Welcome back to Pitch Meeting, a monthly column in which we suggest an IP ripe for adaptation, then assign the cast and crew of our dreams.
Comic books are weird. Or they can be. Or they should be. Find the right creator, crack his head on the page, and see what spills out. You’re gonna see plenty of spandex punch ’em ups, noir ally gauntlets of violence, underground outbursts of rage, and Sunday funnies. If you’re patient, every once in a while, you’ll stumble into something unclassifiable.
Say hello to my friend, The Amazing Screw-On Head.
When discussing animation, you’ll often hear how the creator and their imagination is free from the usual constrictions of Hollywood live-action filmmaking. Budgetary issues are of little concern. You think it, and you can draw it. The only problem to be solved is your mind.
Comics are even more liberating, and a cartoonist like Mike Mignola requires few collaborators beyond his colorist (Dave Stewart) and letterers (Clem Robins and Pat Brosseau). The art and story are on him. With such freedom, it’s his duty to concoct tales unlike any other, and time and time again, he does, but he’s never made anything quite as bizarre or as unique as The Amazing Screw-On Head.
If you know Mignola’s name at all, you know him as the creator of Hellboy, which was adapted into two well-renowned films from Guillermo del Toro and one unfairly maligned bloodbath extravaganza by Neil Marshall. Hellboy is a long-running monster comic that stretches into fabulous celebrations of Lovecraftian lore, Arthurian legend, and mythology from nearly every era in time and place on the planet.
Compared to The Amazing Screw-On Head, however, Hellboy looks as apple pie as Superman.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, you keep saying that Brad, but what the hell makes The Amazing Screw-On Head so damn special?
Okay, okay. I’ll tell ya.
The Amazing Screw-On Head began as a man-child’s dream. Mignola envisioned a line of toys featuring a robot head with a neck threaded like a lightbulb so he could be screwed into various robot bodies. As Batman seems to have a suit of armor for every apocalypse and occasion (Knight Glider Batman! Super Sonic Batman! Skycopter Batman!), so too could the Screw-On Head! Unfortunately, Mignola is not a toy designer. Fortunately, he’s a cartoonist.
As he got to work constructing the idea, he imagined the world that would surround his peculiar adventurer. Mignola is not a modern-day maestro eager to draw electric shavers and automobiles. He’s a man of castles and vampire bats, but having explored plenty of those in Hellboy, Mignola constructs Scew-On Head’s universe from the bones of Abraham Lincoln’s America, but it’s a battlefield Ken Burns would barely recognize.
The Amazing Screw-On Head is a righteous champion for the 16th President; when the country requires his assistance against zombie intellectuals seeking to unlock dark dimensions from magical turnips, Screw-On Head answers the call to service. With the aid of his trusty manservant Mister Groin and the taxidermied but mechanically re-engineered Mister Dog, Screw-On Head tracks Emperor Zombie to the Aswam Valley, “generally considered the worst place on Earth.”
Thankfully, Screw-On Head selects his lucky number thirteen body, and Zombie’s undead cronies are no match against its spring-loaded fists. Now, the same can not be said for the gargantuan amphibian demon unshackled from its vegetable prison. Taking froggy down proves much more difficult.
These words do little justice to Mignola’s comic. Yes, it sounds absolutely strange, but its greatest pleasures come from the joyfully stark, gothic designs of Mignola’s absurd ideas. It’s all very serious and proper, never flinching from its foolishness or acknowledging your presence with a wink.
The comic is a playground unlike any other. Such originality is what you seek but are rarely granted. When you find it, you gotta hold on. It’s like the first time you saw The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension or Repo Man. What the hell is this? You’re not entirely sure, but you gotta share it with others.
The Amazing Screw-On Head has already been adapted once before. Back in 2006, a 22-minute television pilot written by Bryan Fuller (Hannibal) and directed by Chris Prynoski aired on the Sci-Fi Channel (pre-SyFy) only once. A year later, it landed on DVD. You should own it.
Screw-On Head was voiced by Paul Giamatti with Patton Oswalt pulling vocal duties for Mister Groin and David Hyde Pierce for Emperor Zombie. While the episode changes a few things here and there, fleshing out a little more backstory for the characters, it efficiently captures the tone and mood of the comic, going as far as to replicate Mignola’s artistic style faithfully.
Fourteen years later, we can do better. We can certainly do bigger.
Casting the voices should be simple; just bring back Giamatti and the gang. Sure, Bryan Fuller is a little more popular these days than he was back in 2006, but grant him the same amount of creative freedom as Mignola had on the comic, and I’m sure we can lure him back so he can fulfill his fantasy of The Amazing Screw-On Head series that never was.
Now, a series could be fun, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There is only one issue of The Amazing Screw-On Head in existence, and it was already adapted into the 22-minute pilot. Take those bones and expand the plot in minuscule increments. I’m thinking a feature.
Rather than going the CGI or traditionally animated route, let’s go find some stop-motion wizards to take up the cause. Get Laika Studios and writer/director Chris Butler to back Fuller. They’re a bunch of eccentric maniacs who strive to flesh out the weird and the wild in their children’s entertainment.
The Amazing Screw-On Head easily falls into Laika’s catalog of inventive and grimly provocative films (Coraline, ParaNorman, Kubo and the Two Strings, etc.). Its agenda might be a little less apparent, or totally absent, but that’s on Butler, Fuller, and their crew to expand upon. Mike Mignola provides an astonishing world of adventure, resistance, and heroism. Laika Studios should inject some warm morality.
What does it mean to Screw-On Head’s soul to have an interchangeable body? What pain could the Laika gang mine from such a troublesome possibility? Especially considering the divided nation around him? Screw-On Head comes pre-packaged with guts/cogs, verve, and righteousness to thwart those who would dare to stand against Abraham Lincoln’s values, if not all of America’s values.
Mignola’s comic book is but a taste of a universe, and the original Sci-Fi Channel adaptation is not much more. It’s delicious, but under Laika’s guidance, The Amazing Screw-On Head could be a heartier meal taken from an even grander franchise buffet waiting to be plundered. If Spider-Man could have four rounds at the box office dinner table over the course of a decade, then we can easily offer a second plate for the gentleman Screw-On Head.