'Twilight Zone' Gets the Graphic Treatment In a series of eight graphic novels, students from the Savannah College of Art and Design re-imagine Rod Serling's classic television series. Anna Burgard, who directed the project, says the Serling stories showed remarkable staying power.
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'Twilight Zone' Gets the Graphic Treatment

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'Twilight Zone' Gets the Graphic Treatment

'Twilight Zone' Gets the Graphic Treatment

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(Soundbite of TV show "Twilight Zone" theme song)


Picture if you will, pictures, if you will, and text, combining in the form of a graphic novel based on the classic "Twilight Zone." Well, starting this October, eight graphic novels with plots straight from the mind of Rod Serling will bring the iconic sci-fi hit to a new generation, re-conceptualized by a group of graphic artists from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Submitted for your approval, my conversation with Anna Burgard, the director of the College Industry Partnership Program that's developing the "Twilight Zone."

PESCA: How did you come up, or who came up, with this idea?

Ms. ANNA BURGARD (Product Development Director, Savannah College of Art and Design): I arrived at Savannah College of Art and Design.

PESCA: SCAD, we shall call it from now on. Yes.

Ms. BURGARD: SCAD. We shall shorten it to SCAD. And in 2003, one of the first departments that really caught my eye in, you know, the wonderland that is the many departments and wonderful talent, was the Sequential Art Department. Because it just wasn't a term that I was familiar with in traditional publishing that I'd been in for a while.

PESCA: Right. So you say Sequential Art Department, and our listeners may be going, I have no idea what that means.

Ms. BURGARD: So that's comics, that's graphic novels. It's images in sequence.


Ms. BURGARD: And the Sequential Art Department, I don't know, is 400 or so students now, it has its own building, it is one of the few accredited programs in the country for the art form.

PESCA: You mean it has really taken off.


PESCA: With the form itself.



Ms. BURGARD: Yes. Exactly. But with the timing of the prevalence of the graphic novels, and the films that were coming out based on them, it just seemed like a nice opportunity. So I actually began talking to Earl Hamner, who was one of the original scriptwriters. And I was talking to him about an entirely different project of his. And then it was just in these conversations, and finding out that he was, you know, a writer for "Twilight Zone," that it just started to gel.

PESCA: And whenever - when you hear - are you the kind of person who hears "Twilight Zone," immediately starts saying, oh, I love "Terror at 30,000 Feet" and I love "To Serve Man" and...

Ms. BURGARD: Oh, "Monsters Are Due on Maple Street."

PESCA: That's a good one.

Ms. BURGARD: Yes. Yes.

PESCA: Yes. When the fear overtakes the town, and they become their worst enemy.

Ms. BURGARD: Well, I think that's one of the great things about the Rod Serling scripts, is, 50 years later, you know, these things are still happening in society. They're still really relevant, and they're still really entertaining, you know. So the combination was a great opportunity for the artists to have their own vision, 50 years later, of what that could look like in color, on pages.

PESCA: And talking to this one writer, did the light bulb go off in your head pretty soon thereafter?

Ms. BURGARD: Well, yes. I mean, because you know, I had already been thinking sequential art, sequential art, graphic novel, graphic novel. And so then he introduced me to Carol Serling, Mr. Serling's widow. And, you know, we just went from there.

PESCA: How old is she?

Ms. BURGARD: I don't know. I think she's about 80.

PESCA: She's beyond space and time.


(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BURGARD: She's as timeless as infinity.

PESCA: And she really holds on to his estate pretty tightly. And she - anything that you'd want to do with...

Ms. BURGARD: She's, I think, you know, it's the Serling Trust at this point. So she is the Serling Trust.

PESCA: Right. So anything you want to do with the "Twilight Zone," she has to sign off on.

Ms. BURGARD: Well, for this particular level, for the print level. CBS otherwise is involved. But, you know, for a book, she is the source.

PESCA: And when you explained it to her, what was her reaction?

Ms. BURGARD: She was excited.

PESCA: Did she know, did she understand graphic novels, and know about them?

Ms. BURGARD: I did a few spreads with the artist to introduce her to the concept, you know, from some of the scripts, and to, you know, just get her excited about it. It didn't take much. I mean, she just loved the idea of a new art form, you know, being applied to this property.

PESCA: How did you decide which episodes to - what would the verb? Graphic novelize?

Ms. BURGARD: To novelize.

PESCA: Graphically novelize?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BURGARD: Well, the first decision was, they were all going to be Rod Serling's own scripts. And he wrote roughly 90 of the 156-odd. So then it was really a decision about what worked best in the 72-page format. So ones that weren't all dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, you know. People back and forth, but had scene changes and interesting visual opportunities. And also, just to represent a breadth of the kind of stories he wrote for the series. You know, because there was sci-fi, there was horror and there were some a little more campy. You know, there was a wide range of stuff that he did.

PESCA: I don't know if it's one he wrote, but there are ones with, you know, Burgess Mer - well, there's a famous one with Burgess Meredith and his glasses. But there was one with...

Ms. BURGARD: "Time Enough at Last."

PESCA: "Time Enough at Last." Oh gosh. There was one with Don Rickles and - I'm trying to think of the actor, was it - I think it was Burgess Meredith who gets amazing feats of strength. And he turns the tables on Don Rickles. And there was one called "The Mighty Casey" about a robot baseball player. There were pretty campy ones.

Ms. BURGARD: Yes. Yes. I mean, you know.

PESCA: Apart from the classics, yes.

Ms. BURGARD: Well, you know, he did write some 90 episodes, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BURGARD: And they were just fun. I mean, I think that's the interesting thing, you know. A single episode like "Monsters Are Due on Maple Street," you know, you could take it at a more philosophical, political level, or you could just take the entertainment value, you know. And so I think people approached it as, you know, as appropriate for their interests.

PESCA: As you look through the 90 episodes that you had to choose from, did you find some that didn't hold up?

Ms. BURGARD: Well, they didn't hold up...

PESCA: Well, there are some that wouldn't...

Ms. BURGARD: In the pacing, you know.


Ms. BURGARD: In the pacing for a graphic novel.

PESCA: There were some that wouldn't translate to graphic novels. But just in general, I always find with the "Twilight Zone" that, you know, it has a greater percentage of things that stand the test of time, but there are a couple of those, like anything, there are a couple of those clunkers. And it's funny what people thought was, you know, scary or a twist ending then compared to now.

Ms. BURGARD: Right. Well I think it was more, you know, that there were 20-odd fantastic ones, you know.


Ms. BURGARD: And so, if you're going to do an eight-book series, which of those do you choose? And so it wasn't so much this doesn't work, as how do we sacrifice, you know, some of the ones that do? So it was an embarrassment of riches, you know.

PESCA: Your authors and illustrators, what's their work process like? Do they watch the - do they actually go back and watch the TV show, or do they just work from the Serling scripts?

Ms. BURGARD: The person who was adapting the scripts, Mark Niese(ph), is a professor in sequential art. He was referencing the shows just to make sure he had the voice correct, any kind of additions he was making, anything he had to leave out. But we actually encouraged the artists not to watch the shows, you know. Because it's really about their particular vision based on those words, and what comes to their minds. So it was more, stay away from these DVDs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BURGARD: You know. The original, yes.

PESCA: And I'm sure you had a wide - you have a wide range of people in the program. They're probably people on the young side, in their 20s or 30s who are illustrators. Were most of them actually familiar with the shows?


PESCA: Did a lot of them just remember them from...

Ms. BURGARD: Well that's the kind of amazing thing, it's this iconic property. I mean, I was just watching some movie with Will Ferrell, and, you know, in an escalator scene he's referencing Rod Serling. You know, I mean, so it's every couple of weeks I hear something in popular media. So they were familiar with it. Some were just, you know, as they said, geeked out, you know, about it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BURGARD: That it was just this fantastic opportunity. Because Sci-Fi Channel still runs it, you know, I mean, so it's really still out there.

PESCA: And the "Twilight Zone" marathon is always one to set your now TiVo on. What are - what wound up being the big differences when you compare? Since they're working from the episodes, and maybe a lot of the illustrators didn't see the TV shows. So when you compare the printed word versus what we saw on TV, what were some interesting differences?

Ms. BURGARD: I think it's a matter of, as a reader, the pacing. You know, the way you go through this story. Because the television show is, kind of, forced upon you in a sense, you sit down and, you know, you're defined by their pacing. But when you're reading it, looking at it, you might just linger on a spot differently, you know, than a camera would or something like that. And so I think, you know, that would be one of the key differences I think.

PESCA: What were the first episodes that you turned into graphic novels?

Ms. BURGARD: We are starting with "Walking Distance," which is considered one of Serling's most autobiographical. We are also leading out with "The After Hours."

PESCA: And "Walking Distance," what was the plot of that one?

Ms. BURGARD: "Walking Distance" is about sort of the old phrase, you can't go home again. Of a man whose car breaks down, and he's taking a walk to kill some time, and ends up near his home town.

PESCA: And is this the one where - remind the plot - is this the one where he actually meets members of his own family later on?


PESCA: And he meets his younger self? We'll play a little of that.

(Soundbite of "Twilight Zone" episode, "Walking Distance")

Ms. IRENE TEDROW (Actress): (As Mrs. Sloan) Who is it, Robert?

Mr. GIG YOUNG (Actor): (As Martin Sloan) Mom. Is that mom?

Mr. FRANK OVERTON (Actor): (As Mr. Sloan) Who are you? What do you want?

Ms. TEDROW: (As Mrs. Sloan) Who is it?

Mr. YOUNG: (As Martin Sloan) You're both here. How can you be here?

Ms. TEDROW: (As Mrs. Sloan) What do you want, young man?

Mr. YOUNG: (As Martin Sloan) Mom, don't you know me? I'm Martin.

Ms. TEDROW: (As Mrs. Sloan) Martin? Must be a lunatic or something.

Mr. YOUNG: (As Martin Sloan) You mustn't be frightened. I grew up here, mom. Don't you know your own son?

(Soundbite of door closing)

(Soundbite of knocks on door)

PESCA: What's the second one that you're adapting?

Ms. BURGARD: "The After Hours" is a story set in a department store. And this is a woman who is ostensibly taking something back to customer service. And just the oddity, the Twilight Zone that she enters into is, you know, she goes to a floor where only this object is sold. And so she meets some strange characters and, you know, gets in to one of those, am I really who I think I am, stories.

PESCA: Yes. And that one is - I don't want to give away the twist ending, but let's just put it this way. I don't know who the actress is, but she's just an absolute doll. I don't know her name.

(Soundbite of "Twilight Zone" episode "The After Hours")

Mr. ROD SERLING: (Narrating) This is Marcia White on the ninth floor. Specialties department, looking for a gold thimble. The odds are that she'll find it.

(Soundbite of buzzing)

Mr. SERLING: But there are even better odds that she'll find something else. Because this isn't just a department store. This happens to be the Twilight Zone.

PESCA: I think "The After Hours" represents a certain "Twilight Zone" with a real traditional twist ending, whereas "Walking Distance" has, sort of, more of the feel of it as opposed to that, you know, the very last thing in the last act is, aha, this is what it all means.

Ms. BURGARD: Right. It's not so much, da-da-daa, as, you know, the slow burn.

PESCA: Yes. Excellent. And so that is an example of you wanting to do a couple of different kinds of episodes.

Ms. BURGARD: And these were - I mean, "Walking Distance" was one of the first episodes, 1959. "The After Hours," I believe, was a 1960 airing. And so, you know, we didn't keep to a straight chronology throughout the eight books, but these were such classics to lead out with. And so the books are going out in twos from there.

PESCA: Is the narration that Rod Serling provided, will that just be written on the page, or is there a guy who is Rod Serling, and possibly even smoking a cigarette?

Ms. BURGARD: We actually left that - well, no cigarettes. But we left that open to the artist, whether they wanted - the narration is absolutely in every book. But we left it open to them whether they wanted to picture Serling or not. The majority of them did. And so Carol Serling approves, you know, that translation of his image as well as the scripts and everything else.

PESCA: Because the original episodes were in black and white, are any of the graphic novels in black and white?

Ms. BURGARD: They're all full color. I mean, they were chosen based on not being manga, not being superhero-kind of, very stylized. They're more realistic to keep the humanity.

PESCA: So what do you have? You have student labor? Are they getting paid for this?

Ms. BURGARD: They are. These are all freelancers. And so one of the interesting things about this project, with so many of our commercial ventures, is that it's students, alumni and faculty all working together. A project like this, of this magnitude, with eight books and so many people involved, from Walker and Company and The Estate, and from SCAD, we have roughly 40 people working on these books. So we have people, you know - and the process of a graphic novel, the way it's illustrated is very different from a traditionally illustrated book, which I think is also true in comics, where you have pencillers and inkers, letterers, and colorists. And we have, you know, type designers and, you know, whole levels of people working on it at the same time.

PESCA: Anna Burgard, who is the director of SCAD's industry partnership program, thank you very much for coming in.

Ms. BURGARD: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

PESCA: Were you a "Twilight Zone" fan, Robert?


I did. I loved the "Twilight Zone." I was also an "Outer Limits" fan. Does that make me kind of a weirdo?


SMITH: Do you have to pick and choose?

PESCA: No, I mean, I don't think it's an either/or. I think it's like A team, B team, frankly.

SMITH: Yes. Well, do you think the kids today would know if to control the horizontal, control the vertical, control the high-definition digital Blu-ray?

PESCA: They've just got a guy for that. My wife's a huge "Twilight Zone" fan, and we always taped, and now TiVo the "Twilight Zone" marathon, which is beside the point, since we've all seen them, you know, 30 times already. And I've since broken down all the themes to the "Twilight Zone" episodes. There are basically three themes that they ever do.


PESCA: One is, be careful what you wish for. That is 60 percent of all "Twilight Zone"s.

SMITH: Makes sense.

PESCA: And any time there's a devil character, who is sometimes played by Julie Newmar, and sometimes - once played by Burgess Meredith, who gave some guy with a printing press extraordinary powers, never make a deal with the devil, because he always finds a way to twist it. That's what you asked for...

SMITH: You should have known. You should have known.

PESCA: No! No! Of late, I dream of "Cliffordsville," when he goes back and tries to corner the market, and didn't realize that even though he found oil, they hadn't yet invented the drill bit. The second big theme is, don't put too much faith in science. Which is weird, since I think in the present, there is more a strain of saying, don't trust - trust science, and don't put too much faith in superstition.

SMITH: But what they're saying is that if your hopes and dreams are pinned - if you think something magical, and basically science is magic. And if you think something magical is going to happen to improve your life, and you call that magic science, then guess what? "To Serve Man?" It's a cookbook.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Well then don't put too much faith in science, of course, came after World War II, when people were very skeptical of Nazi preachings on eugenics. And so...

SMITH: It's the same thing that brought us Gamara and Godzilla and all these things too.

PESCA: Yes. Science fiction always speaks to people's nervousness

SMITH: Number three?

PESCA: And these things were scary. Number three is, the enemy is us. We've seen the enemy and he is us. So in, you know, "I Shot an Arrow," the guy is on some strange planet, and he walks the Earth forever, and then he dies before he comes over the hill. And then he realizes that they're not on a strange planet, they're on their home planet. Same theme as "Planet of the Apes," by the way.

SMITH: You know, I want to add a fourth one to your list. Ventriloquist dummies are really freaky and scary. That's the fourth theme that happens in these things.

PESCA: Dummies be freaky, yo.

SMITH: I've got to tell you, if they've got a ventriloquist dummy, that thing's going to start speaking before the end.

PESCA: The other great thing about the "Twilight Zone" is that the production value of those classic episodes, if you look at the space ship on "To Serve Man," the ramp leading up to that space ship looks maybe made out of Styrofoam and tinfoil. Maybe, on a good day.

SMITH: Oh, come on. You know, we put a preview of some of SCAD's Twilight Zone graphic novels up on the website, which you can check out any time at www.npr.org/bryantpark.

PESCA: And that is that for this hour of the BPP. We're always online at npr.org/bryantpark. I'm Mike Pesca.

SMITH: And I'm Robert Smith. This is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

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