Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer

Unadaptable: Comics That Can* Only Be Comics

Dave Accampo

Staff Writer

Dave Accampo is a writer, producer and designer living in Portland, Oregon. He co-created the Wormwood: A Serialized Mystery audio drama, the Sparrow & Crowe comics series, and the digital comics series, Lost Angels. Follow him on Twitter: @daccampo.

* And by “can,” we really mean “we think they should,” as we do realize that one can — for better or worse — adapt anything.**

** We call this the Watchmen rule.

Behind the scenes here at Panels HQ (where we totally have an indoor water slide, aren’t you jealous?), we like to talk about comics. I know, surprising, right? But the other day we started talking about comics that provide the best representation of the medium, and inevitably talk turned to “what comics do the comicky things that no other medium can do?”

Thus, we brave Panelteers have gathered together a few books that we think merit the label of “Unadaptable.” Whether it’s a pure expression of narrative and art, or something magical in the structure of the panels, these are all books that we think work best as comics.

Its a Bird...It’s a Bird… by Steve Seagle & Teddy Kristiansen

On the surface, Seagle’s semi-autobiographical tale about a man trying to understand the character of Superman — even as he deals with family tragedy — seems like maybe it could be made into some kind of navel-gazing art film, but if you’ve read this beautifully odd little graphic novel, you know that it uses the comics form in a way that could never really be translated into another medium. First Seagle weaves into the main narrative short vignettes that each contain a unique voice and narrative style, creating poetic digressions on the nature and myth of Superman. But what really takes this to the next level is Kristiansen’s evocative painted art, which he morphs through these vignettes to showcase different painterly styles and artistic movements to complement Seagle’s meditations on the last son of Krypton. This is a book that is elevated equally by writing and art, an intimate collaboration from two artists who fully understand what they can do with a comics page. This book is transcendent, both as literature and art, and it also turns out to be one of my favorite tales about the Man of Steel and his place in our culture. — Dave Accampo

3 Seconds3 seconds (3”) by Marc-Antoine Mathieu

“This is a detective mystery.  It lasts only 3 seconds.”

3” is a pure black and white comic using a fixed structure of square nine-panel grids across 67 pages.  The story follows a photon of light revealing the objects it hits. The eye of the reader therefore zooms in on a scene until it encounters an obstacle and is reflected towards a new location, new people, and a new situation.  But there is a link between this man receiving a text message, a gunshot, a plane… With each image you can gather new information, new clues of this silent mystery.  The book is the ultimate story decompression as the photon goes through 900’000 km. 3 seconds also an experimentation with digital comics. Get a taste for it through the companion website. where you can see the images cycled through in “real” time.  The story is obviously chronological but the future gives context to the past and the book is an invitation for the reader to deconstruct the story and break its original continuity and fluidity. — Hélène

Pride of BaghdadPride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughn and Niko Henrichon

Pride of Baghdad is the story of a group of lions that escape Baghdad Zoo during the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. These are captive creatures, unaccustomed to freedom or taking care of themselves. As the story unfolds, the lions take on the varying opinions on all sides of the war. Adapting this to film, however, can run aground of feeling more like The Adventures of Milo and Otis than George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which would do a great injustice to the source material. — Chris Arnone


Asterios PolypAsterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli

Though Mazzucchelli’s exploration of ego, intellect, and affection might arguably make for a tremendous animated feature, Chuck Jones is no longer around to helm the thing with the necessary mania. Asterios Polyp requires the kind of deconstruction and abstraction that few humans can cope with, biologically speaking. I think specifically of the moment when we realize that the central lovers exist on different planes of existence, one perceiving and relating to the world through cross-hatched value while the other is rooted in hard-edged geometric shapes. It’s a heartbreaking work that would stagger a genius attempting to translate it to live action. An argument might be made for interpretive dance, but this one’s far too visually inventive and playful to be grounded by the constraints of a screen. — Paul Montgomery


Those are a few of our picks. What do you think? What comics play to the form in such a way that any other media doesn’t do it justice? Is it the structure that can’t be mimicked? Or the pure expression of words and art? Sound off in the comments with your own picks and theories!