When "Django Unchained" opens in theaters Dec. 25, audiences will finally see just what Quentin Tarantino has wrought with his provocative, ultraviolent slave-era Western. But that big-screen version is a long way from the screenplay Tarantino originally wrote that sparked a burst of excitement (along with juicy debate) when it first surfaced online in 2011.
Since then, scenes have been axed, dialogue has been added and major sections have been completely rewritten. Even the climax of the film was ditched — no longer does the titular character, played by Oscar winner Jamie Foxx, ride through town on his way to the Candyland plantation to blow up the master's house. (Not to worry: Foxx himself claimed recently, "The new ending trumps it because Quentin made it a 'ghost story.'")
But fans of that original version will still have a chance to check out what it might have looked like visually, since Tarantino's script has been adapted into a comic book series by Vertigo/DC Entertainment. The first of six installments drops Dec. 19; the second, which features a cover by Denys Cowan revealed here for the first time, hits Jan. 30 (three and four go on sale in February and March). Think of the comic series as an alternate version — that happens to come out first.
"There'll be a lot of scenes in the comic that are not in the finished film," says "Django" producer Reginald Hudlin, whose comic book credits include Marvel's "Black Panther" and "Birth of a Nation." While putting the final touches on the film, Hudlin took some time to give Indiewire his first in-depth interview about it — plus his thoughts on black superheroes, nerding out with Tarantino and the challenge of translating a 168-page screenplay into panels and word balloons.
Who came up with the idea for a "Django Unchained" comic book?
It kind of happened organically, actually. We were getting proposals to publish an illustrated screenplay, meaning it would be the screenplay with a bunch of photographs from production, and Quentin didn't really want to do that. He believes the screenplay is an artistic medium in itself. He loves publishing his screenplays, but he wants them to stand alone and not have pictures as a crutch; either the writing works or it doesn't. And when Quentin gave me that response to the offer I said, "Well, I get that. And, in fact, I was kind of disappointed because when I read 'illustrated screenplay,' I thought they were talking about a comic book adaptation." Then he lit up, like, "Yeah. Now, that's what I'm talking about! That would be fun." [laughs] I agreed, so I reached out to my friends in the world of comic-book publishing and we got it going.
Has a slave ever been the hero of a comic book?
There haven't been many, but yes. I mean, I have a great appreciation for the medium and so does Quentin. His specialty is, in whatever you're talking about — film, television, comic books — he will mention very obscure characters and titles. For example, we talked about comic books — specifically the subcategory of Western comic books — and how big a fan he was of "Gunhawks," which had a black slave who was teamed up with a Confederate soldier. To me, that's typical Marvel. [laughs] Like, what's the boldest, craziest combination we can put together? The fact is, as per usual, comic books are bold and will go to provocative places. I can also say, pretty confidently, that no one's ever seen anything like "Django" before.