More than four decades after The Man Who Fell To Earth first landed in cinemas, Titan Comics is soon to release a graphic novel adaptation of Nicolas Roeg’s sci-fi classic.
Based on the novel by Walter Tevis, the work is a celebrated cornerstone in the film careers of both Roeg and David Bowie, marking his first major movie role as the extraterrestrial Thomas Jerome Newton. The graphic novel, adapted by comics writer Dan Watters and illustrator Dev Pramanik, reshapes the story for a new medium and generation.
Ahead of its release, Watters has given NME an exclusive look at the adaptation and shared his insight into translating the film’s surreal visuals into artwork.
1. Taking on history
Dan Watters: “Titan Comics came to me with the project and I was immediately very on board. I’m a big Nicolas Roeg fan. I was sort of traumatised by [his 1973 thriller] Don’t Look Now as a teenager. I’m not a big sci-fi person, but The Man Who Fell To Earth is a special one.
“We could have just copied out the screenplay and divided it up into panels, [but] there was the opportunity to emphasise things or swivel the ‘camera’ towards different elements of the story that seem to resonate even more today.”
DW: “I knew [illustrator] Dev before we started on the project. I actually suggested him. He’d drawn this really great book at Image Comics called Paradiso, so I was really pleased when he came on board because I knew we were going to make something that felt right… There were a few models in which we tried different things [for Bowie’s look] but again, it was a case of, it’s not broken so let’s not fix it. It’s just Bowie.”
3. Falling to Earth
DW: “The [sequences] that were interesting to try and adapt were the ones that linger. The whole opening sequence where the titular man falls to Earth, it’s all done very quietly. There’s no dialogue up to him entering that shop where he goes to put on the ring. So making a decision as to how much time spent lingering with him as he gets his bearings, that was an interesting one to navigate.”
4. If it ain’t broke
DW: “We had to resist changing things for the sake of changing them. You don’t want to break something that’s not broken or has already been done in the best possible way in the film… It’s about knowing exactly where to leave those things alone, especially the big key moments.”
5. Fresh perspectives
DW: “We were adapting a two-hour and 20 minute film into a 96-page graphic novel which means that, inevitably, certain things had to get left out or shortened. There are these little routes where [the camera] starts down a road and implies things in very subtle ways. [Newton] has visions of people on empty land, and the trains moving through. It leaves the impression that he maybe isn’t seeing time as linearly as we do… Those are the things we’re looking at in terms of: do we fit this in? Or do we try to imply this in other ways?”
6. A changing climate
DW: “We had to choose which [themes] were the important ones and which were the ones that really come across today. It feels like a very prescient film in certain ways. Bear in mind it’s about an alien whose planet has gone through a massive eco-crisis – that’s why he’s flown down to Earth. That feels more relevant today than it did in the 1970s.”
7. Modern Love
DW: “[This graphic novel] is very much intended for a modern audience – and we wanted to make it accessible for people who aren’t familiar with the film. For example, everyone in the film is getting extremely excited about self-developing cameras. The alien technology that was unimaginable is the development of this camera. That was a big plot point in the story and an interesting thing to communicate.”
8. Bold and beautiful
DW: “Writing comics is more like writing theatre than film. You have a certain level of distance from the audience because you’ve not got someone you’re right up close to – seeing their eyes move, seeing their facial muscles move – which can impart a lot. In comics, everything needs to be a little bit bigger and bolder. So if something’s going to be confusing, you’ve got to really double-down and make sure what you want is coming across.”
9. Bowie’s legacy
DW: “I wrote the Sandman universe book Lucifer for two years, and the Lucifer depicted in [Neil Gaiman’s Sandman] is famously modelled off The Thin White Duke era of Bowie. So when I came to the book, which had a few iterations before, I went into that with the intention of trying to make the ‘Blackstar’  version. I think that record is an absolute masterpiece.
‘The Man Who Fell to Earth: The Official Movie Adaptation’ is published by Titan Comics and will be available from October 25