July 6th, 2012, 10:03 am

4 Things TV Comic Continuations Can Learn from "Smallville: Season 11"

As I wrote earlier, comic book continuations of your favorite TV shows are all the rage today. "Charmed", "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", "Jericho" and "Dark Shadows" are just a few titles continuing on through the paneled page. The best of these I've seen by far, however, is "Smallville Season 11", which continues the CW show through a series of 12-page digital comics, to be collected in trade paperback sometime in the future. With all these TV shows turning to comics, I set out analyze what the young Man of Steel does particularly well:

4. Go Long or Go Short. One factor which separates "Smallville" from the other TV shows is that "Smallville" ended its 10 year run relatively recently. This gave Bryan Q. Miller a chance to recapture the momentum by picking up the threads of the (somewhat lackluster) season 10 finale, such as Lex's murder of his sister Tess or Clark and Lois' postponed wedding. While other comic continuations have to start from scratch, "Smallville" feels like a natural progression of the storyline (helped by the fact Miller served as the show's executive story editor). But the passage of time can be a blessing in disguise. Look at "Dallas" on TNT, which is picking up where the soap left off nearly twenty years later. After barely a few episodes, the show has been renewed for a second season. Just imagine what comic books can do with similar TV properties, unhampered by casting decisions and budgets. The important thing is keeping the momentum of the plot intact, whether finale was one year ago or twenty years ago.

3. One Voice. Joss Whedon's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9" is a case study for comic continuations of TV properties. The comic book series was one of the first well-handled attempts to translate a 22-episode TV season into a forty issue comic book series. Joss Whedon applied his trademark dialogue and epic plotting to the project, but he couldn't write the entire project alone (it's not like he was working on anything else at the time). Like a real TV show, the pen was shared by a team of writers, including Buffy alums Drew Goddard and Jane Espenson as well as veteran comic book writers Jeph Loeb and Brad Meltzer. This is where things get dicey, as critics pointed out the inconsistency in voice between issues. While TV shows come out semi-weekly, comic books are mostly monthly, making the inconsistency even more glaring. In addition to the weekly schedule, "Smallville" is written exclusively by Miller, eliminating the inconsistency (though the flipside, the blame is all on his shoulders).

2. Artistic License.
If there's one thing which can stop at TV comic continuation in its track, it's the artwork. Drawing characters who resemble the actors is actually a considerable challenge - I'm frankly surprised Pere Perez pulls it off in "Smallville Season 11". For example, I actually really like the "Chuck" comic series by Peter Johnson, Zev Borow and Jeremy Haun - but the characters look nothing like the actors playing them. The same can be said for any of the "Buffy" comics, because Sarah Michelle Geller's facial features are so hard to draw panel-after-panel. On the flip-side, many comic books try to use photo references to draw based characters which resemble specific people, but wind up with expressions which look either wooden or just plain wrong. Pere Perez's artwork seems to boil down the features of the characters to a few key details which make them identifiable. While the artwork seems a bit too simple at times, it does its job - recreating the cast of "Smallville" right on the page (or in my case, iPad).

1. Scene-By-Scene. I recently starting dabbling in prose writing, where I learned you don't focus your energy on chapter-by-chapter or even page-by-page, but instead, scene-by-scene. Comics are the same way - the building blocks of the story aren't how one issue moves to the next, but instead, how one scene builds on another. Maybe that's why I like reading "Smallville Season 11" so much, because the narrative momentum established in 12 pages actually makes the 99 cent comic feel much longer than it is. "Buffy" may the exception but not the rule in all of this - its issue-based seasons are far longer and feature quite a bit more payoff, but the fundamentals are still the same: each scene needs to hit the right notes to preserve the momentum. Whether your length is 12 pages or 22 pages, you can capture the audience's attention span or loose in half the time. Plotting scene-by-scene also captures the TV feel to the property, as the reading experience feels like the story is jumping from set to set instead of from narrative to narrative. Regardless, the sky is the limit building a story from the ground up scene-by-scene.

(That's it for this rant. Check out a new Blue Yonder next week)

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