CHARACTERS CAUGHT BETWEEN ADAPTATION AND TRANSMEDIA: THE CASE OF JESSICA JONES

Aino-Kaisa Koistinen, Essi Varis & Tanja Välisalo

University of Jyväskylä

Media producers and users across the world are now increasingly drawn to “transmedia storytelling” (Jenkins 2006), which entails building a storyworld simultaneously in various media platforms. Arguably, one of the most notable and lucrative forerunners of this trend have been American superhero franchises, including the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Our paper aims to dissect one of its less-known narratives: Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos’ Alias comics series (2001–2004), and the original Netflix series Jessica Jones (2015‒) it recently inspired. We will analyze the complex relation between these two installments through theories on transmediality, adaptation and intertextuality, focusing on the eponymous protagonist, retired superhero Jessica Jones. Even though characters, like storyworlds, are somewhat independent constructions and most franchises are character-based, previous considerations have left them on the sidelines. Thus, identifying the similarities and differences between the two incarnations of Jessica Jones will also reveal the similarities and differences between the aforementioned theoretical apparati in a new way. As a result, we hope to discover whether the same logic that is used to distinguish between adaptation and transmediality also enables distinguishing character adaptation from transmedial characterization – or whether a new, more character-centered theory is needed.

 

The MCU is an especially fruitful test case for problematizing the relationship between adaptation and transmedia because, as Colin B. Harvey (2015, 9) has noted, the team creating the cinematic universe “both adapts elements of the original comic books and invents new elements, including characters and plots”. This is certainly true for Jessica Jones: differences from and similarities with the source comics abound. Most differences can be explained with the mediums’ different expressive repertoires and consumer bases ‒ the TV series has enjoyed about a hundred times as large an audience as the original run of the comic (Ching 2016; Comichron 2016). From the producers’ part, this requires different usage of the characters: their synthetic aspects are dependent on the medium-specific ways of narrating and (re)presenting, while their thematic aspects are affected by the projected target audiences (see Phelan 1989). On the other hand, while consumers are bound to use the different media products – binge-watchable Netflix shows and comic books – in different ways, their relation to the characters might remain remarkably similar across media. Thus, as long as the mimetic, person-like whole of the character (Phelan 1989) remains identifiable, it can grow transmedially – and drag consumers along for the journey.

References:

Ching, Albert. 2016. “‘Jessica Jones’ Averaged 4.8 Million Viewers per Episode, According to NBC Exec.” Comic Book Resources. Valnet Inc., January 13, 2016. URL: http://www.comicbookresources.com/article/jessica-jones-averaged-48-million-viewers-per-episode-according-to-nbc-exec

Comichron. 2016. “Aggregated 2001 Comic Book Sales Figures. Comics Preordered by North American Comics Shops as Reported by Diamond Comics Distributors”. Comichron. The Comics Chronicles. URL: http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/2001.html

Harvey, Colin B. 2015. Fantastic Transmedia. Narrative, Play and Memory across Science Fiction and Fantasy Storyworlds. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

Jenkins, Henry. 2006. Convergence Culture. Where Old and New Media Collide. New York and London: New York University Press.

Phelan, James. 1989. Reading People, Reading Plots. Character, Progression and the Interpretation of Narrative. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.