Comic book fans have long pushed back on the notion that the medium is made up of nothing but superheroes. There’s no question that cape and tight wearers are a huge part of the industry, but there are as many genres being written in comics as there in every other medium. Many of these works have been adapted into films just like their superhero counterparts. Let’s take a look at some films you might be surprised started as comics.
This haunting tale of a mob assassin on a road trip of vengeance alongside his young son earned five Oscar nominations and made movie audiences realize Tom Hanks can be a badass. It is based on a 1998 comic book by writer Max Allan Collins and artist Richard Piers Rayner published by Paradox Press. The book is a moody and violent tale beautifully brought to life on screen by acclaimed director Mendes and the legendary cinematographer Conrad L. Hall.
The second ice age has come and all of humanity lives on a giant train constantly circling the Earth, I mean that’s just a comic book premise right there. This makes sense because it is a comic book from 1982 called Le Transperceniege from French comic creators Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, and Jean-Marc Rochette. The movie and comic are a scathing social critique of wealth disparity jazzed up with crazy sci-fi trappings as the poor people who live in the squalid spaces at the back of the train fight their way forward to the decadent cars at the front. The popularity of the movie spawned a TV series that premiered in 2020 and has helped to keep the original book in print.
A huge part of the comic space is the graphic memoir, people telling the story of their own lives through the comic book medium. Harvey Pekar documented decades of his life in the hilariously mundane and curmudgeonly comics that make up American Splendor. Adapting this into a film was certainly no easy task as at the end of the day the comic is made up of the day-to-day life of an average middle-aged guy. But the filmmakers use the brilliant mixed media approach of having not only Paul Giamatti play Pekar, but the real Pekar himself along with an animated version of his comic persona guiding you through the very relatable and human story of the movie.
There is a difference between a violent movie and a movie about violence and Cronenberg’s 2005 crime story certainly fits into the latter category. Make no mistake the movie features many acts of savage violence and he’s never been a filmmaker to shy away from a bloodletting. However, this movie is more about the lingering effects of violence on a man and the people he loves. It’s also based on a comic book from 1997 by John Wagner and Vince Locke that deconstructs a typical American family man and reveals the darkness of his past as it envelopes him and his family.
This is a unique movie for a lot of reasons, like American Splendor it is based on a graphic memoir, but it stands out as it is both a completely animated film and is co-directed by the author of the comic book (a real rarity in movie adaptations). Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s childhood in Tehran and how the life of her and her family are affected by the constant political and social upheaval. Choosing to make the movie as an animated feature is such an inspired choice here as it not only captures the art style of the comic (which Satrapi illustrated as well as wrote) but it adds to this dreamy visual space that puts us into the main character’s eyes, this is not a document as much as it as a memory.
There are many other surprising comic adaptations out there but these five hopefully give you the idea that there’s a lot more than superheroes going on in the pages of comics. If you are a superhero junkie, maybe this list will inspire you to broaden your horizons and pick up something different to celebrate the full spectrum of comic book storytelling.