The Joy Of… Inventive Adaptations

2015 Artwork joy of inventive adaptations article sketch

Although this is an article about art and writing, I’m going to have to start by talking about music for a while. There’s a good reason for this and I’m not just rambling about music for the sake of it.

A few weeks ago, I was kind of bored and ended up watching random music videos on Youtube. Anyway, I was curious to see if anyone had made a cover version of “Cancion Del Mariachi” by Los Lobos (it’s the opening song from the cinematic masterpiece that is Roboert Rodriguez’s “Desperado“, which is probably my fifth favourite movie of all time.)

As well as finding a couple of good acoustic cover versions of “Cancion Del Mariachi” and a couple of really awesome heavy metal covers of the song (like this one by Fernando S. Gallegos), I also stumbled across a band called “Metalachi“.

They were a mariachi band who played covers of classic heavy metal songs. They dress like heavy metal musicians, but they play mariachi-style music. As such, it was really interesting to hear some of my favourite old metal songs in a totally different musical style. Some of their covers are better than others, but it was still really interesting to hear totally different versions of very familiar songs.

And this got me thinking about the whole subject of inventive adaptations. This is where someone re-makes something by someone else, but changes at least a few significant things – so that the final result is both new and familiar at the same time. I absolutely love these kinds of adaptations.

This sort of thing is a lot more common in music for the simple reason that there’s much more of a tradition of musicians playing cover versions of other songs (there are a whole bunch of reasons for this, mainly stemming from the fact that – whilst music itself has been around since ancient history – recorded music has only been around for less than two centuries). But, I started to wonder whether it was possible to do this kind of thing in art and writing… and it is, sort of.

Because art and writing are usually recorded onto fixed mediums and created by only one person – there has historically been much more of a focus on copyright, “moral rights” and “ownership”.

Although I don’t want to get into this subject too much, modern copyright laws have done a lot to stifle inventive cover versions of famous things. No, I don’t think that copyright should be abolished entirely – but I do think that it needs serious reform and liberalisation.

What all of this means is that – depending on where you live – you’ll probably have to restrict your artistic and literary “cover versions” to covers of old out-of-copyright stuff, parodies of famous things, stylistic pastiches and/or non-commercial fan works (eg: fan fiction, fan art etc..).

But, even with these onerous restrictions – you can still have a lot of fun making inventive “cover” versions of famous things. Plus, if you’re an artist, it can be a great way to learn about art history too.

After all, there are thousands of really cool old paintings that are out of copyright (but, be sure to do your research. For example, some of Matisse’s paintings aren’t copyrighted in the US, but all of them are still copyrighted in the EU.) Most of these old paintings can be viewed for free on the internet and they can be copied, changed and/or adapted to your heart’s content.

To give you an example of this, here’s a really cool 18th century etching called “The Sleep Of Reason Produces Monsters” ( “El sueño de la razon produce monstruos“) by Francisco Goya:

"El sueño de la razon produce monstruos" By Francisco Goya [Image from Wikipedia]

“El sueño de la razon produce monstruos” By Francisco Goya [Image from Wikipedia]

I liked this etching so much, that I wanted to make my own copy of it. But, I was also curious to see what it would look like in colour (and in my art style)- so, I also ended up adding a more modern colour scheme to my copy of it. And, surprisingly, it really made a huge difference…..

"Sleep Of Reason (After Goya)" By C. A. Brown

“Sleep Of Reason (After Goya)” By C. A. Brown

Of course, if you’re a writer, then you can also have a lot of fun with this, since there are plenty of famous literary characters that are no longer copyrighted – notable examples include Robin Hood, Alice (from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland”), Cthulhu (but only if you live in the EU) and Sherlock Holmes (although, if you live in the US or are publishing there, then you can only use older versions of Holmes).

Plus, in most cases, you can also just write fan fiction about more modern stuff (as long as you don’t publish it commerically and avoid the works of a few authors who loathe and despise fan fiction [Anne Rice and G.R.R. Martin spring to mind for starters…])

Yes, these restrictions suck (and they’re kind of stupid) – but, even so, it’s certainly worth making at least one inventive adaptation of something that you like, because.. well.. it’s just really good fun.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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How To Adapt Something That Doesn’t Really Have A Story

*Well, not a very good one anyway...

*Well, not a very good one anyway…

Although this is an article about writing novel/comic adaptations of essentially plotless things, I’m going to start by talking about classic 1990s computer games for a while.

Yes, there’s a point to this and it isn’t just another excuse for me to ramble on about the “Doom” games again. Well, it sort of is – but, stick around – there’s some stuff about storytelling later on….

Anyway, I was randomly surfing the internet a few weeks ago when I stumbled across this ludicrously gruesome comic from the 1990s that is based on the early instalments of one of my all-time favourite computer game series. I am, of course, talking about “Doom” and “Doom II“.

If you’re unlucky enough never to have played these timeless masterpieces, they’re both sci-fi/horror first-person shooter games which involve fighting hordes of demonic monsters. Seriously, if heavy metal music was a computer game – then it would be “Doom”.

The gameplay in “Doom” is fast, fun and – at it’s best – you will need a chess-like tactical mind in order to win. It might look like a “simplistic” game at first glance, but it can take years of practice to master.

But, although the first two “Doom” games contain a few basic text screens – there isn’t much of a story to them. So, I was kind of curious to see how anyone could turn something like this into a comic.

Unfortunately, the writers of the comic took the most simplistic route imaginable and the “Doom” comic mirrors the gameplay exactly – the main character does almost nothing but run around and shoot monsters. That’s it.

Whilst this is incredibly good fun in the original game, it quickly gets boring in the comic (even so, the comic is still ten times more enjoyable than the 2005 movie adaptation of “Doom” – what a waste of a cinema ticket that was!).

Not only that, there’s relatively little characterisation in the comic ( and the main character comes across as more psychopathic than heroic) and there’s no real backstory of any kind either. About the only good thing that can be said for the comic adaptation of “Doom” is that the art looks absolutely brilliant!

And, well, this made me think about the whole subject of making comic/ novel adaptations of things that don’t really have much of a story behind them (eg: card games, board games, art series, computer games etc…).

I guess that I’ll be looking at this subject more out of curiosity than anything else, since adapting many things created by other people could possibly cause copyright issues unless you have permission to do this or unless the copyright for the thing in question has expired (eg: chess, playing cards, the original Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck etc…).

Anyway, if you try to make an “accurate” adaptation of something that doesn’t have much of story, you’ll end up with a hilariously random and almost plotless thing like the “Doom” comic that I mentioned earlier. But, at the same time, if you change too much or add too many new details, then you’re likely to alienate fans of the original thing.

So, what do you do?

Well, I’d argue that it’s probably best to try to stay true to the spirit of the original thing and to search it carefully for whatever remnants of a story that it already has.

For example, the board game “Monopoly” revolves around several extremely wealthy people trying to buy up as much land and property as possible in order to gain control of a town. Likewise, the classic game of chess is essentially a game about two medieval kingdoms fighting each other.

Once you’ve managed to extract the basic skeleton of a story out of whatever it is that you’re adapting, then it’s up to you to “fill in the gaps” and turn it into something readable.

The trick here is to take a very close look at the thing that you’re adapting and try to extrapolate as many details as you can from the things that are already there before you start adding new stuff to “fill in the gaps”.

For example, if you’re making a novel based on chess then you’d probably take a careful look at the pieces and conclude that each side has a two-towered castle (due to the two “rook” pieces at the corners of the board). You could also conclude that one side would use a black flag and that the other would use a white flag, due to the colours of the pieces.

Likewise, you’d probably conclude that both sides were Christians (since they each have two bishops) and that they operate in a rather harsh and feudalistic way (given the large number of expendable peasant-like pawns, the presence of a king and a queen and the relatively small number of knights).

See what I mean?

The main reason for doing this is that if you start by making up new stuff without firmly basing it on existing details, then your audience’s reaction is likely to look something like this.

Whereas, if you make sure that any additions you make are just a logical extension of elements from the original thing, then this is much less likely to be an issue.

Although this might all sound very restrictive, it still gives you a surprising amount of imaginative freedom.

To go back to my “chess” example, although your story should be about two feudal Christian medieval kingdoms (one with a white flag and one with a black flag) fighting each other – the reasons why they are fighting each other, the names of the characters and the question of who wins are still left entirely up to you.

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Sorry for another basic article, but I hope that it was useful 🙂