I KNOW IT’S ONLY ROCK N ROLL…

Yuri told me a story when a woman at his job noticed he was reading comics and told him how childish it was to which he asked, “Did you see the Spider-Man movies?”

She said, “Yes.”

“Batman Begins, Fantastic Four, X-Men?  300, Sin City, Blade, Hellboy?”

She nodded she had.

“Did you like them?”

Yes again.

“Then how can you like all those and it’s okay, but I like the source material they came from and that’s childish?”

I had the same conversation with Kelly Gaudet, a woman I worked with, who waited excitedly to see SPIDER-MAN 2 and told me she’d never read a comic book.  It always escapes me how anyone has never read a comic.  To me it’s like saying you’ve never seen a play or never read a book.  Usually people see comics and comment they used to read Archie… for some reason everyone read Archie.  The conversation turned to Hollywood’s mining of comic properties that doesn’t funnel back into the books.  When a new Harry Potter movie comes out, the book sales spike.  How many times do you see someone say, “No, I want to read it before I see the movie,” which is the wrong way to do it but that’s another blog.

When was the last time someone said, “V FOR VENDETTA looks good… I’d like to read Alan Moore’s comic first.”

I mean, granted, Spider-Man and Batman have been around for decades.  I have been reading comics since I was ten I wouldn’t even know where to tell you to start.  But Frank Miller’s 300 was five issues collected into one book that is available in Waldenbooks and Barnes & Nobles… I’ve seen it there.  And you know it’s a comic (or graphic novel) because they blast that shit right in the trailer.  My DVD for V FOR VENDETTA and BATMAN BEGINS actually come with an issue of the comics the film’s are based on.  The supplemental discs to all those films always has a featurette on the source material.

So I asked Kelly why she never read comics and she gave the exact same response, they’re kinda childish.  She somehow had it in her head that all the comics were like Archie versions of Batman or Spider-Man and the medium hadn’t changed since she was young in the early seventies.  Of course, television has changed in that forty years.  Movies, books, magazines and plays have changed, broke new ground and paved new directions… but in her mind comics never did.  So I brought in a few of my books.  A little mix of everything but especially the work of Alex Ross.  She looked at them, surprised at how much they’d changed and when she was done kindly handed them back.

Comics live in a little ghetto of their own and like most impoverished peoples, they don’t know or are in denial of this.  In 1991, Neil Gaiman won the World Fantasy Award for A Midsummer’s Night Dream (Sandman #19).  This was the first and only comic to ever win the award.  The following year comics were given their own category.  By then it was a little too late.  Gaiman compares it to not only had they left the barn door open, the horse won the Kentucky Derby.  The same year BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.  Ten years later animated films were given their own category, essentially rending them awarded, but unlikely to be Best Picture.  Enjoy your spoils… but enjoy them over there.

A few months ago I spent a weekend at Yuri’s and his wife, Deanna, was reading a graphic novel based on the television show HEROES.  I made the same comment to her that I made to my friend Heidi’s mother, another fan of the series.  It bothers me a little the success of that show.  There is an art form I love and it’s dying.  Partly to it’s own devices and partly because it’s been abandoned.  Meanwhile other mediums steal it’s core premises and are wildly successful.

I asked Deanna why she doesn’t read other comics.  She likes the SPIDER-MAN and X-MEN movies and her response was, “Well, maybe if they made them look like the actors.”

And I die a little more inside.

I told that story to Yuri a few weeks later and you could hear him on the phone verifying it and then telling me he’s glad he didn’t hear her say it because he would have wanted to punch her in the mouth.

Fanboys… what are you gonna do?  Seriously, he would never hit her… he just would have wanted to.

My brother Bobby is probably right: Deanna doesn’t read that book because she likes comics.  She doesn’t even read it because she likes the show.  She reads it because it’s a direct extension of the show.  She doesn’t like Peter Parker as a character.  She likes Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker.  She’ll be the same one who has trouble if they recast that character because he won’t be her Peter Parker.  This has been proven on her protests of SUPERMAN RETURNS because she watches SMALLVILLE and wants Tom Welling to be Superman.

I myself, have seen six Superman/Superboys in my lifetime.  I’m cool with it.  Then again, I have a chrome Superman insignia plate on my truck, not a Christopher Reeve plate.

Danielle, my sister-in-law, theorized that movies are a more impressive medium and I’ll agree because every time I see something look real that has always been a static image for me, the Hulk leaping across mesas in the desert, I get a little nerd rush.  But that doesn’t hold water because books are an even less visual medium than comics and people read books.  Bobby, my brother, just chalks it up to people aren’t attracted to the medium.  Some people won’t eat sushi never having tried it.  Just because you like tuna sandwiches doesn’t mean you’re going to like sushi.

Frank Miller once said when someone asked him his opinion about Hollywood ruining Batman after 1997’s BATMAN & ROBIN he said nobody ruined anything.  He loves Batman comics and those comics are still there.  Nobody has taken them away from him and tainted his fond memories of them.  They ruined a Batman movie… they can’t ruin Batman.

Fanboys like to think that the massive spike in superhero related projects somehow means they’re coming into their own.  That Hollywood justifies them.  That money-earned legitimizes them.  That comic writers are now Hollywood directors (Frank Miller, Neil Gaimain, The Wachowski Brothers) and television show writers (SMALLVILLE, LOST, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) and Hollywood talent have come to comics with director Richard Donner (SUPERMAN, THE OMEN, LETHAL WEAPON) writing Action Comics or Joss Whedon (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, FIREFLY) writing X-Men, that they’ve arrived.  Hell, Stephen King made his Dark Tower prequel as a comic.

The truth is they’re using you.  This isn’t like when people steal Rock & Roll and somewhere down the road Little Richard get recognition.  These are properties with a prepackaged audience like old TV shows and videogames.  The hard work of creating it and finding an audience has already been done… now it’s just a matter of finding a bigger audience.  I was watching this thing on MSN’s website where they have people debate stuff and it was are comics cool again and the argument always comes down to “they’re making a shitton of movies from comics so somebody likes us,” but the truth is the girl that gives it up to fifteen guys during the seven days of Spring Break is popular too but that doesn’t mean anyone is going to call her in the morning.  They are going to use her for their own needs and she’ll be buying her own breakfast in the morning.

I went into a Barnes & Nobles and browsed through the two racks that were comics.  Down the aisle I spotted a half-dozen kids (including girls, something non-existent in comic stores) mulling about in their beltless baggy pants and shaggy hair and I noticed they were reading comics… or more precisely, Manga.

For those of you who don’t know, Manga are Japanese comics.  Then I realized my nephew Alex (10), who really liked superheroes when he was younger, doesn’t so much anymore.  He’ll watch a GHOST RIDER movie but he’s not so much into reading the comics.  But he does like the Manga.

I don’t like Manga the same way I don’t like Anime (Japanese cartoons).  I don’t get it.  Then again, it wasn’t designed for me.  It was here I noticed they were on the far end of the aisle but more precisely, the far end of the comic aisle.  The whole sixty foot aisle was comics.  Manga comics.  And there I stood with my two racks of superhero books and realized I was on the verge of extinction, but comics weren’t.  Like the virus at the end of THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, it was still there… it just became something different.  Comics are doing just fine, in fact, they’re thriving… they’re just not my comics.  In 1959 there were 26 Westerns in primetime television and I picture some dude five years later complaining how television is dead and now I’m that guy.

Maybe this is how parents in the fifties felt about their kids and Elvis Presly  and the coming of Rock n Roll and in the eighties with the advent of Hip Hop.  To me, Manga is just noise.  Maybe someday all these kids will realize they like comics and they all these movies made from comics they never read and they’ll look into them.  Maybe in the next generation or two Anime will have saved the graphic storytelling medium and it’ll be respected in America the way it is on the rest of the planet. 

Until then, I look forward to my Saturday mornings of comic book reading on the couch and IRON MAN next weekend.  You see me coming because I have the chrome Superman license plate.

And when I get bored… I have a Batman one at home just like it.

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3 thoughts on “I KNOW IT’S ONLY ROCK N ROLL…

  1. Jim-

    Hey, long time reader, first time commenter-

    I think comics will always have something of a stigma to them. Sure, they might be considered slightly more acceptable now that hollywood cranks out Fantastic Four or Punisher and every once in awhile we’re lucky enough for a Batman Begins, an X-men, or a V For Vendetta, but in the end, they’re viewed as books that pimple-riddled kids read, while Fantastic Four has Jessica Alba in it(which was a pretty good way of distracting me from the $7.50 that was then missing from my wallet).

    I’m sure the studios see superhero movies as REQUIRED to be some sort of common denominator- be able to attract a mass audience and at the same time please the guy that can tell you the plot of Amazing Spiderman issue #113(actually, there’s probably no pleasing that guy.) Movies are like the cliff notes version- DECADES and DECADES of X-men stories, and people want to see Gambit.

    Comic fans are die hard, sometimes there’s no pleasing them. Some people will be pissed because they’ll say, “the actor’s wrong”, or “it didn’t happen that way EXACTLY in the book”, or “Brett Ratner? Ugh, really?” Anyway-

    And then you have the people that like Tobey McGuire as Peter Parker. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as those people don’t expect the source material which has been around much longer than the movie to change BECAUSE of the movie.

    I know I don’t look at comics the same way I used to. The issue that got me collecting was X-Men #1, the revamped series with Jim Lee and Chris Claremont. Granted, it was Jim Lee’s art that pulled me in, and that was really most of what I was looking for at the time. Not in-depth stories or characterization, or characters frequently saying, “No thank you very much.”, all of which Chris Claremont can be known for- at the time, the writing was just a bonus. At the time, I wanted art.

    To me, finding the balance between GOOD sequential art(not just splash pages) and GOOD writing that really brings you back month after month is not easy. That’s why I still read the one title that I pick up every month, which just so happens to be the character that was in the first comic book I ever remember reading- Daredevil.

    If anyone else in the non-comic collecting public is reading this, please don’t think of Daredevil solely in terms of Ben Affleck- no, really- please don’t.

    It has been said that Daredevil is quite possibly the only character easily defined by what he CAN’T do. What does Spiderman do? “Well, he’s got webs, and super strength.” What does Batman do? “Well, he’s a genius detective and has all these gadgets.” What does Daredevil do? “Well, he can’t see and…” – the point is, I find the character of Daredevil fascinating, there’s so many angles to his character that have been explored and have yet to be explored, and EVERY issue I’ve read of the 100+ issue run of the current series has delivered compelling stories, interesting twists, and an artwork that can show so much emotion even without the text but marries with the writing so well. Unfortunately most people might know of the character through a not-so-great(being nice here) movie.

    Anyway, since movies are often viewed as the penultimate expression of anything, combining sound and picture, maybe we’ve been trained to believe that a movie about source material that we love “has to” be great. It’s something that is a few giant steps ahead of a book that we love, so it has to be better, right?

    But I don’t think it’s JUST hollywood using the people that make up the established fan base of a property. More exposure to comics MAY still increase people’s knowledge of these non-manga characters and who knows? Maybe they’ll pick up an issue of Iron Man- Plus, if the movie comes out and the creative team has done it justice, than the die hard fan of Batman gets the bonus of having another way to experience a character they love.

    In any event, if the movie of Daredevil would have rocked, hey, feather in the cap- but Frank was right- even a Ben Affleck misfire won’t stop me from picking up next month’s issue-

    Even Matt Murdock could see that

    -T

  2. Hey Jim,

    What a great post. I’ve come across so many people like you have talked about who would seemingly rather die that pick up a comic book, but will run out on opening day to see Fantastic Four: Rise of The Impossible Man.

    Anyway great post. Looking forward to reading more.

    Dan

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