Why Video Game Comic Adaptations Work

Comic books are arguably the best medium for video game adaptations. Here are reasons why video game comics work as an adaptation and as their own series. In an era of video games being adapted in many forms, comics still remain a popular option for series like Sonic the Hedgehog, Mortal Kombat, and Halo.

Why Video Game Comic Adaptations Work Cover

One of my first exposures to graphic novels came from adaptations of classic platformers. I’ve kept up with Archie Comics’ rendition of Sonic the Hedgehog and Mega Man for most of the early 2010s. It was without a doubt the better tie-ins of both series at the time. Archie managed to expand among both classics, bringing new life to the stories told. There is a reason why Sonic the Hedgehog‘s initial run at Archie holds the Guinness World Record for the longest-running video game comic series. That isn’t even covering the spinoffs and the crossovers with other titles from Sega and Capcom

Sonic/Mega Man - When Worlds Collide Trailer

Thinking back on these series led me to think about what makes these types of graphic novels work as adaptations. There have been many debates on the quality of movies and television tie-ins of certain franchises. While not all adapted movies and TV shows are bad, it cannot be argued that some do miss the mark. However, I feel that comics are an underappreciated medium of our beloved franchises. They’ve been around for decades, and yet they don’t get the appreciation that others get. Here are some of the reasons why I think that they work much better than their televisions and movie counterparts.  

The Benefits of a Serial Format

One common complaint I’ve seen for movie tie-ins is how the film struggles to cover the majority of the game’s story and plot points. Characters are changed or taken out of the film to fit the standard film structure. The pacing suffers from trying to match the series’ narrative. Their problem lies in the fact that it’s difficult to fit 10+ hours of a title into a one or two-hour film. It is the reason why most adaptations have different plots from the original title. While changing a plot isn’t necessarily a bad thing, films and even shows are unable to explore all of the game’s world.

Archie Comic's run of Sonic lasted from 1992 to 2016 with 290 Issues

Archie Comic’s run of Sonic lasted from 1992 to 2016 with 290 Issues

That is why the serial format works so well for comics. They can explore many plotlines and give exposure to many of the cast. Take Sonic the Hedgehog, for example. Both in Archie and IDW’s run of the blue blur, fans enjoyed the appearance of many of their favorites from the Series, along with a few originals exclusive to the books. Serial formats allow the adaptation to have a more flexible pace and the ability to span through many stories. While shows have the benefit of something similar, graphic novels appeared to last longer than television shows which helps the pacing. 

Illustrations Matching the Source Material

The beauty of video game comics comes from how artists can capture the tone and feel of the source material. There’s something about simple illustrations that has this appeal that live-action and 3D animations couldn’t replicate. In Mortal Kombat X and Injustice books, the panels are filled with brutal and detailed violence. Artists have been able to recreate the characters. Archie’s run of Mega Man had some of the most beautiful art that managed to recreate the blue bomber, matching the original designs of the character.

Archie Comics manages to recreate Mega Man's iconic designs for the series.

Archie Comics manages to recreate Mega Man’s iconic designs for the series.

One of the few only mediums that could also replicate this feeling is 2D animations. However, they aren’t as consistently detailed as comics. Especially if the animated show is airing seasonally with strict deadlines. Of course, graphic novels aren’t exempt from these issues but depending on the artist, their quality remains consistent as the series goes on. It’s similar to how an anime tie-in of a manga might have panels that aren’t as smooth or detail as its source material. There are also the issues stated above with pacing that shows and movies face with adaptations. 

Supplement Material

Early video game comics served as the first forms of storytelling in the medium. In old school fighters such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, there was usually a graphic novel that served as a prequel or an expansion on worldbuilding. Instead of adapting the main story, they gave us glimpses into plotlines not shown in-game. These books were promotional material to advertise their upcoming titles, but they still offered more to the series’ narrative. 

For example, the Injustice books added more to the universe that the series was set in. They explained the events that happened before and after the first Injustice, tying together both it and its sequel.

Another example is Halo‘s graphic novel, which expanded on Halo‘s lore and worldbuilding, taking place in between the events of the first few titles.

Injustice's Comic took place during the events leading to the first Injustice and its sequel.

Injustice’s Comic took place during the events leading to the first Injustice and its sequel.

The Future of Video Game Comics

As of the time writing this, video game comics are still a common medium within the industry. Despite Archie canceling Sonic the Hedgehog, IDW picked up the rights to the blue blur a few years ago. The majority of the same writers and artists from Archie’s Sonic are now working for the new series and it’s well-received by fans and critics alike. Popular titles such as The Last of Us, Assassin’s Creed, and more recently Cyberpunk 2077 have received tie-ins. As long as there’s a demand for graphic novels, there will continue to be more adaptations. 

Do you enjoy video game comics? Is there a series that I haven’t mentioned? Please feel free to let me know in the comments below!

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