Author and Cracked.com columnist Robert Brockway says there’s no need for adaptations to be too faithful
Author Robert Brockway thinks adaptations shouldn’t always be faithful to source material.
Hey, have you seen that new Preacher television show? I’m a die-hard fan of the comic and wow – this has to be one of the least faithful adaptations ever. Following that kind of statement, you’d expect the rest of this space to be filled with swear words and crude hexes directed at the showrunner’s more sensitive bits. But no: I actually love the show, and not in spite of, but because of its unfaithfulness. We’re not even talking superficial differences here, like changing a costume or a setting: the Preacher TV show completely disregards the very heart of the book. The Preacher comic was a punk rock epic – not so much a statement as a middle finger – committed almost exclusively to ridiculing everything that Ennis saw wrong with America, and pop culture in general. The TV show has a few snide remarks for America, and maybe a disapproving glare for the zeitgeist, but it’s much more philosophical. It’s deeply concerned with faith versus free will, and the importance of one to the seeming exclusion of the other.
In short, Preacher, the TV show, abandons nearly everything that I loved about Preacher, the comic book, and yet I still say it’s stronger for it. How can I call myself a fan of the original and still applaud this total overhaul? Easy! I accept that a work and its adaptation are entirely different things. It sounds simple, but it’s not something that we, as nerds, often practice. Usually we rant and rave at the slightest deviation from our precious source material – “They changed what about Superman’s costume?! I hope they remember to hydrate, because I hear it’s warm in hell” – but that doesn’t have to be the case.
The most faithful recent adaptation I can recall was Zack Snyder’s Watchmen. Upon leaving the theatre, all I could think was, “I should’ve saved the money and just reread the comic.” It was okay, but I had seen it all before. By strictly adhering to what the comic was about – mostly uniquely ’80s concerns about mass destruction – the movie made itself immediately irrelevant. The least faithful adaptation I can recall would be the movie Constantine. And yes, I am about to say it. God forgive me, but even though they cast Keanu Reeves as a character that’s supposed to be an overly-emotional blond Brit – the polar opposite of a Keanu – Constantine was still a good flick. Hellblazer is hands down my favourite comic. I own every single issue. And yet I can still find space in my heart for the film that had the gall to cast Shia LaBeouf as Chas. How do I do it? Try a little game: watch Constantine, or the Preacher TV show, or any adaptation that gets shade for its departure from the source material, and mentally retitle it. Name the characters something else. Keanu is now Jim Intermittentine. Change the details: Cassidy isn’t a vampire, but a werewolf or a rogue merman. Does it still entertain? If so, it’s a good adaptation. Instead of sending Hollywood executives death threats penned with our own tears of indignant rage, we should be thankful they cut our favourite artists a fat cheque when they probably could’ve cited “fair use”, tweaked the title to Padre, and never paid a dime. The suckers.
“I THOUGHT, ‘I SHOULD’VE SAVED THE MONEY AND JUST REREAD THE COMIC’”
Robert Brockway’s latest book, The Empty Ones, the sequel to The Unnoticeables, is out on 30 August. Visit his site at www.robertbrockway.net.