October 11, 2017

Comic Books Actually Exist! And Other Things I’ve Found Out

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Written by: David Baruffi
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AUTHOR NOTE: This original editorial was written in 2011, and several of the references are clearly dated, and more than that, in the past six years, my perspective has altered, changed, been tweaked,…, been re-examined (Shrugs) something to that effect- needless to say that this is the article written by a then-still young(er), still unknowing film school undergrad who had a more wide-eyed and bushy-tailed view of the subculture than I do now. My perspective as an outsider was more curious and intriguing at the time, and I think it’s important to have those kinds of initial thoughts documented, as much if not moreso than one’s current more-refined thoughts.  While I will update portions of this article at the bottom of the page, I ask that you keep in mind, the perspective in which it was written, and forgive what are obvious dated references to the time period. Thank you. 

One of my best friends, is closely following the reported casting rumors and decisions on the remake of the movie, ‘The Crow.’ The latest news I could find is that Bradley Cooper has recently backed out of the role made, unfortunately infamous by Brandon Lee, and the rumors are that the next two in line are either Mark Wahlberg or Channing Tatum (as of the time this is published it has been updated that Jason Momoa will take on the role). Well, apparently, many fans of ‘The Crow,’ are upset at these casting choices because they’d prefer someone who was more, proportionate to the somewhat smaller stature of Brandon Lee, and has a dark hair color, while the casting standard appears to be a buffer and blonder actor, and there’s also going to be distinctive differences in the mood and tone compare to the original film and possibly more importantly, the original story, which is based on a comic book by James O’Barr. I never saw the original movie, although, I’ve heard about it. I know there’s a cult following about it, it’s on my Netflix queue, along with about 1000 other movies I haven’t seen.

I’m sure some of you have your own thoughts and opinions on this, and possibly as strongly so as my friend, frankly though, overall, I think we’re all getting a little tired of these comic book superhero movies we’ve been seeing this year. Actually, I haven’t even seen any of them, but I’m already exhausted. ‘The Green Hornet,’ ‘The Green Lantern,’ ‘Thor,’ an ‘X-Men: First Class,’ ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier,’ and there’s gonna be more next year, which includes a reboot of ‘Spider-Man,’ and ‘The Dark Knight Rises,’ the third of Christopher Nolan‘sBatman,’ films. That’s just this year and next year, I’m not even gonna bother looking back a few years. It’s arguably now, more important to get a good reception at comic-con than to get good press/reviews/awards at actually movie screening at major film festivals. The point is, they’re here to stay, which is not something I particularly mind, but its like any genre, there’s a few really special ones, a lot of decent films, and a good amount of junk thrown in, and lately, while I haven’t seen all these films, when a particularly unusual subgenre comes out in bunches like this, it’s usually a sign that there’s a lot of junk out there.

Why am I brining this up? I’m guessing that’s what you’re wondering. Well, here’s the thing that’s really gonna be hard to believe, but it’s completely, 100% true that, until about ten years ago — no,not even — nine years, I didn’t realize comic books, actually existed!

Yeah, you read that right, and I realize how silly that is now. It’s hard to explain, I had heard of comic books, I heard them being talked about in movies and TV shows, and I recognize some of the storylines and characters from other sources. I knew who ‘Superman,’ and ‘Batman,’ were, and to a certain extent I had heard about many of the other well known superheroes and villains, I had seen some of the earlier movie adaptations, and TV shows, even, but I don’t know, I never made a connection. I thought comic books were something made up and talked about in films that didn’t actually exist, like aliens, or sex, or teenager’s obsessions over proms. (It’s possible there were other things I thought were fictional at one point only to find out they were real later on. I mean, who knew people cared about prom?). I never pieced it together before, and maybe more likely, I didn’t particularly care to and/or think about it too much, so I never did, but I also never saw a comic book growing up. There wasn’t a comic store anywhere that I knew of. I never saw them in the stores, not Wal-Mart, not the supermarket. I remember having sticker books, they were everywhere for awhile. They were these books where they had blank squares with numbers in them, and you had to separately buy the stickers that went with the correlating number.

Usually, they were themed after some popular kids thing/show/movie at the time; I seem to remember having one for ‘Chip & Dale’s Rescue Rangers.’ I don’t think I ever finished the book; I don’t think anybody ever did. I remember a lot of coloring books; I’m sure those are still around. I didn’t know anybody in particular who liked and/or collected comic books, nobody in my immediate family had any that I was aware of. Basically, I went, for much of my life, without ever actually physically, seeing or being in the presence of a comic book. If you mentioned comics to me, I probably would’ve thought you were talking about ‘Peanuts,’ ‘Garfield,’ ‘Dilbert,’ at that time, ‘Calvin and Hobbes,’ or whoever else was in the Sunday newspaper. That’s still my first instinct to a certain extent. I distinctly remember watching that episode of ‘The Simpsons‘ where Milhouse, Bart and Martin tried to share the ownership rights of a comic book they bought, and seeing Santa’s Little Helper destroy it and thought, “Boy, that’d be really bad if something like that actually existed.”

Yet, I found out they existed, and apparently still and were apparently really, really popular. The first time I saw one, it was some graphic novels that some friends of mine were reading. Half of them were written in Japanese, and a couple of them went so far as to try and learn Japanese to read them. Some point later, I accidentally found the graphic novel section of the library, tucked on a shelf or two between the children’s lit novels, and documentary DVDs I was looking through. In 12th Grade English, my professor Mr. Akers, showed a documentary on the history of comic books and comic book mythology and folklore. (Sorry, I don’t remember which one it was now.)  Strangely, a lot of it I already knew from other sources, but a lot of it, I didn’t know. He had a later assignment to create a comic book character of our own, and I don’t know remember every detail of what mine was, but he called it Pynchonian. I don’t know exactly what to make of that either, now that I think about it, but I guess any comparison to Thomas Pynchon is a compliment. I never read these comics. I’d listen to my friends tell me some of the stories. Most of them being Japanese, they involve some kind of fantasy worlds, and often shapeshifting. I made notes when I saw something was based on a comic book or a graphic novel, as they were now often called to sound more sophisticated. A lot of the stories, I was surprised to find, seemed more sophisticated, though.

Movies like ‘From Hell,’ ‘American Splendor,’ and ‘Ghost World,’ were based on comics, but they didn’t have any of the aspects of the superhero stories I followed growing up. I saw or have now seen nearly every version of ‘Superman,’ that’s been on TV, and a couple of the original movies. I watched ‘The Adventures of Superman,’ with George Reeves, when I was a kid late on Nick at Nite. It was good for two in the morning. I watched the first few seasons of ‘Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,’ back when it was on. I didn’t respond too well to the ‘Superman‘ stuff, but I like the Nick and Nora Charles-style banter between Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain, which I thought made a good contrast to the superhero parts of the show. I don’t understand the appeal of ‘Smallville,’ at all. It’s taking literally the most boring part of the ‘Superman,’ mythology and, is it still on the air? It was on forever, I know that? I thought that part lasted way too long in the ‘Superman,’ movie that Richard Donner directed with Christopher Reeves. (I prefer ‘Superman 2‘; I’ve never thought that ‘Superman‘ was any good.) I also had fond memories of ‘Batman,’ growing up. I didn’t see those movies until later, (And now I’ve gone back through a couple of them, I’m glad I skipped them, they weren’t good ’til Nolan got ahold of them.) But I saw a few episodes of the old ‘Batman,’ show with Adam West. Again, a good two-in-the-morning show, but then there was this animated Batman series on FOX. They had kid shows on everyday in the afternoon back then, and “Batman: The Animated Series,” while I didn’t completely realize it at the time, was unlike any other animated show I had seen. It was the dark, mysterious caped crusader that we’ve seen in the Christopher Nolan movies. It was always night, which now I think must have been a pain for the animators. (Generally, in animation, you try to stay away from night scenes, they take longer to animate.) It wasn’t the Looney Tunes-type cartoon I was used to and preferred, but I kept watching anyway. It was fascinating. The episodes of that show which dealt with the origin story of Two-Face, was some of the most riveting TV of my youth. For all-intensive purposes, for somebody who didn’t see/collect/search for comic books, I seemed to have grasped much of the basics of comic books, and some of the important parts of comic book storytelling and folklore anyway. I had some opinions on certain things, but I still never spent any time with comic books, until a couple years ago.

I was just starting my film studies at UNLV, and I had been asked to play a part in a short film one of my fellow students was working on. The part was a comic book fan, who would later work in a comic book store. The first time I was on a film set, the first time I was acting too, with is also strange in of itself, and we shot inside a comic book store, something I didn’t think existed a couple years earlier. The irony wasn’t lost on me. I was suddenly about to go to work, while also journeying into a subculture world that I had only heard about. While there was a lot of acting, in between setups, I did as much scouring of the store as I could There were about three of four metal stands of comics. The shelves themselves reminded me of some of the shelves my family used to store videos on when we owned a video store years ago. Many of the comics, I never heard of, including many comics that were aimed towards female readers. There were also a lot more oversexualized comics than I would’ve thought. The kind with covers of giant-breasted, skinny-waisted women on the cover with something that resembled clothing covering them up, that wasn’t there when you looked inside. I also skimmed through a Playboy magazine that was open and tucked on a shelf behind a ‘Spawn,’ comic, which was also the first time I actually had my hands on a Playboy come to think about it. (I mean, I’d seen plenty of porn on the internet, it wasn’t really the special moment that used to be, I think) It was interesting, for about a minute, but then I was done (Pun intended). It wasn’t as interesting as everything else. There were numerous comics, different versions of the same comics, each with different graphic artists. Apparently a big debate involved preferences over how one artist’s interpretation of a character was better than another’s. That I hadn’t particularly thought of, this importance on the art form of comics, it really is essentially like painting, and an entirely different aspect of the world. I also spent a lot of time talking with many people in the back who were playing, some kind of role-playing game. I’m not even gonna pretend I remember which one it was, but it seemed to center around, I think the Civil War? Some early American war, I’m pretty sure about that. I had friends that played ‘Dungeons and Dragons,’ but I never actually hung around when they’d have their meetings, or whatever they call them, and frankly I didn’t want to; seemed to me it was just and excuse to drink and party and have an orgy or two; god I hated when they showed me the pictures. (Apparently, this was unusual, but in my high school, the D&D people were all the artistic goth people who made me hang out with them, so yeah, if you think I’m kidding with the orgy and pictures stuff, I’m not. I had way too many over-sexually curious female friends back then…, and still do. [Sigh])

A lot of these comics were expensive, I remember. No wonder my family never particularly got interested in them. I can find freer hobbies everywhere else, but I could understand the appeal. I didn’t buy a comic or anything like that. I’ve still never read one, and don’t particularly plan to in the near future (Although I do have an interest in reading ‘Watchmen,’ at some point). But in general, it’s the same as the movies, I’d like some, probably not like others. It’s certainly an interesting subculture. I think it says something about you when you get asked such questions as “Who’s your favorite superhero?”. The answer seems to always reveal what that person may most desire. That’s the essential aspects of all superheroes, the ability to do things that normal people can’t. That’s also why we generally refer to there core stories as “mythology,” but the fact it they are just like any other pieces of literature. The same way I think of Dickens or Shakespeare references, I can just as easily reference some piece of comic book lore. I haven’t read all of Dickens or Shakespeare either. I am no expert on the genre or the subject, but I’m glad there are some out there. And, while the sheer amount is worrysome, I’m glad we’re making these movies. Film is ironically a perfect genre to adapt comic books. A comic book is generally an entire story in of itself, similar to how a movie usually is, and a comic book, is essentially better and more carefully drawn-out storyboard cards. Still though, good comics, bad comics, good movies, bad movies, eh comics, eh movies. It’s all the same. I’m a little surprised at the amount of those who appeal to it fanatically, but all excessive fandom is strange.

UPDATED NOTES: I still have not seen “The Crow” , or read the comic or seen any of the other films related to it, and apparently the reboot project is still ongoing… The movie is still on my Netflix queue.

While I didn’t particularly mind the influx of superhero movies back then, I can’t necessarily claim that these days; honestly I thought we had way too many back then, but now…. (Sigh) 

I finally did read ‘Watchmen’, my first and so far only graphic novel/comic book that. I actually quite enjoy it, and can understand why it’s so highly regarded.

That said, as you might be able to tell, I’m not necessarily one who partakes in fandom or fanatic behavior and I’ve been very critical of fandom at times and in the abstract at least, I’ve been critical of the comic book subculture as well, especially in how much power it’s got in the entertainment world at large. I don’t think that’s what I observed at the comic book store that day, or on the other times since when I’ve frequented a comic book store. Mostly I observe an appreciation of an art and people having fun playing some kind of RPG game. I hope and do believe that that represents the majority of the culture. 

About the Author

David Baruffi
David Baruffi
David Baruffi has been a successful unemployed screenwriter for, let's be vague and call it "years". He's got a B.A. in Film Studies from UNLV, is a certified script supervisor and has done a little bit of everything in film, but mostly is a writer. Personally on his own blog "David Baruffi's Entertainment Views and Reviews" which is at www.davidbaruffi.blogspot.com,and professionally has written several scripts and stories, for himself, and for others and as a ghostwriter. When he's not doing that he watches his autistic brother most days and he looks like two old puppets.



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