As this summer’s blockbuster season reminds us comic book adaptations are big business with the latest incarnations of heroes old and new filling the local picturehouse and running merry riot over box office records.
Given the twin benefits of a wealth of material on which to draw and a ready audience primed to see their favourites fleshed out and thrown onto a movie screen it seems that we’ll be seeing many more familiar, and some less familiar, cartoon characters in movies of their own.
Jean Dujardin turned the world into a swooning mess when he led Michel Hazanavicius’ award magnet The Artist last year and in this article Anwar Brett takes a look at another of the actor’s roles, that of Lucky Luke in James Huth’s adaptation of the comic book by Morris, which is out now on DVD, as well as nine other cartoon heroes we’ve enjoyed on the big screen.
Laconic cowboy Lucky Luke bows only before Asterix and TinTin in the pantheon of European comic favourites, and is the creation of Belgian artist Maurice De Bevere with writers since his 1946 debut including René Goscinny. Amiably dealing with mythic western themes and real life cowboy legends, Luke is an upstanding hero with a good heart – and is cheerfully embodied in the latest live action version of the story by Jean Dujardin, Oscar winning star of The Artist.
The diminutive hero of a succession of adventures written by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, Asterix was the canniest warrior in the single Gaul village that remains unconquered by the mighty Roman Army. With the help of a magical potion that imbues villagers with superhuman strength, and his best pal Obelix, Asterix laid waste to a succession of enemies from his 1959 debut in print, and in several animated adventures as well as half a dozen live action movies.
Belgian boy reporter Tintin has enjoyed an even longer literary life, making his bow in Tintin In The Land of the Soviets in 1929. Author Hergé, whose pseudonym came from the reversal of the initials of his real name Georges Remi, penned 23 comic books under The Adventures of Tintin series which he continued to write and illustrate until his death in 1983. Among many screen adaptations, the most recent was the 2011 movie The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by Peter Jackson.
The sardonic tones of Jim Davis’ indolent, lasagne loving ginger cat Garfield found perfect expression in the sardonic tones of actor Bill Murray in his animated/live action big screen adventure. The perfect pacing of the panel comic was read in thousands of different publications – at one time it was the most widely syndicated comic strip in the world – and transferred to the big screen with similar success in Garfield: The Movie (2004) and Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties (2006).
The Addams Family
Audiences of a certain age will remember The Addams Family in the form of Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston as Gomez and Morticia with Christina Ricci as their creepy daughter Wednesday, as seen in The Addams Family (1991) and its sequel Addams Family Values (1993). These same audience might also recall the hit 1960s series that ran for more than 60 episodes from 1964 to 1966, but perhaps even they are unaware that both were inspired by a comic strip written and drawn by Charles Addams (1912-88), debuting in The New Yorker magazine in 1938.
Dennis The Menace means different things to British and American audience. Here he’s the curly haired rascal with the red and black hooped jumper from the pages of the Beano comic. In the States he’s the blond kid with innocence in his eyes and mischief in his heart – more precocious than psychotic – created by Hank Ketcham and familiar to US readers through a comic strip syndicated in hundreds of papers following his 1951 bow. A sitcom with the character ran from 1959 to 1963, with features produced in 1993 and sequel Dennis The Menace Strikes Again in 1998.
A little orphan girl who charmed a President and warmed the heart of a nation in turmoil, Annie was a character created by Harold Gray in 1924, inspired by a 19th century poem written by James Whitcomb Riley. Depression era America took the feisty 11 year to its heart, in print, on radio and on cinemas screens in 1932 and 1938. A musical adaptation was written for the stage in 1970s, and the 1982 film version cast Aileen Quinn in the title role with Albert Finney played her millionaire benefactor ‘Daddy’ Warbucks.
From the pages of The Guardian newspaper Tamara Drewe (2010) was brought vividly to life by director Stephen Frears who cast Gemma Arterton in the role of Posy Simmonds’ bucolic heroine. Simmonds’ story was itself inspired by Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd, in which a headstrong young woman juggled the attentions of three male admirers with not entirely satisfactory results.
Written by Peter O’Donnell and drawn by Jim Holdaway, Modesty Blaise was a resourceful character whose adventures thrilled readers of the Evening Standard from its inception in 1963 to 1986, as well as being syndicated all over the world. This popularity inspired film producers to translate the strip onto screen, which they did most successfully in a cultish 1966 movie starring Monica Vitti as Modesty with Terence Stamp as her loyal sidekick Willie Garvin.
Mike Hodges’ kitschy 1980 adventure featuring intergalactic hero Flash Gordon defeating Ming the Merciless and his terrible hordes to the strains of a score by Queen marked the end of this character’s life rather than the beginning . Decades before Larry ‘Buster’ Crabbe was the Olympic swimming champion cast in the influential, 13 episode Flash Gordon serial of 1936, which was itself based upon Alex Raymond’s popular comic strip hero who first appeared in 1934.