2) Historical Background
3) Graphic Novels and Comic Books
3.1) Differences and Similarities.
3.2) The Style of Frank Miller
4) The Differences between Movie and Graphic Novel
4.1) The punishment of Steliosp
4.2) Queen Gorgo and Theron.
4.3) Leonidas and Gorgo
4.4) Xerxes’ Army.
5) The Making of 300
6) Critical Reviews
The Battle of Thermopylae is one of the most famous Battles in History. Almost everyone knows about the heroic act of Leonidas I. and his 300 Spartans, who stood against the Army of the Persian King Xerxes. Military Schools across the world teach this Battle as an example, and it is widely referenced in popular culture until today. The Graphic Novel “300”, by Frank Miller, deals with this Battle. In 2006, it was adapted into a movie, directed by Zach Snyder. This paper concerns itself first with the Historical Background of the Battle. Afterwards, because it is not a clear distinction, there will be a comparison of the two Genres of Comic Books and Graphic Novels and a brief discussion of the drawing style of Frank Miller, one of the most famous Graphic Novelists. What follows are the differences between the Graphic Novel and the Movie, which are few, but nonetheless exist. Afterwards, the method of adapting the Novel will be discussed, followed by the critical reviews the Movie received.
2) Historical Background
After Darius I., King of Persia, died in 486 BC, less than five years after the Battle of Marathon, which led to the defeat of the first Persian Invasion of Europe, his Son, Xerxes I. ascended to the Throne of the Persian Empire. Wasting no time, Xerxes continued his father’s plans of a second invasion of Europe. Because his father had been defeated the first time, Xerxes planned to attack Europe with an Army and a Navy. While the Navy sailed along the Coast to Greece, Xerxes' Army crossed the Hellespont by building two giant pontoon bridges. The Athenians, who were largely responsible for defeating Darius, were not caught by surprise however, as they had been preparing for war with the Persians since the first invasion under Darius. Athens alone, however, did not have sufficient manpower to fight Xerxes and his Navy, it was necessary for the Greek city states to form a union if they were to have any hope of defeating the Persians.
Xerxes tried to drive a wedge between the alliance of Greek states, but to no avail. Even though, some of the Greek city states were technically still at war with each other, they formed an alliance which had the power to dispatch troops in case of need. Such a need arose when the Persian Army made its way into Europe without much resistance. The suggestion was raised, to try and halt die Persian advance at Thermopylae, a very narrow pass, the Persian Army had to pass through in order to gain access to southern Greece. The plan was to attack the Persian Navy at the same time at the Strait of Artemisia, in order to prevent Xerxes from bypassing Thermopylae. The military leaders of the coalition were the Spartans, who at the time were celebrating their festival of Carneia. During this celebration, all military activities were by law forbidden. Also, it was the time of the Olympic Games, which meant the Olympic Truce, and therefore, the whole Spartan Army could not have marched. Sparta's Priests, the Ephors, decided that the Persian Army presented a great enough threat and allowed the Spartan King, Leonidas I. to take a small force of 300 men to march to the Hot Gates. The Spartan forces were joined by numerous allies on their journey and are said to have numbered around 7.000 as they arrived at Thermopylae. (Cassin-Scott.1977.p10)
Alerted to the fact, that they could easily be outflanked if the Persians found out about a small mountain track, Leonidas sent about 1.000 of his allies to hold the Pass. Even though the Persian Army was much larger, the Greeks believed they might have a chance. In the narrow passage, numbers would not be as important as fighting technique, and the Greek Phalanx was one of the best of all time.
Before the fighting began, Xerxes sent messengers to Leonidas, offering the Greeks their freedom, resettlement on better soil and a peace treaty with the Persians. The terms were refused outright and Xerxes' second message bore a different tone. In it, the Persian King demanded the Greeks lay down their arms. The response of Leonidas was simple: Molon labe! ‘Come and get them!’
Battle now became inevitable and, even though he waited another four days, Xerxes made the first move. His archers fired volleys of arrows into the Greek phalanx, but because they were shot from great distance and the Greeks carried iron shields, the attack was not effective. Xerxes now sent wave after wave of his army, but to no avail. The phalanx proved impenetrable, even for his own personal bodyguard, the so called Immortals. The fighting continued with heavy losses for the Persian Army, until Xerxes was made aware of the mountain pass by Ephialtes, a Greek who was hoping for a rich reward from the Persians.1 The Persians took the Path without much resistance from the small force of Greeks and Leonidas and his army were now surrounded. Realising that he was now in a hopeless position, Leonidas decided to make a last stand with the rest of his Spartans.2
The remaining soldiers positioned themselves in the wider area of the pass, their only goal was to take as many Persians with them as they could and to hold out as long as possible. Without the safety of the narrow pass, however, the superior numbers of the Persians were too much to overcome. Xerxes gave the order to shower the Spartans with arrows, until the last one was dead. After the Passage of Thermopylae had opened, Xerxes tried to conquer the rest of Greece, but his navy was defeated in the Sea-Battle at Salamis which caused him to retreat to Asia. The rest of his army was extinguished at Plataea thereby eliminating the danger of invasion from the Persian Empire. Today, the sight of the Battlefield at Thermopylae is marked by several monuments, including the stone with the Epitaph by Simonides. The Battle of Thermopylae is one of the most famous Battles in World History and one of the defining moments of Greek History.
3) Graphic Novels and Comic Books
3.1) Differences and Similarities
While there are many similarities between graphic novels and comics, there are also some differences that set both mediums apart. Both comics and graphic novels tell their story through a combination of illustrations and words. There are no restrictions when it comes to the story, it can be fictional with elements from the real world, a complete fantasy universe, or it can have a historic background.3
Scott McCloud defines comics as, “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer” (Understanding Comics, 1994, P.20). The most striking differences between comic and graphic novel are the completeness of the story, the length and format, advertisements, maturity rating and the general acceptance in the target group.
A comic book usually does not tell the whole story in one issue. For instance, there is no way, a person can learn about all the characters of Spiderman by reading just one issue. In order to fully grasp the world in which the main character of a comic lives, one has to read almost every issue. Other examples would be Fantastic Four, Batman, or Green Lantern. These comics all have multiple issues and are published periodically.
Graphic Novels on the other hand, tell the whole story from start to finish. This gives the author the chance, to tell the story he wants, without having to add cliff-hangers that lead to the next issue.
When it comes to Length and Format, comics are much shorter than graphic novels. A standard comic will be around 20 pages long and can be read in a short period of time. It is often used to fill a short period of time. A graphic novel requires more attention and is about six times as long as a comic book, around 100 pages.
Also, while comics are usually printed in magazine-style, graphic novels can be found in hardback or paperback versions. They look more like a traditional book and less than a magazine. While there are no advertisements in graphic novels, publishers of comic books often include in-house advertisements in their works, mostly to draw the attention of the reader to other products of the company. This also makes comics cheaper, while graphic novels can cost more than a normal book.
The target audience for a graphic novel are usually adults, while comics are aimed at younger readers. Graphic Novels, and especially those of Frank Miller, can display violent scenes that are not for the faint of heart. The drawings are usually very elaborate and leave little to the imagination.
While comics usually concern themselves with the fight of the hero fighting evil or a romantic theme, graphic novels have more complex themes. For instance, the heroes of the graphic novel which is the focus of this paper, 300, the Spartans, are anything but flawless heroes. They are brutal and bloodthirsty and everyone who does not fit in to their society of warriors, is discarded or even killed. They are far from romantic and only concern themselves with the glory they hope to gain for themselves or Sparta.
This is not the kind of hero to be found in a comic book. A typical hero for a comic book would be someone like Batman and his alter ego, Bruce Wayne. A rich, handsome looking person, who lost his parents at a young age and now spends his time and money fighting crime. This difference in title character is perhaps the sharpest distinction between comics and graphic novels. Even though, they are sometimes seen as childish or immature, comics have become accepted in a large portion of society. The main reason for the change in perception are hugely successful comic adaptations, such as the Batman Films4 or Marvel’s The Avengers.5 Comic books are often the subject of collections, with the rare ones being worth thousands of US-Dollars or even millions.6 Comics today influence popular culture everywhere and characters like Spiderman are known across the world.
In contrast, graphic novels are not as widespread as comics. When people collect graphic novels, it is mostly because they enjoy a particular style of drawing, like that of Frank Miller. Graphic Novels have been adapted into movies as well, but have not even come close to the success of comic book adaptations.7
3.2) The Style of Frank Miller
Frank Miller is one of the best known and most controversial artists in the genre of graphic novels. He is best known for a dark style, with many elements of the film noir. His graphic novels feature a loose, gritty style, which makes the characters dark, mysterious and sometimes hard-looking.
His most famous works include Sin City, 300, Ronin, Daredevil: Born again, and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.8 His drawing style features a lot of contrast and deep shadows, which creates dramatic looking sceneries. Considered to be one of his best works, 300 displays his style of drawing to the point.
Adding to that is the fact that Miller himself admits (http://movies.about. com/od/300/a/300movie111506_2.htm) that ever since he was a kid, Thermopylae fascinated him.
This passion can be seen in the book. Miller produces striking visuals and emotional scenes that feature rage, strength and honor. In contrast to other works, the panels in 300 are huge and almost twice as big as normal. Miller and Lynn Varley, who coloured the illustrations in the book, even go so far, as to use two pages to portray a single scene. It is a very unique style which makes battle scenes appear to be very realistic and loaded with action. It produces a feeling of chaos that fits the theme of war.
4) 300: The Differences between Movie and Graphic Novel
While 300 generally adheres to the Graphic Novel it is based on, there are some Differences, omitted scenes and scenes added. The reason for this is simple: The Graphic Novel was drawn by Frank Miller for a very different audience, than the Movie was made for. There are not nearly as many people who read a Graphic Novel as people who go to watch a Movie. This means that Movies have to be appealing to a much broader audience.
4.1) The Punishment of Stelios
This scene appears right at the Beginning of the Graphic Novel. The Spartans are on their long and exhausting march to the Hot Gates. Stelios, one of the young warriors, gets tired from marching and stumbles. Since Spartans are taught, not to show any signs of weakness, he is punished brutally by the Captain. No Spartan interferes, they all know that Stelios deserves his lesson. Before the Captain kills Stelios, however, Leonidas interferes. Leonidas ends up punishing the Captain, but not because he was too hard on Stelios, but because Leonidas told the Captain to stop, and he didn’t. This scene is totally omitted in the movie, which begins with the inspection of the Spartan boys at their Birth.
There is no reason given for this changing of scenes, but it is probably because the inspection provides a much better introduction into Spartan culture and how they are portrayed in the Movie. Had the scene of the punishment still been in there, it might as well have turned sentiment of the viewer against the Spartans. They are portrayed as a brotherhood that always fights for one another.
The punishment would have raised criticism that the Spartans were not an impenetrable unit, but mindless drones that are not permitted to show human emotions and at least some weaknesses.
4.2) Queen Gorgo and Theron
The storyline between Queen Gorgo and Councilman Theron is only in the Movie. The Queen only has one very short appearance in the Graphic Novel and Theron does not appear at all.
In the Movie, the Queen represents the Home Front. While her husband, Leonidas, is fighting against the Persians, she is doing her best to convince the rest of Sparta that his going to war despite the Ephors Veto is justified.
Theron, displayed as her antagonist, is everything that is wrong with politics. He is in league with the Persians, corrupt and a liar.9 He convinces Gorgo that she can only hope to persuade the council to come to Leonidas’ aid, if she does what he says. After raping her in exchange for his support, Theron goes back
1 Similar to Judas in Christian Mythology, Ephialtes is today known as one of the arch-traitors.
2 Why Leonidas chose to stay behind is subject to great debate until today. The most plausible explanation seems to be that
the King realised that there was no hope to get out alive and by staying behind with a small force he would be able to delay the Persian Army a little more and ensure the safe retreat of about 3.000 men, all of which could fight at a later date. (Cassin-Scott, Jack. 1977 . Men-at-Arms. p.70cont.)
3 In the comic book “What if #4”, released in 1977, the superhero “The Human Torch” is responsible for the death of Adolf Hitler by burning him alive in his bunker. ( What If the Invaders Had Stayed Together After World War Two, Vol 1, Issue 4, Marvel Comic Books, August 1977.)
4 Batmans Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) have grossed over $2.2 billion. (http://www.boxofficemojo.com/alltime/world, accessed 10.03.15)
5 The third-highest grossing film of all time at $1.5 billion (http://www.boxofficemojo.com/alltime/world/, accessed 10.03.15)
6 The most expensive comic book ever sold, was the first issue of action comics. It sold for $3.2 million on ebay (http://www.cnbc.com/id/101944524, accessed 10.03.15)
7 The most successful graphic novel adaptations are 300 which grossed over $456million, Wanted with $134million, Road to Perdition with $104million and Sin City with around $80million for both parts (http://www.boxofficemojo.com/alltime/world/, accessed 10.03.15)
8 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Miller_%28comics%29#Early_life, accessed 10.03.15
9 Of course, 300 was filmed in Hollywood, and thereby aimed at an American Audience. Theron represents what many Americans think about Politicians. This sentiment of politicians as the antagonist of the selfless hero is not restricted to America, and can be found in almost every movie that is made in Hollywood.