I asked JOSH FLANAGAN, a New York writer and co-creator of the comic book website www.iFanboy.com, for his insight on COMIC BOOK MOVIES. Here's what he had to say:
I HATE THE TERM "COMIC BOOK MOVIE."
I have nothing against them, you understand. They’re great for the industry, if for no other reason than they give lowly starving comic creators another revenue stream. While there seems to be an enormously low conversion rate for moviegoers, comic book movies even tend to sell a few more books than they would otherwise. They’re also good for publishers, where a company like Top Shelf can get a lot more notice and sales because they’ve got a Bruce Willis vehicle coming out from their Surrogates series. Even when a movie doesn’t do all that well, as seems to have happened with Whiteout, it still garners more attention than they would normally get, and again, they sell some books.
However, to the general public, the term “comic book movie” is a weighted one, and not necessarily in a good way. A “comic book movie” carries many of the same suppositions about the content or the maturity and sophistication of said movie. Go ahead and ask some random folks what they think of when they hear the term “comic book movie." Nine out of ten mother in laws will agree that it has something to do with the following terms:
The list goes on, of course. You know all the prejudices against comics, and by extension movies made from them. Of course, we know that’s not true. Trying to paint all films adapted from comics with a single stripe is as absurd as saying that all comics are the same. There are no “comic book comics” (excepting Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey’s series). To anyone who has even an inkling of the current state of comics, the notion that all comics share any specific traits is foolishness. Last year, during the summer of “A Thousand Comic Book Movies,” I did a lot of radio appearances for my website iFanboy. They kept asking why so many comic book movies were coming out, and what it was that made them so attractive to film producers.
Since X-Men was released in 2000, it’s been a bit like the gold rush for film producers, building every year, and reaching critical mass in 2008, when there were an inordinate amount of comic books made into films. Of course, movies had previously been made from comic book properties. There were movies like Men in Black, Tank Girl and The Crow, but it never caused the entire film industry to look south to San Diego and snatch up any property available. There are twp reasons this happened in my view.
For one thing, effects technology finally advanced to the point where they could actually show some of the ideas that have existed in comics for years, because comics were the only place where such giant ideas could be portrayed. Comics have no effects budget as the spectacle of a comic book story is limited only by the imagination and drawing ability of the creative team. Up until very recently, movie effects simply weren’t up to the challenge of depicting these things in any way that wasn’t sort of silly looking. Fifteen years ago, they were still trying to make rubber suits look realistic and use miniatures and green screen to fool the audience, but mostly it didn’t work, and the movies were a bit laughable. There are exceptions of course. Audiences lapped up the Superman movies, but in retrospect, the flying is sort of goofy looking today. The Fantastic Four movies almost worked against this for reasons I’ll never understand. But now we can see Spider-Man flinging himself through the skyscrapers of Manhattan, and it damn well works. This is a recent thing.
The other part of my theory has to do with the development of ideas in the ghetto of comic books. By the late ’90’s, comics were on life support. Comics didn’t sell many copies, there was a paucity of comic shops, and only the most ardent supporters had anything to do with comics. Even today, with so much focus on comics from the film and pop culture industry, desperate for new Intellectual Property (IP), making money on an independent comic book, or even almost any comic book that’s not coming from Marvel or DC is a gigantic long shot. This leads me to the conclusion that the people in comics are in comics very much for the reason that they really love comics. That passion shows on the pages that we few lucky souls are fortunate enough to know about. Comics are a terrible place to try to “make it big," so if you’re in comics, you’re probably in it because you want to be -- and love comics. The more optimistic part of my mind thinks this would lead to better stories, and now, finally, producers have realized it and are strip mining the vast, deep veins of IP ore hidden in the San Diego Convention Center every year. I think this is changing as people have realized that they can come up with high concepts that are easily understood and adapted to film. But by and large, there are a lot of creators out there making comics for the sake of making comics.
But comics are vast and diverse. Any kind of story you want to tell can be told in comic book form. Obviously, comics have their strengths, but it’s a huge mistake to think you can’t tell certain kinds of stories in panels and pages. You can do anything. This is why the term “comic book movie” should mean one thing -- and that is “a movie made from a story originally appearing in a comic book." It should mean nothing else, because that story can be any type of story, and the movie can be anything as well. Sure, there are dumb childish action movies made from comics, but American Splendor, Ghost World, Persepolis, Watchmen and The Dark Knight dispel all those stereotypes. I think the worst of comic book movies come from ideas held by shortsighted producers who think, “it’s just a comic book movie, so why bother?” -- and then we're left with Catwoman, Punished War Zone and LXG.
The next time you or someone else talks about the low expectations that come along with a “comic book movie,” remember it’s not the same thing as a “popcorn movie." A comic book movie can be anything, and of any quality. Stand up for comics, and put an end to this destructive terminology that just forwards stereotypes about what comics are. It's not good for comics, and it's not good for films. Comic books movies can be anything, and that is exactly what is so great about them.
Josh Flanagan is a founder, writer and podcast host at iFanboy (www.ifanboy.com) and a comic book writer. He lives in New York City, and can be found at his blog (www.jaflanagan.com) or on Twitter (twitter.com/jaflanagan). He believes comic books are every bit as valid a storytelling method as any other, and works to prove it every day.