Tag Archives: Comic Books

Credit Where Credit is Due: Batman Edition

Still thinking of the Oscars this week and I came across this piece in Forbes which mentions a small coup in terms of credits.

You see, for the longest time, the iconic character of Batman was credited pretty much only to Bob Kane, when in fact, that particular caped crusader was not a solo act. In fact, there’s a Bill Finger award that has been established specifically to recognize comic book writers whose work in comic book writing has gone previously unrecognized (at least significantly).

So that’s a Throwback Thursday to make you smile.

DC Comics Encounters Corporate Kryptonite

Back in March, I had a longer post discussing the notion of comics as “idea incubators.” This isn’t my brilliant idea, it’s coming from comic veterans.

Now as a storyteller is general and a fan of comics in particular, I’m perhaps predisposed to like this argument. However, I think it’s important to remind the bean-counting set that humans like stories. Audiences flocked to Avengers: Endgame because they had invested in the story and characters, not because the visual effects content in their blood was getting low. And before you outlay $356 million dollars to make that film (itself the last film of a long series), you might want to do the equivalent of prototyping some story ideas. And where can you do it in comparably inexpensive ways? Comics.

Alas, corporate titan AT&T may not see it that was as Rob Salkowitz details in his article about the questionable future of DC Comics.

Say, what about the Marvel movie music anyway?

So, I talked about comics and Captain Marvel specifically so far this week… and that got me thinking more about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and then I thought of “Every Frame a Painting’s” critique of Marvel’s movie music.

You may recall me raving about the YouTube series on the occasion of its end, but in any case, this approximately 14-minute video gives you a bit to ponder.

Which Captain Marvel is Which?

Both of these comics are quite real. It’s okay if the one on the right is completely unfamiliar.

So, I was pontificating about the future of the comics industry yesterday, but I realize many of you are more concerned about a more pressing issue:

What’s with all these Captains Marvel, anyway?

Perpetual pop culture historian and comics writer Mark Evanier gives an illuminating and succinct account.

Arguing for the Golden Goose, Comics Edition

One trend I continue to follow is the decline of “mid-tier” creative works, whether they be “mid-budget” movies or “middle tier” novels.

I touched on this just over two years ago when I was looking at the film Warcraft in particular and film budgets in general. At the time, I also noted how the erosion of the mid-budget movie and how a similar trend seemed to occur with “mid-list” authors.

Now, superhero movies in general are not likely to be modestly budgeted these days: they’re too tempting to be used as tentpoles by the studios. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has brought in over $7 billion. Disney’s not about to abandon using them as tentpoles.

But what about the the medium where these superhero stories first appeared: comics?

Now, going into the whole state of the comics industry, what the direct market is, and so on, is more than I can cover briefly or authoritatively. Suffice to say, fears regarding a dire fate of the comic industry have been around for a couple years, the direct market business model seems to be poised to change, and, well, stats back up the thought that the market is struggling (even with bright spots).

So all that made the article I read about Marvel comics editors advocating for different tactics recently at SXSW all the more interesting.

Parts of their argument is that comics –even if they aren’t as all-fired profitable as their big screen offspring– serve an important function as idea incubators. In a sense, they’re narrative R&D projects. Certainly, good periodic comic books and graphic novels aren’t the cheapest things to produce — many an indie creator colleague has made me aware of that. But they are a darn sight cheaper than bankrolling a $120 million tentpole movie. And in fact, just about all the tentpole movies owe some of their “genetic material” from the comic form.

Another way they could be thought of is as the “narrative farm teams” for some of the bigger budgeted stories. And, of course, I’m thinking of that mainly for the business folks to better reconcile the numbers. The creativity and storytelling on display in so many comics is not “minor league,” but bean counters usually don’t care if a comic book was emotionally impactful, just how many units it sold. So whatever keeps the presses rolling.

Stepping Away from Comics, Directly

This past week, a friend posted a video of a friendly local comic shop/bookstore. Used books are stuffed into every conceivable bit of shelf space, surrounding long boxes of comic book back issues, with memorabilia and figurines placed in strategic –and sometimes haphazard– locations. It’s almost archetypical for what you’d imagine a used bookstore/comic shop to be.

A week earlier, I stepped into that same comic shop for, if not the very last time, my last time regularly.

The reason I went there regularly — and in fact had been a “regular” for a good chunk of the past 30 years — was because I had a pullbox. For those who don’t know that term, I essentially had subscriptions to a variety of comics and I’d go into this shop every month or so and pick them up where they’d been kindly setting them aside.

That’s over.

It’s sad, but in a sense, it’s been a long time coming. For years I’ve stared at the $3.99 price tag on most single issues of comics these days and told myself that this was untenable. If a story was good, it would appear in much more affordable trade paperback form. Indeed, most comic runs these days seem to be in six-issue arcs so as to make trade paperbacks a more effortless part of the ecosystem. I’ve enjoyed Saga in this form for years now. Nevertheless, it’s the end of an era on the personal level, though not the first step in that direction.

My first step away from comics was around college, an ancient time technically not before Internet, but for the most part pre-Internet browser. In going to college, I abandoned my subscriptions to the omnipresent superhero offerings and have since come to understand how that has left gaping holes in my general comics-related pop culture knowledge. I’m certain there are no end of characters and storylines familiar to many that are completely new from my experience.

How far-reaching is this? Let me put it to you this way: Harley Quinn is a new character for me.

Lest you feel bad for me in any way, let me assure you I’ve found this to be a benefit as I watch the myriad superhero films and TV series. I have more than a little knowledge of who most of the central characters are (e.g. Green Arrow, The Flash), but pretty much no knowledge of the past 25+ years of established Marvel or DC canon (which they seem to blow up with regularity anyway). In this fashion, I’m able to enjoy countless adaptations of characters and storylines without any worry about their fidelity to the comic version.

But I’m not unaware of how the comics industry, which has given rise to the current juggernaut trend in entertainment, is failing — and may fail to even continue to be the “content farm system” it essentially is for the more lucrative divisions of its parent companies. And what does that mean for the future of superhero films and TV shows? What does this mean for comics publishing in general.

Augie De Blieck Jr. over at Pipeline Comics has a sober look at how the comics industry, which on the whole uses a business model called “the direct market” is, for lack of a better term, imploding. While it’s not necessarily a death knell for comics overall, not seeing a meaningful move en masse to a new business model is dispiriting. I suppose everything could go digital and maybe that’s the big move, but while I’ve gotten digital comics, especially when that’s the place to support indie efforts, I find a surge of luddite sensibilities at the thought of abandoning print comics altogether.

Part of the overall morose feeling is that I know I won’t pursue comic writing any time soon. There was a time when I was sure I’d be diving into comic writing and creating. I’d still love to see a version of The Broken Continent in comic form, that could continue the story more economically than our web series could. But that doesn’t seem likely given indie comics’ own challenges at being profitable.

But for now, I’m a reader of comics only… and only an occasional one at that.

Depressing Plot Twist: Comic Book Edition

The other week, I saw an article from a local news station in Michigan about an established comic book artist who was now homeless.

The article mentioned that the comic artist was one-armed — and I knew it must be William Messner-Loebs.

This was depressing.

Although the article talked about him as a comic book artist (and the link above has a video where you see how skilled he is), I first came to know him as a comic book writer. Indeed, I first learned his name when he was the writer on the Jonny Quest comic in the late 80s. I’m overdue for re-reading it, but I am comfortable in saying it’s easily within my top ten favorite comic series of all time. Yes, I have read [insert your favorite mainstream comic here]. That may or may not make the list. Barring some awful discovery of how times have changed in the past 30 years that doesn’t jive with the comic panels created so long ago, Jonny Quest will always be on that list. Most of the Carl Barks stories are, too.

So, you can imagine I was thrilled to learn that he won the Bill Finger Award last year, which focuses on a lifetime of work as a comic book writer. And that occasion served to remind me all of the tremendous work he’s done since Jonny Quest.

So that’s why reading the article and seeing the video was depressing.

However, I do urge you to check out the video, because you’ll see Mr. Messner-Loebs retains not only a wry sense of humor, but a tremendous sense of grace about his current situation. And I agree with Mark Evanier, chair of the BIll Finger Award, what would be most awesome is that some people can give this very talented man some work: he’s ready and he’s good.

Were I pursuing comics publishing, I would totally be concocting some insidiously nice plot to do just that.

Fandom, Umbrage, and IP

I’ve been thinking of writing a longer post about fandom and perceived ownership — all the more so with the launch of Star Trek: Discovery.

Mark Evanier’s post, aptly titled “Creative Custody,” refutes the notion of fans “owning” comic book characters, but it can be applied to lots of other fan-beloved intellectual property (IP), such as IP that involves warrior races called Klingons.

Much of what Mark Evanier says could be said by someone who hasn’t been an avid comic books reader for about 60 years and a continuously working comic writer for about 40 years… but that authority helps.

The Kirby Centennial

Monday, August 28th (yesterday) marked Jack “King” Kirby’s 100th birthday.

He isn’t still around to celebrate it, but we certainly have a tremendous body of work with which to celebrate his storytelling.

I had made a comment on social media, but he seems to have cast a large enough shadow across pop culture that people may well be celebrating his centennial all week.

One of his assistants, Mark Evanier, who also wrote the biography Kirby: King of Comics, has a nice remembrance of the man and the impact he had.

Comic-con also has an impressive 60-page PDF of artwork and anecdotes about Kirby.

There’s also pieces you can read in Forbes, the Washington Post, CBR, and Techcrunch among others. Bleeding Cool has its picks for his top five creations.

( I personally have a soft spot for Kamandi).

Finally, Jeet Heer has a great article in the New Republic about Kirby and his impact, which dwarfs his outsize artwork.

 

This Summer Means Hollywood is Doomed…. Again

Every summer –for at least a decade or more– the Hollywood film industry has been doomed.

I would imagine they must get sick of all the doom, what with being doomed with the advent of television, the disintegration of the studio system, the rise of VCRs and video stores, online streaming, streaming services like Netflix making their own content — and possibly avocado toast.

Nevertheless, within the traditional ‘doom’ narrative, there may be trends, so I read a recent piece by David Sims in The Atlantic with interest about Hollywood’s “bad movie problem.” Just like last year, there seem to be a slew of high-profile blockbusters that underperformed domestically. This year, however, Sims hypothesizes that executives are running out of gas with their strategy of mining known IP for all its worth regardless of demand. He bases this not a generic “doom” observation, but that the studios are using tactics internationally, specifically the Chinese market, that are netting less overall profit. Oh, and the films are still doing bad domestically (ahem: bad movies).

Indeed, over in the Hollywood Reporter, Scott Roxborough and Patrick Brzeski detail the wave of political slings and arrows that may sour all the Chinese-American film synergy. Moreover, several of the media monoliths now owned by Chinese concerns are experience firsthand on their balance sheets what it means for North American box office revenues to slide. In fact, John Nolte over at The Daily Wire suggests that, yes, it really is a bad movie problem. The American viewing public has figured this out and both box office and home video revenues are slumping accordingly.

So is this the Final Doom?

I mean, Spielberg released the BFG, so maybe…

It strikes me that movies and related “more passive” visual entertainment are still a potent pop culture delivery device. They’ll be around for quite some time until companies figure out how to make virtual reality more economical and interwoven with our habits like turning on the TV in the evening or going to films on weekends. If or when that happens, expertise in films and such will likely pour into those interactive productions. The companies that exist today could definitely transform into interactive powerhouses through building up their own capabilities or through acquisitions.

Though, frankly, I love films and TV as-is and hope there’s always going to be a place for them (same with books as my bulging bookshelves can attest). And I hope some of the studios pick up on what Sims pointed out in his article: that some of the best grossing films so far this year have been non-franchise original works… that not coincidentally didn’t cost as much to produce.

Tune in for a similar article next summer!