The road to comic book Valhalla is lined with companies that have tried to do “celebrity comics” as a means of switching to the fast lane of movie money and licensing gold. Tekno, Virgin, CrossGen. There is hardly a company that does not have some kind of celebrity “vanity project” comic out there made mostly to show to producers as a bible for a film. And all of this is despite the fact that not a single movie has yet been made from a comic book that was published just to be turned into a movie.
COWBOYS & ALIENS, which is certainly an A-list project with Jon Favreau, Daniel Craig, and Harrison Ford aboard is set to be the first comic of its genre to ever actually get turned into a big movie. But this is the first time it has ever happened and it took 10 years. And despite this, there are still no other Platinum, Tokyopop, Radical, or Liquid movies. No one can go to Netflix and order the MAYHEM movie or OCD movie or GAMEKEEPER movie.
And yet companies STILL pursue the comics-to-movie model. And stories like this one in Deadline Hollywood Daily are why. Disney has paid “mid-six figures in option money” for OBLIVION, a graphic novel by Arvid Nelson and Andree Wallin based on an idea by TRON: LEGACY director Joseph Kosinski.
The story is set on a future Earth, where civilization lives above the clouds and alien scavengers stalk the irradiated surface below. When a surface drone repairman finds a woman inside a crashed spacepod planetside, it leads him on a journey filled with romance and adventure.
As regular BEAT readers know, studios optioning comics are a weekly occurrence, and yet this one not only gets a coveted Nikki Finke TOLJA! (signifying an important story) but ~$500K just for some typical comics-to-movie pitch after FOUR STUDIOS were in the running to get it? What gives?
The answer lies in the identity of the celebrity brainstormer. Although TRON:LEGACY is still months away from release, Disney has set its eyes on TRON as its franchise of the future, and they are very, very — as in VERY — high on Kosinski, even though he’s a virtual unknown: TRON: LEGACY is his first film and prior to that he was best known for that GEARS OF WAR TV spot with the song from Donnie Darko in it. (Granted, that was a DOPE spot.)
Kosinski’s age isn’t even listed on his IMDB page, but he looks youthful and full of pep. Disney obviously thinks they have the next David Fincher, or at least Neill Blomkamp on their hands and they want to make him happy and feel loved, and optioning his graphic novel is part of that process. Or, as the story put it, in the most significant sentence:
His reps decided that turning it into a graphic novel would set the table for a movie deal once Kosinski was finished with the film.
As for Radical, they either got lucky or really canny — out of all the underperforming actors (hello, Wesley Snipes), comics-loving rockers or amorphous Hollywood types they could have teamed with, they smartly made a deal with a real up-and-comer. There’s no telling how much of that “mid-six figures” that Radical main men Barry Levine and Jesse Berger got, (Levine will produce, Berger exec produce) but it’s doubtless enough to keep them in the comics game.
And to be fair, this month Radical has, uh…radically upped their actual comics content, releasing several long awaited books, including TIME BOMB by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Paul Gulacy; HOTWIRE by Warren Ellis and Steve Pugh; and THE RISING by E. Max Frye and J.P. Targete. We’ve never actually heard of anyone buying and enthusing over a Radical comic*, but several of these sound good enough to flip through, anyway.
As remote from the practice of making Great Comics as the whole comics-to-movie industry is, it’s here and it’s here to stay because of deals like the OBLIVION one. The positive side is that these comics often pay actual page rates and many people we know make a living working on them — it’s certainly a viable alternative to working on company-owned characters for other publishers if you’re going to do work-for-hire, and the page rate is good.
As for the OBLIVION movie…well, don’t hold your breath. The odds are STILL against it getting made — Kosinski is going to have a lot of offers to sift through if TRON does as well as everyone hopes, and directing his own unknown property might get lower on his list. Like it or not, Hollywood is still a big shell game of properties and options and deals, and this time Radical spotted the pea.
Howabout it, peanut gallery? Have you read and enjoyed a Radical comic book?
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.