WonderCon: Spotlight on Ben Templesmith

The Spotlight on Ben Templesmith became a symposium on media convergence at WonderCon in San Francisco on Saturday. The panel included Templesmith, writers Rob Schrab ("Scud: the Disposable Assassin"), Gerry Duggan ("The Last Christmas") and Antony Johnston ("Wasteland," "Dead Space") Moderated by Rantz Hoseley, the group considered the future of comics, the mining of the medium for film and video games concepts, and the possibilities of digital delivery.

When asked if comics-film-games cross-pollination benefits the comics industry, Templesmith noted the most obvious benefit from being utilized as a film property is the sales bump a source comic receives when the film is released. In a more widespread sense, though, he said the promotion of comic book properties is becoming better and more organized, adding, "And we're getting a bit more respect these days."

When discussing the increasing presence of Hollywood at Comic-Con International in San Diego, Duggan said, "I think they're just looking for the next big thing." He went on to say a comic takes the guesswork out of the pitch process, as the development executive can easily explain the concept to senior studio heads by passing on the actual comic book. "It's like what the movie poster will be like."

In regards to "Dead Space," which ties-in with Electronic Art's new video game, Johnston said the book was developed simultaneously with the game and is designed to stand on its own, but the two projects add richness to one another. If the comic is read and the game played together, Johnston said, "You'll get a better experience." The comic is set in the five-week period leading up the events experienced in the game. Johnston also noted 90% of the comic story is independent of the game.

When asked if they could think of one truly creatively successful adaptation from film to comics, the panel agreed on the "Alien" adaptation by Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson from the late 1970s. Schrab then revealed "Scud" had previously been optioned by Oliver Stone's company. He said "It was not a good experience." The creator of a comic franchises, he said, has to prove himself at each step of the creative process in Hollywood. Hoseley then noted that separation has changed in recent years and the original creators are invited to participate in the adaptation process. Templesmith mentioned his involvement on the film version of "30 Days of Night" was limited to the transfer of his sensibility to the film, which extended even into the marketing. He noted his original design sketches from the series were used by the production. And, he joked, "I got paid."

Unlike the early adaptations, current film versions of comic book properties tend to maintain the graphic design and core ideas of the source material. When Hoseley noted even the logos survive if they are strong images, Johnston said that was due, in large part, to the success of the "Sin City" film.

When asked what could discourage Hollywood from looking at comics for ideas, Johnston replied, "If they all bomb."

The panel said it is actually Hollywood's tendency to be risk-adverse that makes independent comics attractive to the studios. While a film like "Superman Returns" means a 200 million dollar investment, a film like "30 Days of Night" costs only 30 million. "There's less risk," Templesmith said. All admitted they have been approached by studios seeking comic books to option.

On the issue of interactive or digital comics, Schrab said, "People will always want to hold a comic." Templesmith added, "It's an artifact." He thinks that importance of tactile sensation will allow the production of a physical comic book to continue, but will ultimately co-exist with some manner of digital distribution. "It's not one or the other," he said. Johnston, however, expects digital distribution to become the dominate format. "The majority of stuff will be on a screen," he said. He also expects the option of a printed comic will become more boutique and expensive. All agreed, no matter the technology, the swiftness of the medium and its relative inexpensive production methods will allow it to survive.

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