have Jill do some design work, but I'm not holding my breath or losing any sleep over it. Dark Horse is involved, and one would hope they can have some kind of influence if at any point the production tramples the source material too heavily. 

When the announcement was made, you did point out on your blog that a lot of optioned movies "don't get made." With that in mind, what are your hopes for a big-screen version of "Beasts of Burden?" If it does mkeit completely through the process, what would you like to see in the movie?

I would just hope for a solid, non-embarrassing movie, first and foremost. Of course, beyond that I would be very happy it if they'd retain as much of the tone and the feel and the look of the comics as possible. Specifically I'd like to see them keep the main characters and group dynamic intact, retain the emotional moments and echo some of the darker aspects of the comic. I'd hope they wouldn't dumb it down too much or whitewash the supernatural elements or situations in order to make it overly family-friendly. Obviously they're not going to show piles of drowned, dead puppies and kittens, or include any gore shots, but old Disney films had scary and disturbing elements to them and were made for all-ages audiences. The forest sequence and the witch in "Snow White," Bambi's mom getting killed and the forest fire and the Pleasure Island sequence and Monstro in "Pinocchio" were all pretty heavy moments in what are considered children's films. The Pleasure Island sequence where Lampwick turns into a donkey is still one of my favorite horror moments in a movie. There are sequences in the "Wizard of Oz" that have freaked kids out for generations; my sister was terrified of the Witch and I was scared of the Oz floating head, but that hasn't hurt the movie's reputation or income any, I'd say.

Beyond that, I'd really, really hope that they'd avoid pop songs and take it easy on the dog poop jokes. Poop and pop, tread lightly. Ultimately, though, it's their project and they'll make the film they want to make. I'm just hoping for the best of outcomes for everyone involved.

Is this movie based on the story of the miniseries, or kind of a combination of the miniseries plus shorts that have appeared so far, or something new for the screen?

At this point, we have no idea what their plans are for the story.

I know it's very, very early yet, but do you have a sense as to whether and to what degree the CGI will be preserving Jill's distinctive watercolor style?

I have no idea what they're thinking in terms of visual approach, either. I would hope they'd use her style as a basis for the design work. Maybe use her work for the credits or something, at least. But as you say, it's very early in the process. All we know is that they optioned the comic.

Speaking of the comic, I know there are some shorts coming up in "Dark Horse Presents." Any hints about what sort of supernatural things the Burden Hill gang are up against in that story?

We're actually doing three 8-page stand-alone stories for "Dark Horse Presents," so readers unfamiliar with the series can pick up the new stories and understand them without any prior knowledge of the comics. Regular readers of the series will see that we're continuing to build on prior stories and situations, we touch on Rex's home life, Red's situation after being injured, Jack's changing relationship with the supernatural. There's some background on the Wise Dog Society in there, as well.

As for the actual supernatural elements, I'd rather just have folks read the stories and see for themselves. I'm not saying these are world-shattering events that demand secrecy, but I think everyone gets fed too much information about comics and movies before they get to experience them. I personally hate revealing plot points, I rarely see the point to it. Why can't anything be a surprise anymore? Isn't that what folks pay their money for?

Rambo: Last Blood Is Being Massacred on Rotten Tomatoes

More in Movies