Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Comics ARE mainstream

I have some Newcastle Brown Ale in me and Jane's Addiction echoing in my ears and I'm too wired to sleep, so I thought I'd mention something that struck me recently:

Comics are so mainstream, it's not even funny.

I'm re-reading Paul Sammon's excellent book Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, and came across a nugget about Ridley Scott and the design of the film. Scott said he was influenced by the work of one Jean Geraud, better known as Moebius. This is in the late 1970s/early 1980s, and arguably the most influential SF film in history took some of its look from, you guessed it, comic books.

Comics geeks often sit around and wonder how to introduce comics to the mainstream. I'm one of them. Well, maybe people aren't going into their local ye olde comics shoppes and picking up a monthly pamphlet, but comics are everywhere. We need to stop worrying and go with the flow. Look! It's Sin City! Look! It's The Fantastic Four! Look! Entertainment Weekly has a huge feature on the making of Sin City! Comics are everywhere. Physicists are writing books about parallel universes. Sound familiar? This article in yesterday's Arizona Republic is all about teens reading graphic novels that they've checked out of libraries. It even mentions Blankets, for crying out loud!

The fact is, whether or not people are reading comics, they are being influenced by a comic book sensibility. The only reason they're not reading them are because they still think of comics as being "for children," and they don't want to make the weekly economic commitment. Other than that, a lot of America likes comics, whether they know it or not.

Yes, but how does this pertain to the idea that comics should be good? Well, we need to get over ourselves. Sure, comics should be good, but once something goes mainstream, you have to contend with the mass audience, those people who made The Pacifier the number one movie in the country. In short, the masses like crap. Colin Cowherd, who has a radio show on ESPN, said a few months ago that you know you're mainstream when the die-hards accuse you of selling out. He was talking about hockey, but he might as well have been talking about comics. Who gives a shit if comics creators are selling out and pandering to the lowest common denominator? It's all subjective anyway, despite what some may think. What matters is that when you mention that Sin City or Ghost World or From Hell is based on a comic book, people don't automatically think, "It must suck then." Let's face it - a lot of popular culture is shit. Sin City itself looks awful. Seriously - have you really looked at the commercials? Blech. But it doesn't matter, because comics have entered the mainstream. We as fans need to get off our high horses and embrace that.

And we can always take satisfaction that we were here first.

13 Comments:

Blogger Pól Rua said...

I disagree.
Yes, to a point, comics are becoming more mainstream. However, because Hollywood has decided to stripmine comic properties because it hasn't had an original idea in forever... and then plaster these ideas over the same old tired shit, probably isn't necessarily a GOOD thing.
I mean, shit, you can't tell me that whoever's making that goddamn Fantastic Four movie isn't planning to sell it purely on Jessica Alba's tits in a skintight perv suit and basically selling us another fucking remake of Swiss Family Robinson - only they're SUPERHEROES! That's the TWIST! - carefully ignoring anything , I dunno, ORIGINAL or exciting in Lee and Kirby's stories and characters.

3/23/2005 08:23:00 AM  
Blogger Spencer Carnage said...

I don't think the point was to say that comics becoming mainstream is a good thing, but it something that we must learn to live with. Despite the fact that the F4 movie will probably be crap and that Jessica Alba's tits might be a LITTLE bit redeeming(I personally like to think of them as Sue Storm's tits, but I'm a bit of pervert), the bright side is that we've had a good slew of movies the past few years with things only getting better. Unfortunately to get where we're going, we have to have a few F4s, Elektras, and Catwomans along the way.

What exactly is lacking from the original F4 in the new movie? Aren't the F4 basically a Swiss Family Robinson just with, you know, super powers?

3/23/2005 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

That's my point exactly, Spencer. It's not necessarily a good thing, but it's not necessarily a bad thing either. It's a fact. And despite the numbers not showing it, mainstream stuff DOES get people to read more comics - it's slow, but it happens. I know people who read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and From Hell because of the existence of the movies, even though the former sucked and the latter was not all that close to the source material. Now that comics are mainstream, we have to, I think, simply try to make them more accessible - comics stores aren't exactly the most user-friendly places. And we have to stop being so snotty. I got into comics with Batman and Spider-Man and X-Men. I was as mainstream as you can get. Like anything, it's a learning process. Crap movies like Daredevil are just a place for the non-comics public to start. Maybe it will lead them to "Born Again."

3/23/2005 11:48:00 AM  
Blogger Chad said...

Is this as much a case of comics becoming mainstream as it is of comics becoming more popular?

Comic books have been part of the American cultural scene for almost a century. Certain characters have become iconic. I'd argue that comics have BEEN mainstream.

Or at least superhero comics have been. They may not have been acknowledged as high art, but they've been there. The general public knows that there are such a thing as comic books. They know who Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman are. They know Spider Man. They might know the X-men. Soon they'll know the Fantastic Four.

What we're seeing is a change in the popularity of comic books. With the manga stuff in bookstores pulling in the teenagers. With special effects reaching the point where movies can portray superhero powers without being cringe-worthy. Comics ahve always been mainstream. Now they're becoming more popular in that stream.

It's unfortunate that the major comics companies aren't doing more to steer moviemakers to making more than just special-effects vehicles, but that will come in time.

And eventually someone will get around to making a Love and Rockets movie. or a decent From Hell adaptation.

I live in hope.

3/23/2005 12:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for mentioning that the SIN CITY trailer looks like crap. I was beginning to think I was the only one who thought so.

3/23/2005 04:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, the second Sin City trailer looks like Crap (notice the capital "C"). Do you know why it sucks? Because it was built for the mainstream. The masses need more of a "what's it about?" approach before the fork over their cash - can you blame them? It's $10.50 here in NY.

-Tim
www.comicfoundry.com

3/23/2005 04:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Honestly I don't know what your point is here, any of you. Agreed, comics are pretty well penetrated into popular culture, whether the vast majority of book-buyers think they're "kid stuff" or not. Hey, you could say the same thing about science fiction, which is also making more money in the movies than it ever has before. But then again, so what? Who cares? As far as I can tell, this is just a marketing discussion: "Comics Should Be Socially Acceptable Reading Material". And this particular "should" leaves me bored beyond belief. Do you REALLY want to see a Love and Rockets movie? No, really, do you? Why? For what purpose?

I don't think we should get over ourselves at all, I think that's crap.

3/23/2005 05:16:00 PM  
Blogger Pól Rua said...

oops.
sorry.
got distracted.

anyway. yes, comics are mainstreamish at the moment. but they have been in the past too. The 1989 release of Batman and the Death of Superman and Robin thing kinda pushed comics into the mainstream a bit, but they don't last.
Eventually, no matter how much money The Crow or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles make, eventually you get Tank Girl and the public turns again.

3/23/2005 06:28:00 PM  
Blogger layne said...

The medium itself is pretty accepted by non-com(ic reader)s, thanks to independent creators/publishers and that B&W bigeyed stuff, so I guess what's really being discussed here is 'Is the comics mainstream(CM=superheroes) becoming real-world Mainstream?'. I doubt it. I've said before that films and comics are apples and oranges. The Batman T-shirt craze in 1990 did nothing to reduce the geekiness of having dialed 1 800 SAVE JASONTODD two years before. Spider-Man 2's BO doesn't magically elevate years of crap into literature, and aside from a few lapsed fanboys motivated by nostaligia, won't bring any new readers in. I'm sure acclaimed films have garnered Pekar and Clowes new readers, but a big blockbuster comic film is made for an audience that has two hours to kill, ten bucks to waste, and wants to see some FX. As good as it may be, no one's leaving that theatre saying, "If only there was some sort of periodical that catered to my need to learn more about Peter Parker and his travails..." A movie has a beginning, middle, and end (Usually). Your average comic series starts with a hokey collector's item and ends in an ignomiously eventual cancellation, with at least thrity years of middle consisting or retreads, reboots, retcons, and rehashes. Who has the patience or desire to get into that?
As awareness grows there will be a demand from former non-coms for interesting genre material (Creator-driven interest, not property-driven: TPBs), but serial superhero comics are so insular and the collector's mentality so antithetical to a mainstream audience that the CM won't be the main beneficiary when comics eventually break wide. And that's how the fanboys want it. They don't want the medium to be accepted, they just want themselves and their tastes to be validated by proxy, without having to make any the compromises or accomodations that come with being a part of a diverse audience, as opposed to being big fish in a niche market pond.

I don't understand why people condemn Hollywood for 'stripmining' properties, that's so misleading. They deserve to be sent to John's School maybe, but no one's getting raped here. Comics have been cannibalizing themselves since some dude in blue tights picked up a car full of hoods and smashed it against a rock...
If I had my way, everything would be sold on Alba's tits, figuratively and literally.

3/23/2005 08:14:00 PM  
Blogger Christopher Burton said...

You had me at Newcastle Brown Ale.

3/23/2005 08:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Eric TF Bat said...

arguably the most influential SF film in history...? Blade Runner? Wolverine Turok Firestorm??? I'd put it in the top twenty, maybe, but who's arguing that Blade Runner is more influential than Star Wars, Alien, 2001, The Day The Earth Stood Still...? Even The Blob and Silent Running deserve a better wrap than this!

3/23/2005 08:55:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

I would definitely say Blade Runner is more influential than Star Wars, probably 2001, and the others that you name. I don't mean more popular or better, but in terms of bringing a dystopic worldview into sci-fi and predicting a lot of what would happen (and probably still will), I would say Blade Runner is tops. I also did say "arguably," so of course you can argue it. It would be nice to say 2001, but we're not on the moon anymore (much to Warren Ellis's dismay).

3/23/2005 09:20:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Wolverine Turok Firestorm....what a turn of phrase!

3/23/2005 09:28:00 PM  

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