Where’s Otto?

Pub date March 19, 2008
SectionArts & CultureSectionLiterature


ISBN REAL Graphic novels, obviously, aren’t just movies with a lot of missing frames. In the hands of artists like David B. or Craig Thompson, the elastic potential of their subjects, and of the panels that hold them, is realized in a manner entirely at odds with the medium of film.

From the perspective of screenwriters, however — particularly ones beaten repeatedly over the head with the knotty stick of the studio system — that’s nothing that can’t be worked out over a cup of coffee. More and more frustrated writers and directors are reviving their dead film and television projects in the form of comics and graphic novels, either as a last, affordable option or as a way of seeing an original vision make it through the production process intact. Joss Whedon could follow his and not the WB’s muse with the illustrated-only eighth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and certainly no one was knocking down Richard Kelly’s door to film the six-part prequel to Southland Tales.

Alex Cox, writer and director of the 1984 cult classic Repo Man, also has seen the light. His sequel to that film, Waldo’s Hawaiian Holiday (Gestalt Publishing, 164 pages, $19.95), is finally coming out, after more than a decade in the drawer, as a graphic novel. The script, written for the screen in the mid-1990s, was presented unsuccessfully to Universal and then later was the source material for an unfinished independent venture. So Cox posted the screenplay on his Web site, as well as dozens of others he has written or cowritten, with the open offer of a yearlong license to anyone interested in making a film.

Comics artist Chris Bones responded with a graphic novel proposal. The finished version, with artistic contributions by Justin Randall, is a richly drawn and smartly assembled festival of scuzz.

Waldo, as one might expect, answers the questions Repo Man raised with equivocation and deferment, and adds a couple of revelations that are quite cool if I understand them right.

You’ll recall that Repo Man left our hero, Otto, as he was shooting off into space in a glowing green 1964 Chevy Malibu. What we are kinda informed of right off the bat in the sequel is that Otto, now calling himself Waldo (presumably in a legal sidestep), has come back from a 10-year stint on Mars, maybe, though he thinks he’s only been gone for the night. Expecting to find his numskull parents where he left them on the couch, he shows up at their door only to discover he owes rent to a couple of bachelors (one "confirmed") now living there in meticulously rendered squalor.

Waldo more or less shrugs off his situation and proceeds to hop from one doomed job to the next, each of them overseen by the same mysterious man, though under different names. All the while, he abuses the trusting nature of the Russian Shopping Network and makes several attempts to use free tickets to Hawaii he earned by sitting through a real estate pitch. (I’m still not sure what was glowing in the Malibu’s trunk in Cox’s movie.)

Of course, there are more aliens and whatnot, but the strangest thing is Otto-now-Waldo’s change in temperament. The edgy, snotty Emilio Estevez of Repo Man is nowhere in sight. Waldo is a gentle, courteous kind of punk who says things like, "I’ll just redouble my efforts … buy a printer, get these job applications out, find another job ASAP." Waldo must have learned the word "redouble" in space, where he also picked up a considered cheeriness that could have been mistaken for maturity if it weren’t so apparent that Cox is up to something.

It helps to know that Cox is not one to shy away from the polemical, particularly at the expense of economic imperialism. The introduction to X-Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker (Soft Skull Press, 304 pages, $17.95), an upcoming book about his experiences as a filmmaker, is only a few angry pen strokes shy of a screed, and his 1987 film Walker lampooned — not very elegantly, really — the 19th-century American mercenary William Walker’s overthrow of the Nicaraguan government. Amongst Cox’s movies, Three Businessmen, a 1998 love child of the gospel according to Luke and Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), presents the closest echoes of Waldo. Its characters share Waldo’s aimless, profligate compliance with the dictates of modern capitalism.

And that’s really what Waldo’s Hawaiian Adventure is about, probably.

Would you finance that movie?