The industry of adapting comics to other mediums–and other mediums to comics–is in a golden age right now. Comics are being turned into everything from blockbuster movies, to longer series on TV or Netflix, to action-packed video games. The adaptations even go the other way too, with graphic novelizations of stories of books and movies. What all of these adaptations have in common is that they are publisher-sanctioned creations, often going so far as to even involve the original creators in the adaptation process.
But what about when the original creator isn’t involved, and the adaptation isn’t even remotely sanctioned by the copyright owners? That’s the sort of thing that new creators and adapters can only get away with if their source material is old enough to be public domain. Or if the creators aren’t publishing for profit. Or if they’re reviewing / parodying under the bewilderingly nebulous grey area of fair use. It’s cozy niche mostly occupied by fanfiction–or, on occasion, one of the other famous free mediums of the internet: webcomics.
Whether they’re satirizing, summarizing, or resampling other media, these webcomics all have wonderfully clever and hilarious reimaginings of books, movies, and other media you thought you knew well, but have never quite seen like this before…
3-Panel Book Review by Lisa Brown
Some might argue that classic works of literature are too long. Lisa Brown took that a step further by arguing that even all book reviews are too long. When she became a book reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle, she made the hilarious decision to limit all of her reviews to just three panels. What can you do in just three panels? Well, quite a lot, as it turns out. If you enjoy Hark! A Vagrant‘s take on such literary bastions as Jane Eyre or The Great Gatsby, then this one is right up your alley. Sadly, 3-Panel Book Review is no longer running, and the complete print volume appears to be no longer in print. But many of the strips can still be found online on the comic’s tumblr and on the San Francisco Chronicle’s website.
Blue Milk Special by Rod Hannah, art by Leanne Hannah
It’s Star Wars like you’ve never quite seen it before, complete with a sarcastic chain-smoking Princess Leia, an evil Moff Tarkin in bunny slippers, and dueling incarnations of George Lucas. Running consistently since 2009, BMS has chronologically covered almost the entire original trilogy and quite a number of the tie-in materials, from the notorious Christmas Special to ill-fated novels like Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. BMS approaches Star Wars with that perfect blend of intimate knowledge and critical distance, poking fun at the source material in an extremely well-informed way. They’re wrapping up Return of the Jedi right now; whether they’ll move on to The Force Awakens, tackle the prequel trilogy, or call it quits on the project remains to be seen.
Awkward Zombie by Katie Tiedrich
Awkward Zombie is a personal favorite of mine, for both its humor and for its refreshingly lighthearted take on video games. The gaming world right now is sadly about on par with the comics world in terms of sexism, lack of representation, and aggressively toxic fans. Because of this, I’m doubly happy to read a webcomic that is not only written by a woman who games (and who appears visibly as herself in many of the comics), but which also provides a much-needed breath of fresh air among all the conflicts of the medium. Awkward Zombie is purely about the lighter, quirkier side of games and all the peculiarities of their story and mechanics, and once in a while, just looking at that lighter side is a welcome escape. I find the comic to be entertaining even when I’m not familiar with the game being portrayed (but if you find yourself lost, Tiedrich helpfully notes the game being parodied at the bottom of each comic). A collected print volume is available through the comic’s online store.
Monster of the Week by Shaenon K. Garrity
I quite enjoy the X-Files. I have also ever finished one single episode of the X-Files because I am a wimp and find it too dang scary. The next best thing? Reading a silly comic that recaps the X-Files! Monster of the Week: The Complete Cartoon X-Files covers each episode of the series in order, with amusing authorial commentary from Garrity on scariest parts, worst special effects, most confusing plotlines, and more problematic elements of the series. The comic has been on haitus since Garrity finished covering season 4 of the show, but she did come back to cover the recent reboot season, and if her Patreon gets a little more love she plans to continue the strip. The truth is out there. Probably.
Garfield Minus Garfield by Dan Walsh (and Jim Davis)
And now just to round this list off with some meta, here’s a comic that’s adapting… and another comic. Welcome to the utterly surreal world of Garfield Minus Garfield, which is pretty much what it says on the tin: Garfield strips by Jim Davis with all of Garfield and his dialogue removed by Dan Walsh. The result: the world as seen through the neurotic, depressed eyes of Jon Arbuckle, talking to the air. Just when you thought this couldn’t get any better, it turns out Garfield‘s creator Jim Davis is himself a big fan of G-G. There’s even an authorized book out in which Davis tries his hand at de-Garfield-ifying some of his own strips. Sometimes a little darkness makes everything just a little bit funnier.