From Page to Screen: Artist J.G. Jones Talks 'Wanted'
Wesley, from the Top Cow Comic & the Universal big-screen adaptation
[editor's note: for a look at some images from the film and the J.G. Jones' art from the comic book that inspired it, browse through and click on the images to your right]
When the movie Wanted hits theaters on June 27, the film will become Hollywood's latest effort to find success at the box office by adapting a comic book for the big screen.
Originally released in 2005 as a six-issue comic book series by writer Mark Millar and artist J.G. Jones, Wanted's story of office worker Wesley Gibson's initiation into an underground network of killers is now the basis for a movie starring James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman.
When the Wanted comic is translated to film, it will be Jones' art that guides much of the tone -- something that shouldn't be a huge stretch because the artist said he approaches his work cinematically anyway.
"Especially if it is a really involved, lengthy thing," Jones said. "Sometimes you just get stand-alone panels to tell the story, but in a scene that is told over a number of panels, I really think about viewing the scene like I'm setting up a movie shot. Where's the camera going to go next? How am I going to jump from one plot point to the next? What are my transitions? I think about that kind of stuff a lot while I'm working."
An artist who holds a Master of Fine Arts and is well-known for his painted covers, Jones said drawing the story of Wanted by following writer's Mark Millar's script made it feel even more like working on a movie because of the writer's technique.
"The way Mark writes is a little bit different from most of the other writers I've worked with, where he casts actors as the characters in the story. Then he writes it as if he's writing a movie script. So that sort of naturally lent itself to me jumping in and drawing it as if it was storyboards for a movie," Jones said. "He sees things visually, the way an artist would or a filmmaker would. So everything is there in the script. I may choose the exact position of the camera on the shot, but I really don't have to rework scenes like I've had to with some writers in the past."
Jones said he was surprised by comments he's heard from Wanted director Timur Bekmambetov, the Russian director of the Matrix-style action flick Night Watch, about how filmmakers frequently stopped to reference the comic when making the film.
"Considering that it was Timur, a guy who I consider an amazing visual artist, who has talked about picking up the comic to get shot ideas and scene ideas, that's kind of a kick in the pants. I mean, I love hearing that. It makes me pretty excited," he said. "And when I saw the scenes of Wesley shooting the wings off the fly, that really got me juiced up. Aaaaah! I drew that!"
In the movie, just like the comic, Wesley (McAvoy) finds out from a mysterious and deadly woman named Fox (Jolie) that the father he never knew was just murdered and has been working for a secret, underground organization. Wesley, who discovers he has the same superhuman targeting ability as his father, is given the opportunity by Sloan (Freeman) to join the organization, leave his mundane life behind -- and literally get away with murder.
"There are a number of things that look like they were pulled right from the book, like Wesley in his office, throwing his papers in the air in disgust, and getting his training by being beaten up every day. The scene shooting the gun in the meat locker. A lot of stuff referenced straight out of the comic," Jones said of the film. "It's very cool! I didn't think I'd be such a fanboy about it until I started seeing this stuff, then I got really excited."
Wanted joins a long list of comics that have seen recent adaptations hit movie theaters. While the popularity of superhero movies accounts for some of the comic-to-film transitions, even cape-free comics like Sin City, 300, and Hellboy are seeing success when reworked onto the big screen.
Yet as industry professionals know, only a small fraction of the comic books that are optioned as films ever get made. And Jones said he wasn't sure Wanted would ever become a movie.
"Universal came by my table in San Diego [Comic-Con] a year or two ago, before they started filming, and they said, 'Yeah, this is going to be our big movie. We're all really excited about this at Universal.' And I was like, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah… Right, right, right, right, right…'" the artist said with a laugh. "They option so many things that never get made in Hollywood. But then, when I heard they cast Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie, I was frankly kind of stunned."
Jones has since visited the set of Wanted when the movie was filming in Chicago and has been impressed with what he's seen. "I think James McAvoy is going to be the big surprise for everybody, 'cause he's just so good as Wesley. The scenes that he's in, he just steals the show," he said. "It seems it's being marketed as an Angelina Jolie vehicle because she's such a big star, but people are going to see a James McAvoy film co-starring Angelina Jolie."
Yet Jones said McAvoy's performance doesn't negate Jolie's contribution to the film in her role as the calculating and violent Fox. The artist said he's impressed with how Jolie asked the filmmakers to cut a lot of her character's dialogue. "That's the way I saw the character when I was drawing her. Fox watches. She knows everything that's going on, but she doesn't necessarily talk a lot," Jones said. "She's a smart lady, that Angelina."
While the movie follows the basic set-up for the main characters, it deviates from the comic by eliminating references to costumed superheroes and villains. But Jones said he thinks the only way Wanted could have been made as a film was to change those elements.
"I think all the changes actually make it a better movie," he said. "The stuff we did in the comic book was a lot of comic in-jokes, which wouldn't translate to a general audience. It's a hard-R with unknown characters, so if we'd gone with superhero costumes and stuff like that, it wouldn't work as well.
"I think you can get away with it and it works great if it's an established character like Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, or the Hulk. People recognize those and the kiddies will want to go see it, but if we'd done costumed, unknown superheroes in a really violent, hard-R movie where you couldn't have any teenagers going, the only people who would go see it are the people who bought the comic. And I don't think they could make their money back on that audience.
"Timur kept the core of the story intact and shot a lot of stuff straight out of the book, so let him go! A book's a book; a movie's a movie. They're two different things," Jones said.
The artist, who is now working on the multi-character, high-profile superhero story Final Crisis for DC Comics, said he's going to the American premiere for the Wanted movie, but Hollywood comes second to his comic book work. "I wish I had a bit more time to enjoy the release of Wanted, but I'm flying right back to the East Coast the day after the premiere," said Jones. "My work load on Final Crisis is my first priority, and I can't afford to let the pages on my drawing board cool off."