The Foreign Graphic Novels Behind 10 Films


The subway suddenly seems like a fun place to be after seeing Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, which arrived in theaters this weekend. His post-apocalyptic nightmare is based on the French graphic novel, Le Transperceneige, centered on a group of survivors trapped on a segregated train circling the earth. Hollywood has mined the comic book world for a never-ending series of superhero films, but the foreign graphic novel library is still a relatively new source for filmmakers. We’ve highlighted graphic novels hailing from other countries that became the basis for ten different films — including a few adaptations that might surprise you.

Dylan Dog and Cemetery Man

Rupert Everett’s comic book lookalike can be found in the Italian horror comic series Dylan Dog, the inspiration behind Michele Soavi’s existential zombie tale Cemetery Man (aka Dellamorte Dellamore). The titular paranormal investigator in the Tiziano Sclavi-created graphic novels shares several quirks with Everett’s character, including his hopeless romanticism — demonstrated by his affection for Anna Falchi’s mysterious widow turned zombie in the movie.

Le bleu est une couleur chaude and Blue is the Warmest Color

Julie Maroh’s French graphic novel became a controversial hit at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, winning the prestigious Palme d’Or (the first graphic novel adaptation to win the prize). Slate discussed the biggest difference between sources (spoiler):

In terms of plotting, the biggest difference is that in the movie, Adèle — she’s Clementine in the book, but Kechiche wanted to use the actress’s name for the character — is still alive at the end. In Maroh’s novel she’s killed by homophobia — well, arterial pulmonary hypertension exacerbated by an addiction to pills that’s indirectly caused by homophobia.


Originally published in French, Marjane Satrapi’s moving autobiographical coming of age tale Persepolis, set in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution, was adapted to an animated movie of the same name in 2007. The Cannes Jury Prize winner was presented in the same stream-of-consciousness manner as the graphic novel, setting the bar high for future comic adaptations.

Old Boy

The Japanese manga series written by Garon Tsuchiya and illustrated by Nobuaki Minegishi was adapted into a violent tale of redemption by Park Chan-wook’s in 2003 (and recently by Spike Lee). The manga opts for a more stoic, contemplative approach, without the unhinged, bloodthirsty malice for the protagonist’s captors, who imprisoned him for a decade without any knowledge as to why.

The Incal and Nicolas Winding Refn’s future film

During our recent interview with filmmaker and comic book creator Alejandro Jodorowsky, he revealed that the Nicolas Winding Refn-directed live adaptation of his graphic novel series The Incal was still in the works. “He’s trying. It will take some years, because the picture will cost $200 million, and it is difficult to find that,” Jodorowsky explained. The science fiction tale, famous for its illustrations by French artist Moebius, follows a former bodyguard after he comes into possession of a powerful crystal, the “Light Incal.” Various rebel groups attempt to steal it from him. Each character is based in part on figures from the Tarot, blending Jodorowsky’s brand of mysticism with space opera-style action and thrills.


Jean-Claude Forest’s French heroine Barbarella began as a comic strip in V-Magazine, eventually graduating to a standalone work. It was scandalous for the time (the early 1960s), becoming the first “adult” comic to receive any kind of mainstream attention. The sexually liberated space traveler goes from planet to planet guided (and bedded) by a variety of colorful characters. Jane Fonda played the provocative figure in the campy 1968 cult film of the same name, directed by then husband Roger Vadim. The film helped boost the American public’s knowledge of the comic and inspired the look of other sultry heroines in the graphic novel world.

Diabolik and Danger: Diabolik

Italian filmmaking legend Mario Bava toned down the violence in Angela and Luciana Giussani’s 1962 comic book tale Diabolik when translating the story for his technicolor remake, Danger: Diabolik. The titular supercriminal uses a variety of weapons against his targets, including futuristic gadgets, lifelike masks to impersonate others, and even drugs. Those feature in the film with stylish effect, visible in Diabolik’s swanky underground lair, for example. Diabolik’s girlfriend and partner in crime, Eva Kant, feels more like a gangster moll in the graphic novel, whereas the film depicts her as more of a playmate.

The Killer and David Fincher’s future film

Noir-style French comic book The Killer, written by Matz with illustrations from artist Luc Jacamon, follows an unnamed assassin who is on the lam and haunted by his actions. The European bestseller caught the attention of David Fincher thanks to its brutal action, kinetic layouts, story of isolation, and shades of French New Wave thrillers. Unfortunately (or perhaps luckily), news about the project has been quiet since it was first announced in 2007.

Tank Girl

British comic series Tank Girl finds the eponymous character, prone to extreme “unladylike” behavior and with a penchant for sex and violence, on a series of adventures in post-apocalyptic Australia. Did we mention her boyfriend is a mutant kangaroo named Booga? Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin’s creation was heavily influenced by the indie aesthetic of punk zines and British punk culture. Although the Lori Petty-starring film was a total flop, it found a cult audience on home video and helped bring the comic book to the attention of American readers.

The Smurfs

Belgian comic series The Smurfs, popularized by the American animated TV series, first appeared in the late 1950s. Both works are unintentionally creepy in their own way, but Hollywood had to make it extra weird with a recent 3D comedy film starring the voice of Katy Perry. We blame everything on black magic or something. The comic was inspired by another Peyo-created series, Johan and Peewit — a sword-and-sorcery fantasy tale where the first smurfs appeared as strange beings who wind up helping the human characters.