Hero Whipped: Comics and the Studio System (Part 3)

The previous two entries in this series offered one connected stream of consciousness. You can read them here and here. In this installment I break from that narrative and take a look at how comics could benefit from emulating the better parts of the imperfect and once standard studio system that films employed for many decades.

The Studio/Indie Parallel

Disney and Marvel logos. They merged in 2009.

One way in which you can definitely draw a parallel between comics and movies is that there is a definite distinction between the studio system/The Big Two and indies.

Seeing as how that industrial dynamic is similar between the two of them there are ideas that can be borrowed from the studio era and altered to accommodate comics. Not that in a perfect world I wouldn’t like to see movie studios re-adopt things but comics might be more apt to experiment with ideas such as these to get new readers.

Serials

Buster Crabbe in Flash Gordon (Universal)

I’ve written here on a few occasions about my love of serials. Now part of the cliffhangers design was to get kids into movie theatres on a weekly basis, even if they had no interest in the feature they’d show up to see the continuation of their favorite chapter play. How this could apply to comics is in the form of the five-page story (perhaps perfected by Harvey as their staple). The five-page tale would serve as a means to display another character in a given book and should be advertised. It could be an intermediate step before giving a character a book. All-Star Western, part of DC’s new 52, featured a B-story (maybe it still does I dropped it out of my pull list) and if it’s known about it could be a draw. Every reader of comics has a favorite character who is currently not headlining an ongoing series I think most would agree something is better than nothing and it could provide a boost.

Stars

Avengers Academy #23 (Marvel)

Speaking of headliners the star system is the next thing that can be exploited just a bit more than it is now. It is nice to be surprised by an unexpected appearance, however, if it is not crucial to the plot that the secret be kept guest appearances should be promoted. You may have people try a new title but it could also serve as an introductory issue for new readers.

Loans

Image Comics

In the studio system actors pertained to one studio or another but they would and could be loaned to a rival studio for a given project in exchange for a favor.

This does not mean I think it likely that the aisle would be crossed and Marvel and DC characters would co-exist in a story. However, each does still have imprints of its own and can send its big boys to those tales and vice versa, if necessary and applicable to boost readership and cross-pollinate fanbases. Preferably in standalone narratives that do not adversely affect continuity.

Trailers

Batman: Noël (DC Comics)

Now previews do exist and they can serve their function. However, just as trailers will inundate us there are months when you can’t get away from the same five pages.

A bit more variety might expand fan-bases for more books.

Self-Containment

Batman & Robin (DC Comics)

All above suggestions would imply and perhaps even demand a greater amount self-containment in each series.

One thing I’ve noticed in the New 52 is that, at least in some cases, there is less co-dependence. I started reading Batman and Batman & Robin in their new incarnations and there is little to no leaning on the other series thus far one needn’t read both if they choose not to.

That lack of co-dependence is a lot of what the above is about also. If you have a guest character in a new arc it can easily be its own entity and not need to play into a hierarchy.

Marvel Short Film Rumors

Nathaniel Moreau, Margot Finley, Bradley Machry and Jacelyn Holmes in Power Pack (Marvel/New World)

Pictured above is the cast from a pilot for a Power Pack series that was never picked up but along with Dr. Strange would be an ideal candidate for a short film treatment. There were rumors a while back that Marvel would produce shorts to play prior to its tentpole films. That seems to have died down but it shouldn’t a short film would be a great boon to a lesser character and not the investment or risk that a major summer release for a borderline top tier character would be (top tier in film terms).

Both Marvel and DC have established cinematic properties such that they can try and get lesser properties some limelight too. They are both studios and they should act like it with greater frequency.

Movie Tie-Ins

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (Little, Brown)

In keeping with that any all comic-based feature films need their tie-ins and branded to get their product out there. I purchased The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn recently with the all too rare “Soon to be a Major Motion Picture” sticker on it but a week or so removed from having seen the film.

However, novelist and comics writer Joe Hill had a great idea on Twitter this summer just before one of the huge superhero movies came out: Why not have comics at the movies when those projects come around? When else would an impulse buy be as strong? “I just saw this movie and liked it, yes I’ll buy a comic; it’s half the price of a soda.”

Conclusion

The studio system was imperfect but so is the current one. The idea of changing a system isn’t replacing everything about it but just what didn’t work. Some of these ideas form a parallel industry can help comics.

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By Any Means Necessary

With almost as many release paths as there are films now it’s more important than ever to explore all possible avenues of viewership to see as wide a variety of films as you can. It is this way you will most likely find films you like.

Movie Theatres

Clearly this is the first option, however, I suggest you have a few in your regular rotation. Multiplexes will be more expensive and offer fewer choices than art houses. Having a few theatres to frequent will offer a wider viewing experience.

Netflix

If you can swing both the streaming and disc package it offers you the widest variety and frequently streaming is lackin but use Instant Watcher to keep track of new streaming options.

Other Services

Other services for Discs and/or streaming include: Facets, Vudu, Mubi Fandor and Amazon.

Redbox/Blockbuster

One will charge you less overages but are the best DVD-based option for those who are fans of instant gratification.

VOD

This is a resource you constantly need to check because at times movies will be available pre-release and/or during release only.

DVD of the Month Club

A few independent distributors offer you a selection a month or so for a flat rate, two that I know of are Film Movement and Oscilloscope Labs.

Foreign Regions

Not all DVDs from overseas are off limits. In fact, depending on if you have a region free player or if you want to set a computer to a different region (there are usually a set number of changes) you can watch anything you want.

Retail/Online

Two things need saying here: one, you need to be the kind that might buy something sight unseen to find something new. Second, if you are occassionally you’ll find something unique either in a retail store or online.

Public Library

It may not be the go to place for new releases but my local library does get titles from Film Movement, or they did at a time. Regardless I have found great movies I didn’t know about or classics I had yet to see. And it is free after all.

Keeping Tabs

Lastly, if you read a lot and keep up on films it may be hard to keep track of all the upcoming films where you can see them and when. This year I plan on using Go Watch It this year to track what I want to see. It’s a great one stop queue wherein it’ll tell you where a given film is available to watch.

Everybody’s Got Stories: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and My 9/11

Thomas Horn and Tom Hanks in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Warner Bros.)

I worked in 1 World Trade Center from 1999 to 2001- to September 11th, 2001 to be precise. My story about that day isn’t all that dramatic really. There are details I could divulge but suffice it to say I wasn’t on the schedule for Tuesday mornings that month. So I was not on either the 106th or 107th floor on that day, nowhere close, thank God. I thought about taking that shift when the proposed schedule came out but decided against picking up an occasional AM shift. I was juggling college and the job and Tuesday was an off day from classes and I decided to use that to rest.

Of course, we all know what happened that day and since then I’ve been fairly quiet about a number of topics that pertain to the day itself. I’ve also had varying reactions to works of art which have dealt with the attacks.

I am writing this, of course, because Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is due out soon and it’s been lambasted by some as exploitative among other things. I have yet to see the film so I cannot defend its artistic merit, however, we should look at other depictions of 9/11. One other caveat: so unimaginable and unpredictable were the attacks to me that while working there I wrote a post-apocalyptic script wherein a family eventually lived in the World Trade Center.

First, there is the tandem of fairly fact-based films World Trade Center and United 93. Neither of these films interest me in the least. I have, more times than I care to, been able to imagine, only imagine but what more can one do, what those floors looked like that day. Having worked there I get a much clearer picture than I care to so I needn’t see any dramatization thereof. The films may be fine and as propaganda-free as possible but I just have no interest. To me those smack more of exploitation for it takes actual people and focuses on the event and tried to feed on rampant patriotism to generate box office. Some see it otherwise and that’s fine but as I said I have no reason to see it.

Remember Me, which I wouldn’t have seen anyway, was your standard father-son drama and decided to use 9/11 as a twist ending rather infamously and in classless fashion.

On the flip-side Stephen King in his collection of short stories Just After Sunset deals with the tragic day in New York in two different ways. In “The Things They Left Behind” he deals with the aftermath and those lost but in “Graduation Afternoon” it comes in at the end, in the distance. It does not inundate all that preceded it and change the entire story and feel like a blatant, in-your-face exploitation. It is there, it is stunning and it affects all, but it does not compromise the tonality of the entire piece.

In Brian K. Vaughn’s brilliant comics series Ex Machina the first issue concludes with a newly-minted superhero’s biggest failure, the fact that he only saved one of the two towers. Considering the tone of the series was serious, political and a very post-9/11 story it all fit.

So the last three I enjoyed so I can take in a tale of fiction which cites something that so closely affected me. Yet it seems this film gets quite a bit of vitriol just in the “How dare you?” realm. The question of “How should art deal with 9/11?” is a valid one but it seems that was never asked for the two that try to most closely replicate it. Bastardized truthiness does not a documentary make and what function is being served there? Those are movies about 9/11 but in a bright piece of marketing Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is being labeled as being about every day after. In some ways those days were harder.

Furthermore, the word art is formed from the word artifice. It is about subterfuge. Exactitude is what a documentarian strives for but even they know there’s a gray area.

This film reminds me of some of the reading I did about Kapó before I decided to buy it. The film features perhaps the most over-analyzed shot in film history of an inmate dying in a concentration camp. It raised questions of morality in film, however, what should be moral about film? Absolute morality eliminates myriad genres. Horror is where we imagine out nightmares to try an exorcise them and horrid, immoral things are imagined and inflicted upon the people that populate those stories. What need have we of narrative morality?

Not to compare disparate tragedies but surely there was a time when the holocaust was an untouched topic. However, through the years different narrative avenues about events in and around World War II have been found, some not universally embraced, Stephen Daldry’s (the director of this very film) The Reader comes to mind.

The fact of the matter is there are events in world history that defy logical explanation and easy categorization. However, that does not stop us as human beings from exploring them and one of our biggest means of exploring is through the arts. Some say “Why make this film?” I say “Why not?”