Friday, September 5, 2014

A Review of Marvel's "The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three -- The Prisoner" #1 (aka Bryant Has Issues #50)

It always feels special when Bryant Has Issues gets to actually cover something by or adapted from Stephen King, and so it is today, which brings the resumption (see what I did there?) of Marvel Comics' Dark Tower adaptation, the first issue in their take on The Drawing of the Three.
  
  
This cover art by Julian Totino Tedesco is terrific, and the preview images I've seen of his covers for the next three issues are great, too.  It's very strong work, especially given how lackadaisical Marvel's attitude toward Dark Tower covers has been for the past few years.
  
  
There is a lot to discuss here, and I'll start by issuing a spoiler warning.  Not necessarily one which applies only to the comics, either.  My typical approach to these comic-book reviews is to be a bit on the spoiler-phobic side and speak only in generalities.  My rationale for that is that since comics are so much more a specialty item, fewer people will have taken the opportunity to read them, as opposed to reading the novels or seeing the movie.  It's beginning to feel to me as if that approach is a failure, though, so I'm not going to continue it; if you want to avoid spoilers, you're on your own recognizance.
  
So in this review, I'm going to talk about the issue in its entirety, and that is almost certain to lead me down avenues where I'll going to talk about the novel specifically and the Dark Tower series generally.  So, be forewarned: if you've not read the series, you'll be spoiled by reading this post.

That warning issued, let's talk about "The Prisoner" #1. 
  
And we're going to do so at length, beginning with the first panel:




When you see the title of this comic (The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three - The Prisoner), I think you probably make a few assumptions if you are a Towerphile.  First, I think you probably assume that what you'll be reading is (duh) an adaptation of The Drawing of the Three.  Second, I think you probably assume that this particular arc will focus on Roland's attempts to "draw" Eddie through the door marked THE PRISONER.

Seems logical, right?

It might, then, come as a bit of a shock to see that the first issue begins not with Roland on the beach fighting lobstrosities, but with a man tacking up a lost-dog advert with what seems to be Eddie Dean narration overlying the image.

It's a bit of a surprise, no doubt about it.  But I, for one, am perfectly okay with this.  I don't need the comics to follow the novels word-for-word; I wouldn't want them to deviate in any major ways, but I've got no problems with Robin Furth and Peter David (both of whom are returning to these comics in their capacities as plotter and scripter, respectively) opening the world up a bit and then reorganizing events so as to make them flow more effectively to fit the medium. 
 
My guess, then, is that what we'll be getting in The Prisoner is primarily going to be an expanded backstory for Eddie Dean; and I would guess further that the next arc will be titled The Lady of Shadows and will give us an expanded backstory for Odetta Holmes (and Detta Walker).  I'll be curious to see where Furth and David go from there and how they structure things.  My guess?  We won't be seeing Roland for a while.

Whether that approach will work or not remains to be seen, but my take on this particular issue is that it was dynamite, so if subsequent issues are as good, then...

Whoops!  I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let's circle back to that first panel, where the keen-eyed among you have undoubtedly made a few discoveries.  First of all, the "lost-dog ad" is one of the trademarks of the Low Men in Yellow Coats (as we've seen if we've read Hearts In Atlantis) and/or the Can-Toi, and sure enough, the next panel makes it plain:




Well, I can't swear that that's a Low Man, but whoever it is, he sure is wearing a yellow coat.  These first two panels also contain other references from the Tower series: the astrological symbols near hopscotch grids (referred to in Book VII); the coffin tattoo (a mark of the Big Coffin Hunters from Book IV); and, possibly, rings which signify affiliation to John Farson and to the Crimson King.

More importantly, what is a Low Man doing in 1964 Brooklyn?  That's a new wrinkle to the story, isn't it?  We'll have to wait a bit for an answer to that question.
  
Let's talk about the fact that this scene is being narrated by Eddie Dean.  Not only is this a welcome change from the patois of the calla-folken David used for narration in previous Dark Tower comics, but it's also an intriguing mystery: is Eddie merely narrating in an omniscient sense, or will we find out that he is talking to somebody specific?  Telling them this story, as it were?

It's unclear, but either way, I'm pleased to have a new mode of narration in these comics; David's "folksy" approach worked for me sometimes, but mostly didn't.  I hope we'll see some of Eddie's smart-ass side come out in the narration over the course of The Prisoner; that could be fun.

Turning the page, we come to this:




The fact that Eddie and Henry Dean had a sister named Gloria isn't focused on much by Stephen King in The Drawing of the Three, but it is certainly there, and I think it is an excellent move by Furth to actually present this crucial bit of character-building to us, rather than couch it in a flashback or (worse) in a monologue.  Show, not tell; that's one of the cardinal rules of any visual medium of storytelling.


I haven't mentioned the art by Piotr Kowalski (with colors by Nick Filardi) much as yet.  I'll say more about as we go, but I love that top panel.  There's nothing showy about it; it just WORKS, which is my #1 requirement from comic-book art.


Uh-oh.

Warning bells went off in my head at the suggestion that Gloria's death -- which, as per the novel, was indeed via drunk-driver -- was somehow orchestrated by Jack Andolini on the orders of Enrico Balazar.  That's just more tied-up-in-a-bow than I want or need my storytelling to be.  I mean, seriously, if Eddie's later mob ties are involved in his life this early, doesn't that shrink the world/universe/multiverse he's living in, rather than expand it?

I would argue that it does.

I spent a few pages being grumpy about this, before I had a bit of an epiphany.  We'll come back to that later.




I got a kick out of that "Oxford Town" shoutout.  If you recall, it is in Oxford, Mississippi that Odetta Holmes is jailed, which is one of the first things we learn about her in The Drawing of the Three.  It was during 1964 that this happened, which means that theoretically speaking, she is in jail in the very town about which Henry is singing while he is singing it (and in the presence of the boy/man whom she will one day marry in another universe, at that).

Trippy, huh?

You could theoretically accuse Furth and David of overconvenience there, but I'd point out that since Bob Dylan wrote the song in 1962, and since New York City was covered with folksingers who all would have known the song by heart by 1964, it makes perfect sense for Henry Dean to know the song, too.  Seems convenient; is in fact spot-on.

I also have something to point out about those Johnny Bronco and Sam Sidewinder dolls of Eddie's:


  


Could you fairly describe Sam Sidewinder as being a man in black?

I think so.

Anyways; Henry, being who he is, gives Eddie some shit, and then Eddie's friend Tommy shows up.




Oh, dear.  Grumpy Bryant came back the second North Central Positronics was mentioned.  1964 seems WAY too early for there to be such a company; and anyways, are we even sure that it existed in "our" world?  Even if it did, it wouldn't have been creating positronics in 1964; nowhere close.

This seemed like a misstep to me.  But the more I thought about it the better I was able to rationalize it and accept it.  The word "positronic" was coined, in the robotics sense of things, by Isaac Asimov circa 1939; so, given Asimov's popularity, maybe we can hypothesize that in this version of our world, a toy manufacturer decided to call itself a "positronics" company in order to sound futuristic and cool, but did not actually work with any degree of success toward building actual positronics for decades and maybe even centuries to come.

I'm still not 100% sold on the idea.  But I can squint and get past it.

Anyways, Tommy and Henry are going to do to the movies to see A Fistful of Dollars (another sly nod toward Towerphiles, although this one is a wee bit of a cheat, since the movie was not released in America until 1967).  Mrs. Dean comes out and cajoles Gloria into watching Eddie in Henry's absence, and things get off to a rocky start:




I really like this art from Kowalski.  Again, it's not flashy; he's not trying to invent the wheel.  He's happy to instead stick to telling the story; the facial expressions are simple, the movements are simple, the lines are simple.  But it all works extremely well, and the art conveys exactly what you sense Kowalski, David, and Furth wish for the art to convey.  Kowalksi's style is totally different from any other artist Marvel has used on The Dark Tower so far, and while there were times when I appreciated what Jae Lee or whoever was doing, there were also plenty of times -- especially during the course of the revolving door of artists who worked on The Gunslinger -- that I decidedly did NOT appreciate it.

So for me, Kowalksi's approach is a breath of very fresh air, and it gets the official seal of approval from The Truth Inside The Lie, which I'm sure means a great deal to him and to Marvel.

Speaking of Kowalski's art, let's back up for just a bit, and have a look at the entire page from which the above panels came:




The stuff with Henry and Tommy and Mrs. (Ms.?) Dean is good, but mainly, the reason I wanted to show you the whole page is so that I can establish the proper perspective under which to discuss the next two pages.  Looking at them out of context might not impart the proper sense of scale and size, and if you're missing that, then you're missing the crucial impact they have.

Let's check them out:




We had a splash page earlier, so seeing the story go into that mode not does jolt us much.  However, what Kowalski has done here -- and I hope I'm being accurate and not merely talking out of my ass -- is to use the comics equivalent of a distorted lens to give us an entirely different perspective on Gloria and Eddie.  All of a sudden, they look a bit like giants.  And, as Eddie suggests, we can almost feel them moving in slow-motion strides.

How did Kowalski achieve this effect?  Partially, it's by placing the perspective low to the ground, so that the "camera" kind of does register the kids as giants; and since we are used to seeing giants in the movies have their movements replicated via slow-motion, our brain connects the dots for us.  By placing Gloria in mid-stride in that second panel, the effect is amplified.

This, kids, is how you do comics.  So is the next page:




That car looks absolutely enormous, and feels as if it both weighs a ton and is moving a hundred miles an hour.  You get one look at that Lincoln, and you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Gloria has zero chance of survival.

I would draw your attention to thee things here:
  • The presence of the hopscotch grid and the astrological symbols of the Low Man.  It is easy to overlook them given the drama of what is happening, but there they are, just as present in the scene as Eddie or Gloria or Frank.
  • Notice how the car -- which is gaudy enough to belong to a Low Man, by the way -- is colliding with and crashing into that panel in the lower right-hand corner.  Sometimes, panel violations and crossovers in comics mean very little; and other times, they show a car about to crack a girl's skull open.
  • Why does Frank say "crap" instead of "shit" or "fuck"?  This comic has a Mature warning on it, so I don't know why David should feel the need to avoid the profanities.  For me, this has been one element in which the Dark Tower comics have proven to be a very poor adaptation of the novels: there simply isn't enough potty-mouth.  That's going to be especially problematic in a miniseries focusing on Eddie and Henry Dean, methinks.

It's worth pointing out that those two pages were in fact part of a two-page spread, so that when you are reading page 8, you are also (depending on how you read comics) seeing page 9 out of the corner of your eye and half-seeing what happens next before you actually see it fully.  On the one hand, that's kind of a shame; but, at the same time, it preserves the shock of turning the page and seeing the next splash:




Here's another thing great comics art can do: suggest more by showing less.  We don't want to see Gloria get splattered and torn all over the street, so we're thankful not to see it.  We've instead seen a stand-in that jolts us possibly even harder than any (pardon the pun) graphic depiction of Gloria's fate could.

I also like the colors quite a bit.  They come via Nick Filardi, who in this issue takes over the coloring duties on the series from Richard Isanove.  Isanove, if I'm not mistaken, had previously colored every single issue of the Dark Tower comics.  He typically did great work, too, so I hate for him to be off the team; but Filardi is doing great work here, so if anything, we've traded sideways.

After this, we get a bit more narration from Eddie, and some scenes of the awful aftermath (again, none of them graphic in nature), before we cut away to something else entirely:




Towerphiles will, of course, recognize the Dixie Pig as one of the crucial settings from Song of Susannah, and while it gives me a bit of vertigo to have Book VI mixed with Book II in this fashion, there is nothing whatsoever incongruous about it.  In fact, it's a bit thrilling.

Both Kowalski and Filardi are still doing great work here, too, and that's notable not merely in and of itself, but also because we've shifted from a world mostly populated by children into a world populated by adults and by Grandfather vampires.  And yet, Kowalski's style has not suddenly become inconsistent; it's still the same clean, effective style he was using earlier.  This suggests versatility, which, to my eyes, is a very good sign.  I can't wait to see what he will do over the course of the rest of this miniseries, and I am curious to see how long he will be onboard the overall series.

On the next two-page spread:




There is nothing on these two pages that doesn't work for me, from the body language of the Grandfathers on the left-hand side of the page to the stark horror of that foot-on-a-fork to the sweat on Jack Andolini's forehead.  Heck, I'm even afforded an opportunity to give a big thumbs-up to the lettering, which I typically neglect until something really catches my eye.  Here, check out the way letterer Joe Sabino has differentiated the dialogue of the Grandfather in the right-most panel.  That's a great way of letting us know that whoever this fella is, he's somehow more important than the other vampires.

We don't find out exactly who this is that we're dealing with, and presumably won't until the next issue (if then).  But whoever he is, he's ordering ribs for two, and he's asking a question of Andolini:




Andolini has a question in return:




There is something about the combination of Andolini's halting question, the stark presence of that hand on the plate, and the Grandfather's exhortation for him to not be ridiculous that kind of cracks me up.  I mean, given the hand, it IS a ridiculous question, right?  But Andolini is insistent on being somewhat mannered, and so is the Grandfather; it's a comedy of manners in which a human hand is served for dinner.

More importantly, we now find out that Frank was ordered to kill not Gloria Dean, but Eddie Dean.  This takes my eyeroll moment from earlier, negates it, and then sends it screaming back at me full-force.

So why did I not roll my eyes when presented with this new information?  Why did I instead react with excitement?

Well, I'll tell you: because I had that epiphany I referred to earlier.  Which is this: I think there is a strong possibility that what we're seeing in these comics is not so much an adaptation of the novels as it is a sequel to the novels.

In other words, the comics represent the events of Roland's next life, not the life about which we read in the novels.

Technically speaking, I believe that possibility had already been broached by the comics previous to this one; but still, it comes as a comfort.  I don't want the comics to refute the novels, and I don't want them to embellish in any way except for a sensible one.  And for me, having the Can-Toi hunting Eddie Dean before he was even grown up would be a bad idea, from a story point of view.  I don't want to have to think that that is what's going on in The Drawing of the Three, albeit behind the scenes and never mentioned by the author; that would lame and I would not like it on a boat or with a goat.

If, however, you could pitch it to me the right way, it might work.  And one way I can think of that might be a successful pitch would be for the various forces who are in league with the Crimson King to know that Roland has defeated their leader once before, in some other life.  So, how do they prevent that from happening again?  Change the circumstances; eliminate Roland's ka-tet before it can form.  Without help, perhaps Roland will be helpless.

It is not yet certain that that is exactly what Furth and David have in mind, but the final page hints in that direction:




The idea of the Crimson King and his minions attempting to "thwart ka" certainly opens up the possibility of the comics being able to do things in a somewhat different fashion from the novels.  It's an idea that works for me, because it allows the adaptation to vary to small degrees and yet stay true to the overall series.  I am anxious to see where it goes from here.

Before we wrap this up, say . . . didja notice that doll on the table?  Seems like we've seen that somewhere before:




Yep, we sure did.  That's a Johnny Bronco doll.

And, say . . . doesn't Sam Sidewinder bear more than a passing resemblance to that Grandfather vampire who is eating ribs with Jack Andolini?

He sure does.  I initially took the design of Sam Sidewinder to be a Man In Black (i.e. Walter O'Dim, or, if you prefer, Randall Flagg) reference, and maybe it still is; but clearly, it is something else, as well.

I did not get even close to noticing that the first time I read this issue; the deep read occasioned by writing this post has clearly done me some good.

It's been fun, and I hope to be able to bring the same level of attention to each subsequent issue in the series.

Finally, let's have a look at the two variant covers Marvel produced for this issue:


This one is by Christian Ward, and I'm not immediately sure what it means.  These events certainly do not occur in this issue.  If I had to guess, I'd guess that that is Finli O'Tego holding a gun to Eddie's head years later, but there also appears to be a door -- a Door -- opening behind them, so...  I dunno.  I like the cover, though, and I ordered a copy of this variant -- which is a 1-in-10 (don't ask) -- from mycomicshop.com.  I'm sure they'd be happy to sell you one, too.

I also ordered a copy of this variant by Skottie Young, because why not.  I can't say that I approve of kiddie-izing Roland, but the colors are nice.
 
And hey, as a bonus: here are the three covers in art-only format:


Love it.  If Tedesco got announced as being the illustrator on new editions of the novels, I'd buy 'em all.



  
So, final thoughts on The Prisoner #1: I thought it was terrific.  It has been many-and-many-a since I was this enthused by a Dark Tower comic, actually: at one point in time, I said outright that I hoped Marvel would stop making them, so that I could stop buying them.

Well, consider my opinion changed, at least for the short run.  I liked what I got here, and I hope for more along the same lines.  I'm particularly jazzed by Kowalski's art.  I don't know how much of The Drawing (pardon the pun) of the Three he'll be around for, but I can think of numerous scenes which I'd LOVE to see him tackle, especially given how well he handles wordless movement.
 
Time will tell!

*****

Now, before we sign off altogether, I've got one more comic to cover:




This twelve-page mini-comic is included with the Blu-ray release of season four of Haven.  It may also be included in the DVD release, although I do not know that for a face.  Or for a fact, either.  (Sometimes, typos are too good to correct.)

The third-season release also included a mini-comic, and it was okay.  This one is quite a bit more than okay: this one may be essential for any fan of the series.  In fact, it may prove to be so essential that unless the series ends up covering the same ground in the upcoming episodes, I'm going to call major shenanigans.

We're operating under a new spoiler-friendly policy here, so unless you want to know what happens in this comic, you'd best run away now.  And bear in mind that that may have massive implications for the television series itself, so you are doubly warned.  To provide some cushion, here are some photos of Emily Rose looking super-hot:







Ah, shit, guys; sorry about that last one, that's from The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which is a different thing altogether.  Although it's got the super-hot Jennifer Carpenter in it, so there's that.  Not so much in that photo, granted, although I bet possession sex would be a memorable experience.
 
Did I actually just type that?
 
Let's move on.

So anyways, this Haven mini-comic:


 

Obviously, we are seeing a flashback story to the story of Mara and William.  I may as well confess that there is a lot about the fourth season -- and about the first three, for that matter -- that I don't remember.  I found myself enjoying the show during the third and fourth seasons, but to a large degree, the episodes still sort of bounce off me and refuse to stick.




If there was any doubt before, this ought to erase it: of the two, Mara is most definitely the Bad Cop.  William is trying to convince her to leave this place they have journeyed to; and it seems like they've taken a massive risk in coming there to begin with.  Where is their point of origin?  This is never revealed.  (Presumably that's too big a plot point to give away in a mini-comic.)

The two of them go to a nearby village, where Mara inflicts a Trouble upon an unfortunate boy:



The art by Roger Robinson is merely functional at times, but at other times it's quite good; such as this splash page.

The Trouble she's inflicted upon the boy is to envelop him in a cone of energy, which will fry to smithereens anyone who attempts to reach inside it to help him.  Now, that's just an awful thing to do to somebody; Mara, clearly, is a homicidal maniac.  How much of her will we see during the fifth season of the series?  My gut tells me not much, because she seems like too loose a cannon to have running around with impunity.

Several people die as a result of the boy's Trouble, including a few whom William kills in defense of Mara.  She might be Bad Cop in comparison, but he's clearly no Good Cop.  She finds she isn't entirely satisfied by her experiments, however, and William suggests an exit strategy.  This made me sit up and take notice:




Say what, Bill?!?  A thinnny?!?

There was some speculation during the fourth season about how the doors between worlds were similar to the doors found in the Dark Tower books, so this does not come 100% out of left field; but here, writer Nick Parker has dropped any ambiguity and simply called it out: this story is taking place within the universe of the Dark Tower.

This begs a number of questions, the first being: do these folks have the legal right to tie Haven in with The Dark Tower?  I'm not sure if King has ever specified that The Colorado Kid ties in to that series of novels, and even if he were to do so, doesn't Ron Howard currently own all Dark Tower film and television rights?

Another obvious question: is this reference a one-off that Nick Parker figured he could get away with in a mini-comic, or will the fifth season also contain blatant Dark Tower references?  It's an intriguing concept.

Anyways, then this happens:




That is the man whom we know as Agent Howard.  He's dressed as a local, but we get the feeling that he is anything but:




About that:
  • That moment of "Howard" snapping the kid's neck is brutal.
  • He evidently has no power to reverse what Mara has done.  Otherwise, he'd have done that rather than snap the kid's neck.  So that would seemingly eliminate the possibility that somebody like Agent Howard could show up and just fix whatever mess Mara had made.  In other words, whatever she ends up doing, look for it to be permanent.
  • The phrase "cast into the void where he belongs" -- and, for that matter, the phrase "the other mindless monsters" -- cannot help but put me in mind of the Prim.  Towerphiles, you know what I'm sayin'.  So, does that mean that the "bar" where Lexie was working at the beginning of the fourth season was the void to which Howard is referring here?  If so, was that the by-Gan Prim?!?
  • Ah.  So it really WAS named "Haven" for a specific reason.  It still bothers me that the creators of the show didn't realize that King's canon already had a Haven, one which was nothing like this one; but I guess we're well and truly stuck with it at this point.  They could have settled for turning it into a French variant, like Le Havre, or something like that.  Whatever.  I digress.

It continues from here.  The last page goes like this:


 

So, basically, this comic just told us who -- who exactly -- Audrey really is, and why she seemingly has lived multiple lives under other names and with entirely other personalities and memories.  Granted, we already knew that Mara was her original form; but did we have any notion that her subsequent personalities -- Audrey included -- were complicated punishments?  I don't think so.

Does this seem like awfully important stuff to burn off in a mini-comic?

We'll see how this all shakes out in terms of the series, but for now, consider me even more interested in the fifth season than I already was.  And heck, if IDW were to decide to publish an actual comic series based on Haven, I'd give that a shot.

And with that, we've concluded our decidedly Dark Tower-centric 50th issue of Bryant Has Issues.  We'll return in short order with #51, which contains a few titles I wanted to look at here, but couldn't fit in.

4 comments:

  1. Possession sex!

    I kind of like the idea of this being the next of Roland's lives after the events of Dark Tower VII. This time, as you note, the Crimson King is moving some chess pieces a bit differently. (Tho, still incompetently.) In this world, though, if North Central Positronics (if it's meant to be the same entity as the NCP formed much later in Roland's "previous" life) got started that early... it raises an awful lot of questions. It's within the realm of possibility that the answers to those questions may prove very intriguing, but it's equally possible it's one "oh wow, hey cool! REFERENCE!" too many.

    That art is fantastic. Good stuff with the distorted lens and cinematic arrangements.

    Unrelated to this post but related to the Bryant Has Issues project, I had some extra cash on me last week and picked up the first 4 issues of Miracleman. Can't wait to dig into those and then go back and revisit your write-ups. When this will happen, who knows... but I'm looking forward to it.

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    1. Yeah, that NCP mention is iffy. On the one hand, it could mean something cool; on the other, it could be the King-comic equivalent of a "Family Guy" moment.

      "Miracleman" is good, good stuff. I've got #10 waiting on me. I hope there are lots of people reading it who were not familiar with it before.

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  2. Ah, back to my favorite pastime...Fan theorizing!

    From a writing angle, I'm torn in two with The Prisoner. On the one hand, it all reads very much like both King and a genuine Tower story. I even thought the scenes with Jack might explain his strange stillness in the original Drawing, and that it heightens Eddie's thought that "Jack saw more in one glance that someone like Collin Vincent would in single lifetime". It almost makes sense if he's spent most of his life encountering gut churning scenes like the Dixie Pig. He's a Mafioso who's nonetheless profoundly shocked by what he knows and has scene.

    On the other hand, the more I thought, the more the inconsistencies grew. How come Jack to doesn't recognize Eddie from the kid he failed to hit. Why does Jack seem so unfamiliar with Roland and his world the first time they meet in Drawing, and again in Susannah, when the comics (from what I can see hear) seems to imply he "might" have some inkling of larger forces at work in the world?

    That's why the idea that it's a kind of sequel sort of makes sense. I remember what Robin Furth said about it being an alternate version of the story, which makes as much sense as anything.

    One thing looking this comic does is give me the following brainstorm. Why not just ANIMATE the Tower book?! It would make perfect sense, and solve all kinds of logistical puzzles (such as how to keep Jake from going past 12 years of age to twenty by the time the final book is filmed).

    At least that's just a possible thought.

    ChrisC

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    1. I just can't buy into the idea of an animated "Dark Tower," mainly because I've never seen an animated for-adults story that I genuinely liked. Animation -- as far as I can tell -- isn't well-suited to do drama unless you are talking about animation on a sky-high budget (such as what Pixar and Disney films get). And since adult animation has NEVER made any money, it would by default end up being a low-budget affair; hence, I don't think it's doable.

      Maybe there is some extant project out there that proves me wrong, but if so, I don't know about it.

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