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Sunday, June 14, 2015

10 Comics/Graphic Novels That Would Make Good Musicals

Musicals and comics.  Not two things which are normally spoken in the same breath.  Though the two art forms have grown into huge parts of American pop culture, they generally occupy different spaces in the public eye.  

It is not too often that the two cross, but usually the results aren't great.  Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark is a notable example.  While the concept worked on paper and Julie Taymor and Bono tried their hardest, a series of mishaps in staging caused most to shrug off the musical as a failure (although it would go on to gain a pretty large group of fans during its Broadway run).  Even Superman got his own musical back in the day.  Although It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman was such a colossal flop that you probably didn't know it existed until a sentence ago.  Needless to say, comic books and musicals may be great on their own, but the two just haven't been able to hit that right mixture.

That all changed last week.  Fun Home, a musical based on the Alison Bechdel graphic novel of the same name took home the Tony Award for Best Musical (among others) and is set for a North American tour later this year.  Does this open the doors for more graphic novels and comics to become musicals?  Maybe, maybe not...but that didn't stop me from coming up with 10 potential candidates.  

You can find my picks for 10 comics and graphic novels which would make good musicals below...


Perhaps the most iconic comic book character that isn't a superhero, Archie has defined an entire generation of comic book readers and still finds new ways of being relevant, even after 76 years.  A musical adaptation of this comic would be pretty easy.  Much like Archie is looking to revitalize himself in the comics with Mark Waid and Fiona Staples' new series next month, a musical would be the next best step aside from a movie to refresh this brand.  In terms of story?  Archie has tackled everything from gay marriage to zombies to the Predator, so there's a good story in there somewhere.  Imagine a more comic book version of Grease or Bye Bye Birdie and you have an idea of what this could be.


One of a few titles on this list which, at least in some way, would be similar to Fun Home, meaning that they may more easily catch the eye of Broadway producers looking for the next graphic novel to adapt.  Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel Persepolis is also a memoir, though this one deals with the author growing up in Iran during a war with Iraq as well as her life in Austria and France.  The graphic novel, like Fun Home, is widely considered to be a prime example of what the format can accomplish, hence why it was adapted into an animated film in 2007.  Broadway has never shied away from difficult subject matter, so a musical version of Persepolis would not be too far of a stretch for the Great White Way.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Okay, stick with me for a second.  Guardians of the Galaxy features many of the aspects which make up some of Broadway's biggest blockbusters: strange yet relatable characters, larger than life sets, and a more than memorable soundtrack.  While a musical based on Guardians wouldn't have to follow the plot of the movie exactly (and it shouldn't), using some of the songs from the movie such as "Hooked on a Feeling" as well as original music would definitely help add to the fun, sometimes campy tone of the comic....in other words, it's perfect for Broadway.  Mind, this would probably end up being the most expensive musical in history, but if Miss Saigon can use a real helicopter and Phantom can drop a chandelier, then why not have a talking raccoon and tree fly a spaceship?


Another graphic memoir which could attract any Broadway producers looking to ape the success of Fun Home.  Dealing with Craig Thompson's childhood and teen years, Blankets covers a wide array of themes including struggling with Christianity/religion, first loves, and Thompson's relationship with his younger brother.  The basic story and themes are both similar yet different to both Fun Home and Broadway musicals in general.  Though Blankets would not make for the most joyful of musicals, perhaps music could find a way to give even more life to Thompson's story.  Undoubtedly there is a lot in this graphic novel which many would find relevant.

The Goon

Admittedly, this is one of the stranger choices on this list, but if Carrie can become a musical (and get a revival and a cast recording), then why not Eric Powell's The Goon?  This hilarious comic sees The Goon and Franky as they take on various supernatural creatures from zombies to skunk-apes to things which seem like they crawled right out of an H.P. Lovecraft story.  With its mix of horror and humor, all done in a pulpy style, just about the only thing The Goon is missing is music.  But what kind of musical would such a comic produce?  I imagine a mix of Evil Dead, Little Shop of Horrors, and the musical style of Big River.  There's no way The Goon as a musical would ever win a Tony, much less be nominated, but there's no reason it can't occupy the same cult hit status of Evil Dead The Musical.  At least that show got to perform on The View...

Essex County

Though I am a bigger fan of Jeff Lemire's Sweet Tooth, it's hard to deny that Essex County is one of the creator's greatest works.  Yes, this is another graphic novel which is thematically closer to Fun Home, albeit the story in this one is entirely fictional.  Essex County weaves together various characters and time periods set in the Ontario county of the same name.  Though it would be easy for an Essex County musical to feel disjointed, given that the narratives in the graphic novel have very loose connective tissue aside from location, it is their thematic connections and the way this graphic novel touches on the human experience that would solve any such issues.  Plus, having a sweeping score would only help further the connection between the disparate tales.   

From Hell

Gothic horror is not a new subject for musical theater by any means.  Sweeney Todd and Phantom of the Opera are perhaps the most famous examples, though there are several others out there, including Jekyll & Hyde.  That is the same corner of musicals which any adaptation of From Hell would occupy.  Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's epic graphic novel uses meticulous research and conjecture to create a plausible theory of who really was Jack the Ripper.  It is a dense work which has a number of characters and spinning cogs to work with, but, if done in the right way, this could really be an interesting project for a playwright to take on.  While a musical of From Hell would never be able to approach the scope of Moore's work, pretty much anything would be better than the movie.

Captain America 

The Guardians and Spider-man aren't the only Marvel characters who could conceivably make a good musical.  Captain America has plenty of campy material out there which musicals love to exploit.  Given Cap's deep connection to the entire Marvel Universe, any Captain America musical would have to be set in the 1940's.  Not only does this give a chance to retell the hero's origin, but it frees the creators from having to worry about why Iron Man or the Hulk wouldn't come swooping in.  And come on, singing a jaunty tune is the only thing missing from Cap slugging Hitler in the jaw.  Captain America: The First Avenger  even had a brief, musical sequence and no one batted an eye.  A musical could even follow a similar story to that film, although Hitler would have to play a role in addition to the Red Skull.

Batman '66

If Superman can't be turned into a successful musical, then it is time that the Dark Knight gave it a go.  But Batman is a bit too grim and gritty these days to make a good musical, so we'd have to look to another time in his history: 1966 to be exact.  Yes, any good Batman musical would have to come from the classic Adam West and Burt Ward show.  The series was known for its ridiculous stories, over-acting, yet surprisingly rich villains.  The whole thing is filled with so much camp it's practically knocking down Broadway's door to become a musical.  You know you want to see Batman running through the aisles of a theater with a bomb over his head.  By going this route, you also avoid any snags of figuring out which villain would be best for a musical.  Simple: use all of them.  The Adam West show frequently did so and no one complained about it being overstuffed.

Sex Criminals

Humor, strong characters, an interesting story, and great music.  These, typically, are the desired elements of any musical comedy.  Well, Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky's Sex Criminals is just a few songs away from having all of those ingredients.  The hit Image series tells the story of two people who share something....the ability to stop time whenever they orgasm.  Such a crazy super power eventually leads the duo to a life of crime (albeit with a good reason), only furthering their journey into a crazy world they are only just now learning about.  It would be the most odd concept for a musical comedy since Avenue Q, but if The Book of Mormon can become a huge hit, then why not Sex Criminals?  An idea just so crazy it might work.  Hell, Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky may even be willing to write the book and lyrics.  Just add the right composer and you've got your next Tony winner.

What do you think?  Are there any graphic novels or comics you'd like to see become musicals?  Let us know in the comments below!

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