Dark Country: From Short Story to Movie to Graphic Novel and Back

Imagine you have a favorite short story. Then, that short story is made into a movie. Then, that movie is adapted as a graphic novel. Then, all the printed material is collected into one hardbound volume. That is one book you’d definitely want to own. And if you’re a fan of “Dark Country” by Tab Murphy, your dream has come true.

The “Dark Country” graphic novel is now available to purchase in comic book stores and online. It features over 70 pages of world-renowned artist Thomas Ott’s one of a kind scratch-board illustrations, as well as the original Tab Murphy short story and almost 50 pages of behind the scenes material about the Dark Country feature film.

I’m opening this package in a different way. I’d never heard of “Dark Country” until I read the graphic novel. I enjoyed it so much that I read the short story next. And then I watched the movie. Finally, I read the behind the scenes material in the book. Collectively, it’s a great experience. One part of it is as good as the next, compelling me to consume more.

For this article, I’m going to open this package in yet another way: chronologically. First came the short story by Tab Murphy. It’s very short, occupying only 11 pages of the hardcover. Written in second person, present tense, it’s a fast read. Regardless of how vivid your imagination, it paints a good picture of how a movie (or graphic novel) might look.

When it came to the attention of actor Thomas Jane (The Punisher-2004, The Mist, HBO’s Hung), he wanted to make “Dark Country” as a movie for his directorial debut. He writes about the experience of developing it as a movie in a “Backward” at the end of the hardcover.

Regarding his decision to shoot the movie in 3D, Jane writes, “Naturally, Lions Gate [who paid Murphy to write the script] thought I was nuts. I wasn’t nuts… I was just about a year ahead of the curve.” Sony was interested, though. “This was now 2007, and by the time we started shooting, only one other 3D film had made it to production, Journey to the Center of the Earth.”

He further writes, “I think the suits barely read the script after I told them I was making a ‘3D horror movie’ – which was not entirely true. Had I told them I was making a psycho-noir with undertones of existential nausea – they might have taken a second look.” I include this quote because it may be the best way to describe Dark Country, the movie.

Jane apparently approached making the movie as if he were drawing a graphic novel. Indeed, Dark Country relies heavily on visuals; many scenes are composed like a panel in a comic book. Although I didn’t see it in 3D, it seems like the technology would have been utilized beautifully. In particular, since most of the movie takes place in a car driving down a dark desert highway, it might be obvious that these scenes were actually filmed in a studio. Here, though, the car scenes are artistic; in 2D, they actually look like a graphic novel and in 3D, they would have thrust the characters into the foreground.

The movie is faithful to the short story, mirroring its length with a brisk running time under 90 minutes. Minor liberties are taken to make it more cinematic, but there’s not really anything major added to the plot. Neither is there anything left out. It does a good job of expanding the sense of dread and delivering the material in film noir style.

The graphic novel actually takes more liberties with the original story than the movie does. A key plot device changes from a watch to a book of matches. For the first time, we see a little backstory. There’s a variation in one of the twists. However, most significant is a keychain not seen in either the short story or movie. Since the graphic novel has no words, it’s necessary to use in the conclusion so that it packs the same emotional punch.

The drawings by artist Thomas Ott are beautiful. Dark, shadowy and somewhat minimalist, the graphic novel is the best presentation of the story for challenging your interpretation. Perhaps because it’s the first version I consumed, I was propelled from one page to the next, putting together the pieces of the puzzle, then truly shocked by its Twilight Zone-like ending. I immediately read it a second time to make sure I missed nothing.Finally, the hardcover collection includes storyboards, photos, and promotional art from the movie. This is fun stuff! There is even artwork from soda cans created for the movie with nods to Raw Studios (the company that Jane and Tim Bradstreet founded) and… well, I don’t want to ruin all the surprises. Like I said at the beginning, it’s a unique collection of material I’d certainly want to own for a movie I really like.The only thing that would make the “Dark Country” graphic novel hardback more complete would be to include a copy of the movie on DVD. And for the super-duper deluxe edition, how about a pair of 3D glasses?

 

From Page to Screen: Dark Country
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Dark Country (Hardback Collection)
Dark Country (Short Story)
Dark Country (Movie)
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