Thursday, January 2, 2014

The art of turning erotic prose into comics erotica

With the 2013 publication of Intimacy 101: Rooms & Suites, my collection of erotic prose fiction, I realized I’d been fortunate to script all three volumes of my comics erotica for NBM: Attractive Forces, Stray Moonbeams and Great Moves.  In adapting my own short stories, I’ve worked with some fine artists, namely Justin Norman, Brandon Graham and Geof Isherwood. 

You’d think it would be easy to adapt your own work to another medium.  Intimacy 101 reminds me it isn’t always. What you’re working toward is not so much a faithful translation as much as a dynamic interpretation that offers new ways of seeing and appreciating a story.

Some can do it.  Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Charles Fuller’s stage-to-screen adaptation of A Soldier’s Play as A Soldier’s Story was as good as it gets.  Others can’t, not quite.  Alice Walker’s script for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple was passed over for Menno Meyjes’. 

I’ve had my prose stories called “compelling and erotic” by publishers, with “detail [that] is uncommonly vivid.”  Unfortunately, not even the quality of a story is of much use if the structure’s not resurrected soundly.

The most challenging of my prose erotica to adapt to comics has been Great Moves’ title story.  The original version plays with chronology.  Part 1 deals with a man’s encounter with a seductive young woman in a Montreal motel’s lounge bar.  Part 2 goes to the morning after and how the experience has left the man.  Part 3 backtracks to the night itself, and what really happened between him and the woman.

I tried to preserve the tricky timeline in the comic.  It read as confusing to Terry Nantier, my publisher and editor.  I considered his comments, offered another rewrite.  “Sorry,” he said, “still confusing.”  After a couple more email exchanges, I decided to stand down.  We went with a linear timeline: evening, night, morning after.

That the graphic novels I’ve produced for NBM have been aesthetically pleasing as well as stimulating has had much to do with Terry’s firm but fair guidance.  They are among titles from NBM that he calls “intelligently written [books] that really explore human sexuality and the experience of it.”  Terry makes sure I don’t outsmart myself in living up to those expectations.

There was no worry of that with “I Often Wondered What Your Face Would Look Like Were I to Make Love to You,” the middle story in Attractive Forces.  The prose version leaned toward the lyrical; it contained snippets of questioning, poetic reverie by the narrator.  There was already an implicit balance between words and images that was easy to transfer to the comic. 

I suggested minimal panelling and asked the artist to play with its arrangement.  The words with pictures are simultaneously intimate and isolating, echoing one of my favourite lines from Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”: We live—as we dream—alone.”

A fan-favourite in Attractive Forces is the last story, “Mirror Image.”  Since re-titled “Open Doors,” I took a Marvel-style approach to the script, merely describing what happens from page to page as the characters see, think and dream about each other.  The artist did the rest.  The result is pure sequential art and effective storytelling.  In fact, I used a different format for each script I wrote for Attractive Forces to generate a distinct mood and atmosphere from one story to the next.

My personal favourite from my comics erotica trilogy is “In the Mood,” the last story in Stray Moonbeams.  Of the 12 stories in these graphic novels, it’s the only one not based a prose story.  It came to me in images: a woman meets a man in a club, whom she beds because of the size of his ears….  It shows how a meaningful relationship can evolve from a whimsical or near flaky decision. 

What makes “In the Mood” and the stories I’ve written important and moving to me is their description of the heart of Caribbean folk, which is Creole at core, not exclusively black or white or what have you.  We often hear, backed by gospel strains of Harlem Renaissance fervour, about the souls of black folk.  The Diaspora’s philosophies and aesthetics are on display, too, in countless stories and poems and discourses and songs, from Aesop’s time to the present.  All this is impressive.  But there’s still plenty to be written about how we love, whatever the medium.

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