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From Barbarella to Desterrada: Diego Guerra talks comic books, graphic novels, and movies

Over the last 30 years, film adaptations of popular comic books and graphic novels have consistently drawn massive crowds to the box office. But, how accurate are these adaptations? And, is it reasonable for fans to demand they stay true to the original works in every possible sense? To shed some light on the subject, I spoke to Diego Guerra — an award-winning artist, animator, 3D modeler, director, producer, and former editor of ACME COMICS.

The House of the Blind Bird: Diego Guerra talks comic books, graphic novels, and the accuracy of film adaptations

Main story aside, from your experience, how closely do movies based on comic books and graphic novels visually resemble the characters and settings depicted in the original works?

Talking about superhero movies specifically, since Sam Raimi's Spiderman (2002), there's no limit in regard to adapting any of the crazy visuals from comic books, because the film industry can create almost every possible effect using CGI.

Before this, you can watch Tim Burton's Batman(s), which are cool movies, but not accurate adaptations. And before those, you can watch Robert Altman's Popeye (1980) or Roger Vadim's Barbarella (1968), which are also cool, but totally inaccurate.

What is the hardest thing to translate from print to film?

The real intention of the story. Zack Snyder’s Watchmen (2009) is an attempt at a literal adaptation of the graphic novel with all the possible production value — but it still lacks some of the drama from the original story. It's not about the special effects, but the psychology of the characters.

Can you name some of the most successful examples of filmmakers following the original comic's blue print? What were some of the worst?

Robert Rodriguez's Sin City (2005) is probably the most accurate comic book adaptation — ever. Batman Forever (1995) is the worst. Right now you can watch a couple of excellent comic-book adaptations on TV. Some of them are even better than the originals: Daredevil, Preacher and The Walking Dead.

Can you talk about your work with comics?

I’ve been drawing and writing comics since childhood. My personal work is more alternative than mainstream. When I first started, I collaborated with a lot of punk fanzines in my country. Then I became the editor of ACME COMICS. And, after that, I made an animated feature, Desterrada (2014). Now I split my time between personal comic book projects and working on comics for clients in the US, England, and Canada.

Can you talk about your work with graphic novels?

I finished half of a graphic novel — about 120 pages out of 240. Though it’s my favorite personal project, I can’t always work on it because I am also constantly completing work for clients.

What would you hope filmmakers keep, improve on, or keep out of their live-action versions of your work, if it were to be remade for the big screen?

Actually, I would not interfere with the production at all. I'd just go to the première and then wait for royalties.

La Noche: Diego Guerra talks comic books, graphic novels, and the accuracy of film adaptations

What are your thoughts on Marvel and DC Comics? What are they doing right? What could they do better?

Both companies are very careful about choosing the artists they work with. But to me, both Marvel and DC have the same fault: they hire great writers, but don't let them work freely — they don't let them be more original. I think it’s good to have great quality art on the visual side, but we need great stories, too.

Also, what is the most elusive and difficult thing to get right when making a live-action version of a comic?

The challenge – always – is to tell a good story. If you're adapting a comic book or a graphic novel, the challenge is to keep the spirit of the original, but to use all of what film magic can offer to create a brand new and realistic universe.

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