With the debut of AMC’s comic adaptation Preacher scheduled for sometime in early 2016, news about the project has slowly begun to trickle out. On Thursday, we learned that the world premiere of the project would take place as part of the 2016 SXSW Film Festival, and the creative team appeared on a panel at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena the following day to answer questions about bringing the controversial comic book series to life.
Of course, the big news that immediately began circulating was that the Preacher television series would diverge from the source material, taking characters in different directions and introducing new events that never occurred between the pages of Garth Ennis’ comic books.
“It didn’t seem, at first, that we should do it that way,” said executive producer Evan Goldberg, who co-wrote the pilot with Seth Rogen. “But then we talked to Garth, and Garth very much encouraged us to make a lot of small changes and to make it a good show first and foremost. Our big thing is we want fans who love the comic to get everything they want, but to also make some new twists and turns.”
“And for them to be surprised and not know what to expect on a weekly basis,” Rogen continued. “So that was really something that was important to us, was to make a good show. I mean, we are fans of the comic. We love the comic, and we are going to make a show we like. So we hope that translates to people who love the comic as well. But our first and foremost goal is to make a great, entertaining, fun television show that, if you’ve never heard of the comic book, you love.”
Of course, this might serve as a warning sign for hardcore fans of the comics. I’ve already had one friend tell me that he won’t be watching Preacher and that Rogen’s involvement has “ruined everything,” an opinion he has based solely on the comments from the TCA panel. As word of the changes begins to spread over the next few days, social media will no doubt play host to many more “opinions” such as this one.
It seems like these sorts of discussions and diatribes flare up every time a cherished pop culture property is tapped for an adaptation. But the fact of the matter is that comic books and television are wildly different mediums, which are created and consumed in a very different manner. Creating a page-by-page, panel-by-panel carbon copy of the source material would not only be next to impossible, it probably wouldn’t be very entertaining.
Case in point: the character of Eugene, better known to readers as Arseface. In the comics, he was a teenager from an abusive household who experienced a series of events that left with a horribly deformed face that earned him the unfortunate moniker. Here’s how appears in the books:
One key piece of information from the TCA panel is that while Arseface is definitely part of the series, he won’t quite resemble his comic book counterpart. Goldberg explained that they wanted to make sure the character looked “realistic, but not cartoony in any way, or silly. And we had to make sure [Ian Colletti] could emote. We had to make sure you could see that he could be happy or sad.”
“It’s interesting,” Rogen continued. “There had been something online that existed in some test that someone had done, that looked exactly how it looked in the comic. And as soon as I saw it, I knew we should not make it look exactly how it looked in the comic, and we should take some license and try to make it something maybe a little more — palatable, might be the word. We wanted the kid to be sympathetic, someone you really rooted for.”
Trying to create an exact replica of the Arseface design would probably have been a lot more trouble than it was worth, and if it limited the actor’s ability to perform effectively, then why bother? Granted, it might have pleased longtime fans of the comics, but it also could’ve alienated potential viewers who aren’t familiar with the character’s origin. And in order for Preacher to be successful, AMC will need an audience that consists of more than just comic readers.
The Walking Dead is a great example of this argument. Sure, Season One shared many things in common with the first arc of Robert Kirkman’s books, but it also managed to establish its own identity, not only introducing new characters but also forging new and fresh relationships between the existing characters. With each subsequent season, The Walking Dead has distanced itself further and further from the source material, occasionally pulling in elements that readers will recognize, but often using those elements in new and unique ways.
Obviously, this strategy is working: The Walking Dead is one of the most popular shows on television, with an average of 14 million viewers per episode. So why, then, should we be surprised that AMC is opting to take a similar approach to Preacher?
As much as we might like to think that we’d love a page-by-page recreation, the truth is that not having an element of surprise would quickly become boring. If the entire framework of the series is already mapped out in the pages of the comics and the show is just painting by the numbers, then what incentive would viewers have to tune in every week? There wouldn’t be any.
If we examine other comic book adaptations that have found success on the small screen, we find that they all share something in common: none of them are completely faithful. The Walking Dead, Arrow, Daredevil, The Flash and Jessica Jones found their audiences by taking the core elements of the source material, and using those elements to create new, exciting and different adventures. These shows were successful because they had the courage to try something new – which was exactly what made Preacher so groundbreaking when the first issue was published 20 years ago.
By making changes and taking risks, the producers are actually creating an opportunity for Preacher to have the same kind of impact on the television industry, rather than handicapping the series by allowing it to be a slave to the original work. And truth be told, we should expect nothing less.
Preacher stars Dominic Cooper, Ruth Negga, Joseph Gilgun, W. Earl Brown and Ian Colletti. After the world premiere at SXSW, the series will air on AMC sometime in 2016.