Turkish animated heroes hit the big screen
Over the years in Turkey, there have been many Turkish animated characters, first in newspapers and later in humour magazines. Some were based on foreign comic books, but in time, Turkish animators and writers created their own original characters and some became so popular that they eventually made it to the big screen.
One of the first comic adventures to be adapted for the cinema in Turkey was Bedri Korman’s Cici Can, inspired by the American character Li’l Abner by Andy Capp. In the 1963 film, Cici Can dies and goes to heaven. However, in order to find true love, he is sent back to the world. Some of the scenes were shot in Italy, and the film was very successful in its time.
Two years later, in 1965, Suat Yalaz’s Karaoğlan, who was based on Prince Valliant by American cartoonist Hal Foster, first appeared on the silver screen in his adventure “Karaoğlan: Altay’dan Gelen Yiğit” (The Hero from the Altay Mountains). In the beginning of the series, Karaoğlan was a young Uyghur man who lived in the 13th century. In later years, even though the time period in which he lived changed, the essential character of Karaoğlan remained the same.
Of all the Turkish comic book characters, Karaoğlan is the hero most frequently adapted to the cinema. Between 1967 and 2013, he appeared in the movies seven times, played six of those times by Kartal Tibet. Because the first film was so successful, two spin-offs were made in 1967 and 1968: “Akbulut, Malkoçoğlu ve Karaoğlan’a Karşı” (Akbulut vs. Malkoçoğlu and Karaoğlan) and “Karaoğlan’ın Kardeşi Sargan” (Karaoğlan’s Brother Sargan).
After being adapted into a television series in 2002, Karaoğlan stepped onto the screen again in 2013. This movie was one of Turkey’s most expensive productions, but unfortunately, the box office draw was much lower than expected. The main reason for this is that the screenplay was not very good. The acting was not bad, but the script just did not work. Because the film was not a success, the planned sequels were never made.
Nevertheless, in 2006, another Suat Yalaz character named Yandım Ali hit the theatres and found great success. The Yandım Ali film “Son Osmanlı” (The Last Ottoman) grossed more than $2 million at the box office. The popularity of actor Kenan İmirzalıoğlu, who played the starring role, only added to the film’s success. The storytelling is quite fluid, and the special effects are better than those of Karaoğlan.
If we may now return to the 1960s, Sezgin Burak’s original character, the famous hero Tarkan was first adapted to the cinema in 1969. Tarkan is a rather important character in the history of Turkish comic books. Compared to Karaoğlan, there were very few adventures written for Tarkan, and sexuality was virtually non-existent. Although the opposite is true of the movies, in the comic books, you do not see any sex. Between 1969 and 1973, five Tarkan films were released, but after that, no one tried to bring the series back to life. There were three other Tarkan films that had nothing to do with the original series, but these were disappointments at the box office.
Sezgin Burak’s other famous work, about a band called Bizimkiler, hit the screen in 1971 under the name Hüdaverdi ile Pırtık (Hüdaverdi and Pırtık). The animated band Bizimkiler had a lot of characters over the life of the comic, but readers took a special interest in Hüdaverdi and Pırtık, which is why the film was named after them. The film did not weave together a single story, but instead, like the tales of the band in the comic, it is made up of vignettes and short stories.
Towards the end of the 1960s and into the 1970s, audiences were more drawn to historical action films, so film companies were looking for more adaptations to make from comic books. Kara Murat, who was much loved by readers at that time, quickly became a fixture on the screen, and between 1972 and 2015, eight Kara Murat films were released.
The most recently released Kara Murat film was not able to attract the same box office success that Karaoğlan did. This is probably because the film meant something different to audiences of the 1970s, when the movies were also loved for their filming errors and mistakes. Despite the fact that Kara Murat television reruns are still extremely popular, the new film adaptation was not a success.
Cinema underwent a change during the military coup in the 1980s. Adaptations such as those from comic books also experienced a coup d’état of sorts, and they more or less disappeared for a while. It would be 20 years before comic book characters made their way to the big screen again.
In the early 2000s, “Kötü Kedi Şerafettin” (Şerafettin the Bad Cat) came out. This movie is the best comic book adaptation, and perhaps Turkey’s best animated film. Bülent Üstün’s character Şerafettin is fantastic, and the cinema adaptation is faithful to the original. The interest in Turkey and around the world is proof of this film’s amazing success. As a quick side note, those who liked Kedi (Cat), Ceyda Torun’s prizewinning documentary about the street cats of Istanbul, will also find what they are looking for in “Kötü Kedi Şerafettin”.
More recently, a box office flop that was nonetheless one of Turkey’s most talked-about film adaptations is Bahadır Boysan and Alper Çağlar’s creation “Büşra”. Shot in 2009, this film is about a headscarved girl’s relationship with a liberal journalist. However, although the actors were very good, the film did not pull much of a profit because the way the screenplay was written reflected the writers’ anxiety about giving some sort of message.
Gürcan Yürt, who holds a special place in the hearts of comic book fans, wrote and directed a comic book adaptation in 2015. This film was inspired by the famous writer Daniel Defoe’s novel “Robinson Crusoe”, but with a comedic twist. However, Robinson and Friday were another failure in theatres. The film relies on simple humour, swearing, and racist jokes, so audiences were not impressed.
The traces left by the Turkish comic book adaptation revolution in the 1980s still look pretty good. When comic books returned to the silver screen, audiences’ tastes had changed. The films that keep up with these changes sell more tickets, but for the characters that do not keep up with these changes, it is almost impossible to find success.