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Preacher and the Stories Comics Tell

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Preacher and the Stories Comics Tell

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In the wake of the resounding success that is The Walking Dead, AMC announced early this month that they will be releasing their adaptation of the comic series Preacher in 2016.
As many know, AMC’s The Walking Dead was based on the comic series of the same name created by writer Robert Kirkman and artist Tony Moore under Image Comics. The series received Eisner awards in 2007 and 2010 for best continuing series, and at the time of writing just released its 148th issue. Although artists have come and gone for the series, Kirkman has continued to release an issue every month since its creation in 2003.
Before The Walking Dead was released in 2010, AMC was sitting in a relatively strong position in regards to TV ratings. Mad Men had been raking in Emmys, and Bryan Cranston’s performance in Breaking Bad were revered. So how did a new series based on a comic about zombies bring in more than 10 million views regularly? It may have been as simple as the type of story it told.
The Walking Dead’s story is set in a United States that has been obliterated by a zombie apocalypse. However, where some films and video games wouldn’t venture beyond the action of a world being overrun and the thrills that would bring, Kirkman sidesteps all of that shallow display altogether.
The series begins with the main character waking from a coma after society dissipates. The world is already doomed, and the only action that it affords is a fear-drenched scramble for survival. The Walking Dead’s story refrains from Dawn of the Dead’s camp action and instead channels the anxiety ridden drama of Night of the Living Dead. The focus is on the characters and how they change and react to this hostile environment. It is a story about ordinary people in an extraordinary world. This, however, isn’t a story that comics are known for telling.
Since the golden age of comics in the early 1940s, comics and superheroes were synonymous. For nearly seventy years Americans were enthralled with these stories of exceptional individuals battling against the evil forces that seek to destroy every day society. Children’s television became inundated with superhero shows. Batman and Superman’s stories were told and retold. The Hulk even attained relative success in the seventies with a television series. These modern day mythological figures bounced in and out of relevance following countless reboots. The comics industry had created a powerful set of tropes, and because of it, little innovation was made outside of the superhero.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that comic book creators began to challenge the medium and fully explore the depth of the medium. Will Eisner, who the award for creative achievement in comics is named for and a notable writer and cartoonist since the inception of comics, began releasing longer form comics and coined the term graphic novel. Comics grew dark and introspective, and tackled more mature themes. Writers Frank Miller and Alan Moore altered comic culture with their efforts to humanize these absurd characters. Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns changed Batman into the damaged and brooding anti-hero we know now today, while Moore’s Watchmen analyzed the psyche of ex-crime fighters at the height of the Cold War.
The shift in tone carried to film immediately. Tim Burton’s Batman adopted Miller’s tone and themes and as a result was a wild success. Although superhero comics continued to reinterpret their stories, more writers began telling their own unique stories through the 90s. In fact, there was an explosion of experimentation and creativity. More works began to see critical acclaim. Maus’s reflections on the Holocaust and Sandman’s exploration of storytelling are held today as classics. Following all of this uncertainty and experimentation, Preacher was released.
Running from 1995 to 2000, Preacher was a wildly controversial comic. Written by Garth Ennis, this aggressively satirical comic follows the story of preacher Jesse searching across America to find the literal God, while being accompanied by his ex-girlfriend and an Irish vampire. There’s also a character named Arseface.
Outside the absurdity of its premise, Preacher satirizes religion and modern day life. It’s a western with Jesse as the preacher man and God as the man in black. When compared to The Walking Dead, it seems these comics only share a western aesthetic and critical acclaim.
Preacher’s release on AMC represents meaningful change to how society tells stories. Television being the most accessible and typically the most palatable form of media, has undergone an aggressive change within the last 10 years.
A medium known for recycled tropes and clichés, television has been releasing more challenging and mold breaking works. Within the same decade, popular television progressed from Superman in a high school drama via Smallville to a high school teacher heading a meth empire in Breaking Bad. Anti-heros have become more extreme, like Dexter whose main character is a literal serial killer. Game of Thrones has been killing off important characters left and right in a medium that has thrived on stability and lack of change. The result of these drastic changes have been a massive surge in popularity. In 2014 HBO reported receiving an extra 2 million subscriptions due to content like Game of Thrones.
Viewers are hungry for innovation. Much like the dawn of modern comics, TV is undergoing a sea change, and it will be exciting to see what places it will take television.
The TV series Preacher is being produced by Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, both of whom worked on films Superbad and This is the End. Early this month, AMC released a trailer for its upcoming series, which promises the violence the original comic was known for. The satirical humor is missing during the trailer, but the Rogan and Goldberg production credits lead one to believe that this new show will deliver the raunchy humor Ennis’ Preacher indulged in. The series is set to release early 2016, however a specific release date has not been announced.

Sources
1 – http://www.ew.com/article/2007/06/18/new-classics-books
2 – https://www.thewrap.com/hbo-subscriptions-increase-2-million-17-years/
http://www.amc.com/shows/preacher
http://www.comic-con.org/awards/eisner-award-recipients-2010-present
http://www.emmys.com/shows/
http://www.amc.com/shows/the-walking-dead/talk/2014/10/amcs-the-walking-dead-returns-with-highest-rated-episode-in-series-history
http://www.randomhistory.com/1-50/033comic.html
http://www1.heritagestatic.com/comics/d/history-of-comics.pdf

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1 Comment

One Response to “Preacher and the Stories Comics Tell”

  1. Sarah on November 30th, 2015 8:37 pm

    Really great article. Thank you!

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