Note from the Editors: This article is part of a series of in-depth character analyses. We hope to have these articles on a bi-monthly basis, so keep checking back for insights on your favorite characters!
When I first discovered AMC’s Preacher, I was completely enthralled by it. Though the gore and vulgarity presented in the show was shocking for basic cable, the writing had a high level of humor and intelligence to it, and the combination of those elements made it a truly fascinating and unique viewing experience for me. In fact, after I finished the first season in less than a week, I was left wanting to see more of Jesse Custer and the gang – after all, the second season wasn’t going to be released until 2017!
Naturally, I turned to the comics to satisfy my desire. As soon as I finished reading the series, I have to admit that I was very impressed with AMC’s adaptation. Though many elements were modernized for the TV show due to the comics being written in the 1990s, the plotline and basic feel of the universe are shared by both mediums, which isn’t always an easy thing to achieve when adapting a series. And since AMC is no stranger to adapting comics for the small screen (i.e. The Walking Dead), it became clear to me that Preacher would be in good hands going forward. However, as a result of the modernization, one thing struck me as somewhat different between the two: the characterization of Tulip O’Hare. And though both versions are strong female characters for their respective times, I think that the TV show’s Tulip has the potential to be more realistic, a more positive feminist icon, and a stronger version of the character overall.
(A word of caution: some spoilers from the comics below).
In the comics, Tulip is Jesse’s love interest. She is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed sharpshooter, having learned the craft from her father as a child. She is orphaned at a young age (her mother died during childbirth, and her father died during a hunting accident for which she was present), so she learns how to fend for herself rather quickly. She first meets Jesse in her 20s and the two instantly fall in love, making a living from crimes (i.e. grand theft auto schemes).
When Jesse disappears to become a preacher, Tulip is crushed…but the two are eventually reunited after Jesse and Genesis have been merged together, and they soon rekindle their relationship. Along with the hard-drinking vampire Cassidy, they head out on the road to track God down (since God has gone missing since Genesis’ arrival and all). Jesse is constantly worried about putting Tulip in dangerous situations, generally going out of his way to keep her out of them (even though it is clear that she can easily handle herself and that her sharpshooting skills should make her an asset). At the same time, Cassidy struggles with his feelings for Tulip, having fallen in love with her. Eventually, there is an incident where the two believe that Jesse has died, and Tulip is once again crushed. Without giving too much of the story away, Tulip begins a physical relationship with Cassidy…but (of course) Jesse is not really dead, and the story quickly escalates from there.
On the TV show, Tulip does have the same essential traits as her comic book counterpart. We learn in the first season that she is tough, sarcastic, extremely skilled with weapons (though this skill is not exclusive to guns), and that she is Jesse’s ex-girlfriend now that he is a preacher (though on the show, she is extremely determined to track him down and get him back). We also quickly learn that both of her parents have been out of the picture since she was a child, so she has learned to take care of herself over the years – generally making money by living a life of crime (which included many years on the road with Jesse).
However, though the core of her character is essentially the same, there are some differences from that point on that make Tulip’s characterization stronger on the television show than it is in the comics. First of all, the show’s version of Tulip is portrayed by Ethiopian-Irish actress Ruth Negga, giving her an African American background rather than making her Caucasian. Right off the bat, this creates more diversity within the “Preacher” universe, as all of the main characters in the comics were originally Caucasian. This is a welcome change, as it represents the real world more accurately – even in a universe where substance-abusing vampires and an all-powerful angel/demon entity are the norm.
Both the presentation of Tulip’s familial background and the history she has with Jesse are also factors that I would argue make her TV counterpart a stronger character. On the show, she and Jesse were best friends as children (rather than meeting for the first time as adults). With her mother working as a prostitute, her uncle always drunk and her father out of the picture, Tulip was neglected, which led to Jesse’s father taking her into their home. As a result, Tulip and Jesse formed a deep connection with one another, and Jesse was devastated when his father sent Tulip away with social services (even wishing for his father’s death as a result). And though it has not yet been explained how the two were reunited down the line as adults (and at what point it turned romantic), the fact that they did proves the depth of their relationship.
To me, this background both enhances Tulip’s character and makes her more relatable to the audience. The fact that she and Jesse instantly fall in love in the comics and begin a “whirlwind” sort of romance is pretty unrealistic in this day and age – even in a supernatural series like “Preacher.” After all, well-written characters have the ability to draw us back into reality and make any story more believable, and I think changing Tulip’s relationship with Jesse to a childhood friendship is the perfect example of that. It makes more sense that the two have a hard time letting go of one another; after all, they have not only been lovers, but they have been each other’s family. To abandon one another after all they have been through seems almost impossible, so it makes sense that Tulip begins to rekindle her relationship with Jesse – and that they head out on the road together with Cassidy to track down God – at the end of season one.
By deepening the relationship between Tulip and Jesse, I also believe that the show has helped to make her a more positive feminist icon. On the show, Jesse seems to have a level of respect for Tulip that was starkly absent in the comics. For example, his attempts to keep her out of danger in the comics often become downright offensive; his “methods” range from leaving her while she is sleeping to drugging her so that she is unconscious and cannot fight alongside him. And even though he cares for her deeply and never wants to see her get hurt, his behavior in many of these situations often struck me as inappropriate. However, on the show, Jesse has so far displayed behavior indicating that he actually wants Tulip to fight by his side (see: their epic beating-up of Carlos in the season one finale). This implies that he both trusts her skills and respects her as an equal, something that was clearly lacking in the comics because his worry for her well-being took precedence over everything else. And though something drastic could happen on the show to increase Jesse’s concerns about Tulip being in danger, I don’t think that the writers are going to steer too far in that direction; it is one of the effects of modernizing a comic series from the 90s. Tulip has been shaped as a strong and capable character, making her the exact type of role model that women should be seeing in popular culture nowadays – and the idea that her male traveling companions aren’t questioning her abilities is something that I believe really drives that point home.
Finally, I think that Tulip’s relationship with Cassidy on the show has the potential to have more depth than it did in the comics, making her character more relatable to the audience as a result. This is because in the comics, Tulip is cold towards Cassidy and deflects his advances until they both believe that Jesse is dead, and it is only then the two begin to have a physical relationship. But without giving too much of the plot away, it is made clear that things are completely out of Tulip’s control at that point. And while this storyline was complex, fascinating, and heartbreaking to read, the TV show altered it right off the bat in season one by having Tulip and Cassidy sleep together prior to them leaving with Jesse on the road trip to find God…and by making it something that was her decision (even though she was hurting at the time as a result of her complex relationship with Jesse, she was still the one to make the first move in that particular interaction).
In my opinion, this not only has some very interesting implications about where the story between Tulip and Cassidy might go moving forward (for one thing, it definitely makes their relationship on the road a bit more tense from the get-go since Cassidy doesn’t just simply have a “thing” for her), but it also makes Tulip more realistic. The fact that she turns to Cassidy when she is feeling like her relationship is truly over with Jesse is very human, and the idea that she is “using” him makes her flawed (after all, Cassidy isn’t taking advantage of her here because he didn’t know that she and Jesse had a history at that point). It is very reminiscent of what someone going through a break-up in the real world might do, which makes Tulip someone with whom the viewer can empathize. To me, adding that extra layer has only helped to enhance her character for the screen, and I am intrigued to see how that scenario plays out going forward.
In the end, while I think that both versions of Tulip are excellent characters, the way in which she has been fleshed out on the show gives that incarnation a slight edge. There are some restraints to writing characters to be completely realistic in the comic world; after all, comics are fantastical by nature much of the time. In other words, what works on the page doesn’t necessarily work on the screen – and in the case of Tulip’s character, I think that the adjustments made for the TV show’s purposes are the right ones. The writers have not only been able to effectively modernize her character, but they have made her into a realistic and strong female icon – someone who is both badass and flawed all at the same time. The show’s version of Tulip is exactly the type of character that I think we need more of nowadays, and I can’t wait to see how her development is expanded going into season two.
Do you watch Preacher? Be on the lookout for weekly episode recaps following the season two premiere on Sunday, June 25. In the meantime, join the conversation on FoCC!