WBEZ | Little Nemo http://www.wbez.org/tags/little-nemo Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en The Comics: From Page to Stage http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-07/comics-page-stage-100649 <p><p>Although not based on a comic book or a comic strip, the new musical <em>Hero</em> at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire&nbsp;revolves around a father-and-son who own a comic shop in Milwaukee, where the son&mdash;himself a gifted artist&mdash;records his ho-hum life in his sketch book as if he were the hero of a graphic novel. You don&#39;t actually learn much about graphic novels or superhero comics (except that Blackhawk is the richest superhero), but the context got me to thinking...</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/LittleNemoZoo.jpg" style="height: 397px; width: 300px; float: left; " title="A famous Little Nemo comic strip from 1910." />There&#39;s no intrinsic link between comics and theater, but there&#39;s an historic link between the two art forms. Over the years, many comic strips and comic books have been used as the source material for Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, almost all of them musicals. The latest incarnation is, of course, the widely-publicized <em>Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark</em>, the Broadway extravaganza that cost $70 million to produce, leaving a trail of lawsuits and injured actors along the way.</div><p>But the history of theater and comics goes back at least to 1908, when a Broadway hit of the season was the musical <em>Little Nemo</em>, with a score by Victor Herbert, based on the wildly popular fantasy comic strip (then in the New York Herald), <em>Little Nemo in Slumberland</em>, written and drawn by the great Winsor McCay (also a pioneer of animated films).</p><p>In between, there have been such musicals as <em>It&#39;s a Bird, It&#39;s a Plane, It&#39;s Superman</em>, <em>Annie</em> and <em>Annie II</em>, <em>You&#39;re a Good Man, Charlie Brown</em> and <em>The Addams Family</em>, based on the single-panel cartoons of Charles Adams. Also, there was <em>The Mad Show</em>, a 1966 Off-Broadway precursor to <em>Mad TV</em>, inspired by the far-more-than-a-comic-book Mad Magazine, and we mustn&#39;t forget <em>Songs of the Pogo</em>, a three-person revue of Walt Kelly&#39;s work, seen only in Chicago in 1992.</p><p>The appeal of comics as a source for theater probably is obvious, beginning with the large potential audiences among the readers of various strips or books. Next, the fantasy aspects of some comics&mdash;<em>Little Nemo</em> and <em>Spiderman</em> are prime examples&mdash;lend themselves to visual spectacle. Finally, the literary quality of comics tends towards the exaggeration of characters and situations, especially among those comics featuring super heroes and arch-villains, and the simplification and repetition of storylines.</p><p>Even so, the process of comic page-to-stage transformation isn&#39;t a sure thing, as the fate of <em>It&#39;s a Bird, It&#39;s a Plane, It&#39;s Superman</em> proves (it was a failure). Whether in book form or strip form, comics are like soap operas: they come with oodles and oodles of backstory, they have villains who never are dead no matter how many times they&#39;re killed off, and the heroes never quite woo and win the love interest. Intertwined storylines go on and on and on. Theater must solve the problem of creating a story with a finite beginning, middle and end, and with sufficient exposition to make characters and situations clear.</p><p>Then, there&#39;s the matter of tone: get it wrong and you&#39;re doomed, which is precisely what happened to <em>It&#39;s a Bird . . . Superman</em>. The 1966 show survived only three months on Broadway because it decided to spoof the comic book and also invented a villain rather than using one from the Superman books themselves.</p><p>Comics may be easier to adapt to the stage if they are suitable for a revue format, as was the case with Peanuts, Pogo and Mad Magazine. <em>The Addams Family</em>&mdash;still touring but closed on Broadway after a 21-month run&mdash;might have fared better as a revue show vs. a book show. A number of the famous single-panel gag cartoons of James Thurber were incorporated into the very successful 1960&#39;s show, <em>A Thurber Carnival</em>, although that still-performed revue also had Thurber&#39;s short stories upon which to draw.</p><p>Turnabout is fair play and the career of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is a prominent example. He&#39;s the author of <em>Sensational Spider-Man, Marvel Knights 4</em> and <em>Fantastic Four</em> comics and also the author of a dozen plays, with <em>Say You Love Satan</em>, <em>Dark Matter, Based on a Totally True Story</em> and <em>Good Boys and True</em> among his works staged in Chicago at theaters from storefronts to Steppenwolf. Many of his plays, although not all of them, draw on horror/fantasy genres common to comic books. Ironically, Aguirre-Sacasa authored a revised book for <em>It&#39;s a Bird, It&#39;s a Plane, It&#39;s Superman</em> at the Dallas Theatre Center in 2010.</p></p> Fri, 06 Jul 2012 08:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-07/comics-page-stage-100649