Taking an idea from graphic novel to Netflix series with the creator of DeadEndia
We speak to Hamish Steele about converting comics to animation, a Netflix production with a radical queer POV, and why comics aren’t “just a stepping stone for streaming”.
- Liz Gorny
- 16 June 2022
Today (16 June), Netflix’s latest animated comedy-horror Dead End: Paranormal Park drops on the streaming service and it looks fantastic. The entirely Blink Industries-made production follows the adventures of Barney, Norma and exorcism-afflicted-talking-dog Pugsley as they balance their summer jobs at the local theme park’s haunted house with battling supernatural forces. Funny, heartfelt, and packed with themes of queer exploration and belonging, it feels one of a kind. But it also sits within a swell of similar media rolled out over the platform in recent years. From Heartstopper and the upcoming BRZRKR to the ongoing success of Umbrella Academy, graphic novels are getting commissioned more than ever. For better or worse, it’s changing how novelists, illustrators, and animators create and evolve ideas.
Hamish Steele, the creator of DeadEndia, the graphic novel behind the series, began the journey with Dead End in his final year at Kingston University, having unsuccessfully pitched the comic as a short to a few studios with Cartoon Hangover. Afterwards, “about 7-8 years passed of me making a name for myself in the ‘good at making pilots that don’t get the green light’ community,” recounts Hamish. Then, the director, writer and comic artist went for a general meeting at Netflix to pitch “a bunch of different shows”, but they asked about the DeadEndia graphic novels and Dead End: Paranormal Park was born.
For Hamish, the recent uptick in graphic novel adaptations is partly a symptom of our current age, “where IP is all that matters”. Graphic novels allow commissioners to see a fully realised story and monitor how the world responds to it before tying themselves to a project – “there’s no better pitch than a full colour, 250-page version of the idea,” says Hamish. While the interest in the medium presents exciting possibilites for emerging comic artists, there are potential downsides, particularly where the publishing industry is concerned.
“Already I’ve had meetings with publishers uninterested in any project that can’t turn into TV shows,” explains Hamish. As such, the uptick in graphic novel media could stunt how many stories are initially picked up by publishers. “Comics are a valid medium in their own right, often the definitive way to tell a story. I don’t want people to assume comics are just a stepping stone for streaming.”
As a graphic novel for young adults, DeadEndia underwent some interesting adjustments in tone in the show-building process. For example, a storyline detailing Barney’s relationship with his gender identity and his parents was made less subtle and more direct to encourage lessons for parents and children – as the show was likely to be watched by both. Hamish also ensured that Dead End would merge two elements that unfortunately rarely combine on TV: representation and “themes [that] are very much from a radical queer POV”. “Representation is obviously so important, but I feel sometimes shows that pride themselves on their rep are still made with a straight audience in mind, aiming to be the best behaved form of queerness possible.”
For emerging illustrators, comic artists and aspiring graphic novelists looking to take a similar path, Hamish leaves us with some advice. “Pitching a show is just a job interview. [...] I definitely believe in fake it till you make it. I didn’t have any animation credits but I still sent that email to Cartoon Hangover with the hope that I could impress them. Fred Siebert [producer of Adventure Time and Castlevania] also gave me some advice: ‘you could ask 100 creators to make a show about a panda named Jeff who lives on the moon with a pet dog and a rocket ship powered by donuts and you’d have 100 different shows.’ Creators self-censor or think everything’s been done and they’re unoriginal. But everyone on the planet has a unique perspective.”
GalleryHamish Steele / Blink Industries: Dead End: Paranormal Park (Copyright © Hamish Steele / Netflix, 2022)
Hamish Steele / Blink Industries: Dead End: Paranormal Park (Copyright © Hamish Steele / Netflix, 2022)
About the Author
Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating in Film from The University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, INDIE magazine and design studio Evermade.