With Hollywood turning more of its attention to the world of graphic novels for inspiration, I’ll cast the spotlight on a new comic book each week that has the potential to pack a theater or keep you glued to your television screens. At the end of some “Adapt This” columns, you’ll also find thoughts from various comic creators and other industry experts about the books they’d like to see make the jump from page to screen.
This Week’s Book: Bluesman by Rob Vollmar and Pablo G. Callejo (NBM Publishing)
The Premise: After being framed for a murder he didn’t commit, blues musician Lem Taylor is forced to trek across Arkansas during the late ’20s, desperately trying to avoid the police and an angry mob that see the color of skin as proof of his guilt.
The Pitch: Bluesman combines the most compelling elements of a period piece set in the deep South in the heat of vicious segregation with a chase story that has its main character fleeing across the state via foot, truck, and train. The story is structured in three sections of four chapters each — like a traditional 12-bar blues song — which also lends itself nicely to a television miniseries format.
Ideally, an adaptation of Bluesman would take the form of a cable miniseries, able to plumb the racially heated depths of that time in American history, and refrain from pulling any punches with the realities of what a black man trekking across the state was likely to encounter. Set the entire tale against a soundtrack of classic blues songs of the era, and you’ll have a road-trip story unlike any other.
While an adaptation of Bluesman would certainly require a strong, capable male lead for the role of Lem Taylor — who should also be able to carry a tune — there’s a great cast of supporting characters that can offer talented actors a chance to shine. The story is far from an ensemble film, but it does offer some nice, meaty roles for its supporting cast to chew on and make their own.
One element of the story that should certainly appeal to an interested network is the fact that, despite being set in the ’20s, there are very few set pieces that will require much de-aging and tampering. Although Lem Taylor treks across the state, the dangers he faces along the way force him off the major roads and into the fields and farmlands of Arkansas. On the rare occasions that he’s forced into the city, much of the action takes place indoors — leaving little need to create a full-scale 1920s thoroughfare.
As I mentioned earlier, the structure of the story also makes for an easy transition from page to screen — not only because of its three-act architecture, but also due to its growing sense of spectacle as the tale goes on. Without spoiling anything for those who haven’t read it yet, Bluesman offers a fairly impressive finale that serves as a truly epic conclusion to Lem’s journey.
The Closing Argument: Put the Bluesman adaptation into the hands of a capable director who understands how to make the best of the cable-miniseries format, and there’s the potential for a great blend of heart-wrenching drama and soul-stirring music, and a road trip that’s equal parts pursuit of the American Dream and life-or-death survival.
This Week’s Guest Recommendation: Desolation Jones by Warren Ellis and J.H. Williams III
“I’d watch an adaptation of anything Warren Ellis, but the one with the most screen potential is Desolation Jones, his series with J.H. Williams III that starred a quirky former British secret agent/science experiment available for the craziest private investigations (such as cases involving the lost pornography of Adolf Hitler). With elements of modern noir and police procedurals, plus an oddball personality akin to ‘House,’ Desolation Jones would make an amazing TV series. And did I mention the Hitler porn?”