Thursday, August 09, 2007

Comics as Pop Culture: Fanboys in the Driver's Seat

Steven Grant, in his recent Master of the Obvious column goes on at length to delve into what I've postulating both live in person and online for a while now: that comics have been moving into actually being pop culture, not fringe culture for quite some time now, and with the ascendency of 300 to the top of the movie charts, we might now consider the movement to be fairly complete.

Of course, Steven, ever the better writer than I, sums it up well as this:
The comic book is no longer the pariah of pop culture.
And this is clearly true in the movies, the "hip" media references, the graphic novel section of the local Borders (significantly, a much better section that then hipper over-all local bookstore, Book Passage) and simply in other media references.

I'll put it as such: We don't suck as much as we used to . At least in the eyes of the public at large.

What I've been thinking since coming home from San Diego is that the movies may be driving people into respecting the comic field now, but comics are actually in the driovers's seat. And part of this this is generational. Many of the same young men that loved the Claremont/Byrne X-men are now pitching and optioning movies in Hollywood. Unlike prior generations of power brokers in Hollywood, who grew up with the view of comics as disposable trash (Oh yeah, like they're gonna throw 35 Million at the Angel and the Ape movie), this generation of movie makers doesn't look down on the source material. And I like that.

Significant is that they have the effects to translate the comic material into proper big screen visuals, which is one of the main reasons that Sci Fi was such a laughing stock before Star Wars. (You want me to take the Cylons seriously? Well, yeah, now we do.) Suddenly, Wolverine doesn't look so stupid with Hugh Jackman playing him, and the claws? Yeah, they work too.

Steven makes some interesting points on the properties, and how they make or break the movies... with some comments on the Green Hornet and Spirit movies. What I find interesting is that they have moved to optioning properties, probably for financial reasons, that have little or no following, unlike the Fantastic Four or Spider-Man. Green Hornet? Never understood that one, especially when you have a further multitude of good properties that could be better mined. Oddly enough, Marvel has been better at getting the small properties to screen. (I really never thought that I'd see the day that I would be seeing a Ghost Rider movie in the threatres. I'm sure that Mike Ploog never did either.) Where is the Wonder Woman movie? Where is the Green Lantern movie? Hell, where is the Black Lightning movie at this rate? How could you not simply let Joss Whedon make the damn WW picture anyway? (Who, in Hollywood, has a better resume with female characters than the man with 7 seasons of Buffy?)

Heroes, by the way is such a close concept to the Good Guys, my first profession venture into the world of comics via the defunct Defiant Comics that I did a head spin when I saw the premise.

Comics have long been about being able to reflect the times, and nowhere is that more apparent than reading books in hindsight, when we are accurately able to judge the tenor of the times. The Batman is a revenge fantasy that spilled over from the lawless Robber Baron Gangster 30's, and by the middle of the 1950's he'd been tamed into a reassuring man in a mask. Marvel had long had a history of moving slowly, due in part to Martin Goodman's "find what's hot and make a copy" philosophy. Thus we had Master of Kung Fu long after the craze, and the Disco Dazzler showing up in 1980. But mainstream America is also slow to get to get with the times. The producers of Saturday Night Fever have gone on record as saying that they did the movie to document a culture that was in New York and that had died out. No one knew that it would ignite a new trend for the entire country.

What I hate seeing is comics having to be reactionary at all. Steven is still thinking of the monthly periodical version of comics, and I think that I'm far more focused on the novel/novella format. I personally like the idea that there should be less layers in the editorial system in publishing, and I'm sure that it's a personal frustration for someone who has pitched as much material as he has that editors cannot simply champion a project and bring it to fruition, but we all know that the star editorial system exists in all layer of the publishing world, and that there are very few Archie Goodwin's out there who have that sort of amazing taste as to the projects that they can get behind. (We can thank Archie for getting behind Starman, the great American comic book for the decade of the '90's.)

Political cartoons are reactionary, we don't need to to. The current crop fo graphic novels currently gaining a certain level of respect have a longer shelf life, and make for interesting movies. Ghost world is a good example, and it doesn't need a $100 million budget. I thought that Linkletter did a great job bringing A Scanner Darkly to life, and Phil Dick's book could easily have been a comic for all its twists and turns and drug addled visuals. Hell, it could have been an Englehart/Brunner comic with its level of paranoia.

And Steven, when I think of Leonard Cohen, I thinkof the chilling album, the Future. That is not easy stuff to digest. Leonard makes it sound nice, but its scary stuff. Just check out Natural Born Killers.

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