RICHARD PLEPLER smiled like a man ready to confide something. We were sharing a table at The Post several years back, in the early months of his current co-presidency at HBO, and he was in a mood to dish a bit on the previous administration. He confessed with four simple words:
“We had ‘Mad Men.’ ”
The thought pained him still.
Plepler explained that he’d recently been on the set of AMC’s budding hit/future Emmys magnet, and show creator Matthew Weiner reminded him that HBO once had first crack at “Mad Men.” Seems that while Weiner was still working on HBO’s “The Sopranos” (and its “made men”), he tried to get the network interested in his project about Madison Avenue in the ’60s. To Weiner’s frustration, he couldn’t even get a simple rejection out of HBO.
That’s right: The network, Plepler recounted, hadn’t even made the time to say “no” to in-house talent. (A creative environment that Plepler then vowed to change.)
Weiner, of course, would soon go on to become one of the most celebrated creative minds in television. But as Plepler knew, the ripple effect could prove bigger than that. Once Weiner found a home at AMC, this upstart network got a prime-time toehold with viewers and critics — as ”Mad Men” would be followed by its next critical darling, the Emmy-winning “Breaking Bad,” and more recently, the runaway success that is ”The Walking Dead,” the zombie comic-turned-TV-drama that premiered last Halloween.
The reminder here is: The trend winds can shift quickly in Hollywood. And with this week’s news that AMC’s “Walking Dead” has set a Nielsen record — Sunday’s Season-2 debut drew 4.8-million viewers in the 18-to-49 age demographic, the best ever for a basic-cable drama — you can bet that network execs are scrambling like the fleeter species of zombie to find the next popular comic they can sink monetary molars into.
That’s because Hollywood not only feasts on trends. It also thrives occasionally on a fresh new creative mind. In short: It craves braaaains.
Now, of course, Robert Kirkman — co-creator of the post-apocalyptic Image comic who’s also at the helm of the AMC show — is one of those brilliant brains.
As we know, the comics world has more where that came from — smart and passionate minds accustomed to tight deadlines and “inspiration upon demand.” (The latest proof: Over at Publishers Weekly, the Beat’s Heidi MacDonald reports today that Warner Bros. TV has signed a deal to develop “Memoir” by her fiance, writer Ben McCool, and Nikki Cook.)
So to help out these hit-hungry execs, Comic Riffs offers its personal list of Five Comics We’d Especially Like to See on the Screen.
Some of these comics have previously been in various stages of development — pitched and optioned and pelted with treatments — so here’s the latest lowdown from their creators:
Few comics projects would seem as daunting — and yet as potentially dazzling — as Neil Gaiman’s epic tales of the Endless.
His glorious 10-book series has been courted and thwarted in Hollywood for — well, seemingly forever.
“My attitude has been the same for years,” Gaiman tells Comic Riffs of his landmark comic. ”I’d rather ‘Sandman’ not be made rather than see it made into a bad movie or a bad TV series.”
As far as Gaiman knows, he says, DC Entertainment (Warner Bros.) still wants to make “Sandman” into a series. “I’m watching all this and telling them I’m willing to be consulted,” the author tells ‘Riffs, emphasizing: “I have no idea whether it would be cable or network, or whether it will happen at all.”
Noting that — unlike with his “Coraline” — he doesn’t own the “Sandman” properties, Gaiman says of DC: “With ‘Sandman,’ they are treating me incredibly well and asking my opinion. They know that [because] I made it, I best understand it.”
(For his Hugo- and Nebula-winning book “Coraline,” Gaiman was able to handpick the director — the great Henry Selick — for what became an Oscar-nominated stop-motion film in 2009.)
Meantime, Gaiman is hands-on as his novel “American Gods” is in development with Plepler’s HBO and Tom Hanks’s Playtone production company.
As for “Sandman,” Gaiman says that ultimately, it’s a matter of “finding a show-runner who is brilliant and talented and loves ‘Sandman’ and loves what it can become.”
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As an Image Comic that has Robert Kirkman’s endorsement, perhaps no comic is better positioned to benefit soon from “The Walking Dead’s” TV success than the Eisner-winning sensation “Chew,” by writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory.
“Chew” is being handled by Circle of Confusion — the same company that produces “Walking Dead.” The plan is to adapt “Chew” — the adventures of a “Cibopath” detective who gets psychic clues when he gnaws on the victims’ flesh — for Showtime.
“Circle of Confusion is doing the same for ‘Chew’ as it did for ‘Walking Dead,’ “ Layman tells Comic Riffs. “They get the director [Stephen Hopkins] and writers and script and they would be producing. They wouldn’t just be making my deal — they would be making the deals across the board.” (The thought behind that being: It streamlines the deal coming together.)
“Nobody knew what ‘Walking Dead’ was going to do,” Layman tells ‘Riffs. ”Now it’s even better to be with Circle of Confusion, with ‘Walking Dead’ being such a sensation.”
Layman recounts that he first began getting various offers by “Chew’s” fourth issue. But when Circle of Confusion approached him, he was able to get references from comics-industry people he knows and trusts — especially Brian Michael Bendis and Kirkman himself.
Of his Hollywood path so far, Layman says: “Everything Circle has said has some true.”
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3. KILL SHAKESPEARE:
As a rollicking and dialogue-rich tale of the Bard’s characters seeking crimson revenge from their creator, the critically acclaimed “Kill Shakespeare” (IDW Publishing) is especially fertile material for a move to Hollywood.
Now, the screenplay’s the thing.
Dreamt up by two gentlemen from Canada, Anthony del Col and Conor McCreery’s “Kill Shakespeare” is indeed poised for the mainstage.
“We are currently working at work on a screenplay of our tale,” del Col tells Comic Riffs, adding that the Sundance Institute has invited the two writers to its New Frontier Story Lab.
“The weeklong lab commences Sunday,” del Col says, “and sees us receive development insight and input from top screenwriters and game developers — all working with us to take projects to the next level.”
The plan, del Col says, is to have the revised screenplay finished by year’s end. Then, to have a deal in place anon.
4. AMERICAN VAMPIRE:
Another DC (Warner Bros.) property that resonates as ripe for screen adaptation is ”American Vampire,” the comic of sunlight-resilent bloodsuckers time-traveling along the sweep of the American landscape.
Creator Scott Snyder is now busy writing other DC books — notably Detective Comics and Swamp Thing — but he has repeatedly shown a sharp ear for narrative. And “AV” — drawn by the excellent Rafael Albuquerque — comes with a cinematic pedigree: contributing writer Stephen King.
“I’d love that!” Snyder tells Comic Riffs of an “AV” television series or film. “But DC owns the rights, so I sort of just ignore news or buzz of it.”
As with Gaiman’s “Sandman,” Jeff Smith’s 20th-anniversary masterpiece “Bone” (Cartoon Books/Scholastic) seems just too sprawling and action-packed to adapt adequately for a single film. A franchise might be a better fit, and Smith says he’s hopeful for a trilogy.
Talk of filmic projects has long circled one of the greatest graphic novels — with Paramount and Nickelodeon even taking failed runs at it. But Smith tells Comic Riffs that he is encouraged by what he’s seen so far from Warner Bros., which wants to render the world of Smiley, Phoney and Fone Bone in motion-capture.
The cartoonist/animator notes that Warner Bros. released “Happy Feet,” the 2006 animated film that incorporated some mo-cap.
But, “I think Spielberg and ‘Tintin’ will be the real test of whether motion-capture” can really catch on with audiences, Smith tells ‘Riffs of the Peter Jackson-directed film based on Herge’s globetrotting characters (the film opens next week in Europe; and in December in North America).
Smith also says that he also chose Warner Bros, because the studio wants to release both a big-screen “Bone” and his sci-fi comic “RASL.”
Ultimately, Smith says: “The best thing about a movie is that it pulls readers to the books.”
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