One Year and Counting

I just saw the ‘crew screening’ of the new Dreamworks animated movie, “Sinbad.” My wife worked on the film for several years, but despite that, if I didn’t like it, I would simply not mention it. So trust me when I say I did like it – a lot. I’ll talk about it more next week, but since this column comes out Sunday afternoons, and the film opens next Friday, July 2, I wanted to urge you all to see it on the opening weekend. Traditional animated films, as opposed to computer animation such as Shrek and Finding Nemo, have not been doing well these past few years, and animated adventure movies like Titan AE, Atlantis and Treasure Planet have done very poorly. Of course, they also happened to be poor movies. Sinbad, on the other hand, is excellent. The animation is truly spectacular. The story is much, much better than the trailers would let you think – it’s actually very involving – the action is great, and the characters sparkle with fun. Because movies today, live action and animated, live and die on the opening week box office, and because Sinbad is coming out the same weekend as both Terminator 3 and Legally Blonde 2, if you want to support traditional hand-drawn animation (which also features some cool computer effects) as well as a really great adventure film of any kind, please buy a ticket and see it this weekend – you’ll really enjoy it - and then go sneak into T-3 (and don’t pretend you don’t do that!).

Still a bit under the weather as I begin my second year of doing What Th--? - the column I thought I’d have to give up half way through my first week from lack of things to talk about. I still feel that way almost every time I sit down to write one of these things. Every week is a race to come up with an idea and to explore it in some detail and, when possible, to come up with a topic that gets you to talk about it on the What The Hey message boards. I’m probably failing on that count because the boards are not all that active, but for the moment at least I’ll keep plugging away.

As hard as it is to keep doing, I’ve been enjoying this weekly excuse to talk about something more than “Did you see (fill in blank) on TV last night?” I haven’t discussed comics with people in so many years – most of us, when we get together, gossip about the people in comics but not the comics themselves. This has been a wonderful opportunity to remind myself what I used to enjoy about the medium.

Comics, to me, can still be one of the most fun things you can read because, when done well, being a blend of story and art, it should be able to do anything the creators want it to do. Since there are technically no limitations on what can be done with the medium, it can be as well written as a great novel, as stirring as the best special-effects laden movie, or as personal as an entry in a diary.

There has been an attempt in the past few years to use the medium to tell different kinds of stories. Super-heroes are fun to read and to write, but there should be a world of other concepts out there we can tap into. As sales dwindle, there needs to be more of an attempt to do comics that tell completely different kinds of stories for as many different audiences as possible. It’s evolution, baby – adapt or die.

I was reading a letter in the Comics Buyers Guide this week from someone who was complaining about the term pamphlet in discussing comics. He felt that it was used in a derogatory manner. As the very person who began calling comics a 32 page pamphlet over 15 years ago, when I was editor of Disney Adventures magazine, I very specifically was using it in a derogatory fashion. I felt the format was trapping the medium at a time when it most needed to expand and that we needed to think outside the format we grew up with and were comfortable with. I said pamphlet with all the snottiness I could muster because, like the cactus, when you’re kept in a small box there is no place to grow. We can never realize our true potential if we stay in a format that readers are obviously turning away from. And we can’t realize our true potential if we keep catering to the same 50,000 readers.

We need to keep those readers, yes, but we need to realize that comics can and should be more than a few somewhat similar genres smashed together.
Although comics today are much better written than they were 10-15 years ago, the choice of story material is still exactly the same. Yes, the well may be very deep and top talent may still be able to find new veins to explore, but why limit yourself to those few markets, done in the same fashion, month after month after month?

I was reminded this week by my friend Lee Nordling that when the first Matrix movie came out I said that movie spelled the beginning of the end of super-hero comics. We saw on screen everything that was once only available in comics. Where we used to be the leader in imagination, we were now the follower. We were, as I’ve said for too long now, a redundant medium, and our attempt these past years to mimic movies, rather than find out what is unique to our own medium, can only kill comics and not expand it. I’d rather be an original than a bad Xerox.

We need to take this incredible art form and force it to grow. Yes, there can be super-hero comics, and believe me when I say I don’t mean that in any derogatory manner, I really do like them a lot, but there needs to be more.

We also need to get out of the comic shop mentality. The people who go there are already hooked. People who don’t already read comics rarely, if ever, venture past the posters of half-naked super-heroines to learn that there are books being published that they might like. The Direct Market helped save comics back in the late 70s, but abandoning alternate means of distribution has helped significantly reduced the number of readers. Why is it the movie, Hulk, can make 80 million dollar the first weekend but the comic Hulk probably sells no more than 60-70,000 copies a month, if even that.
People love the idea of what we do, so what can we do to make comics viable again?

Personally, I don’t believe doing a 90+ page graphic novel on Batman or Spider-Man, for example, as expanding the medium – it is, at best, just another really good Batman or Spider-Man story. We need to be doing more. We need to be experimenting more. We need to be creating more. And we need to think of ourselves as not a niche market but as full-on competition for videogames, TV and movies and be as aggressive in selling ourselves as they are.

These are the subjects I’ll be dealing with this year in What Th--? I hope there’s an audience for them. We’ll see.

This past year I’ve also been concentrating the column on writing. I’ll continue to publish interviews with friends from comics, animation, TV and movies and will probably expand that to books and movies, when possible. But this year I’m going to start interviewing artists as well. In the past, artists have been the focal point of fan interest. It’s always easier to impress someone with a fairly good drawing than with a well written paragraph. People know when they can’t draw but have no idea they also can’t write. However a strange thing has been happening over the past few years in comics. Books are now being discussed by who’s writing them instead of who is drawing them. Have you read the new book by - Neil Gaiman. Warren Ellis. Alan Moore. Joef Loeb. Mark Millar. Ed Brubaker, Brian Bendis. etc. Since this is the case, I don’t feel I need to only push writers here and can finally include the pencil pushers out there whose work can take a poor script and make it shine, or a great script and let it sit there like a lox. When you’re clicking with an artist, the comic is golden. When you’re not, it’s a formula for potential disaster.

This year I also intend to talk more about comics and what makes a good (and therefore bad) comic. I have to admit I don’t read as many comics as I once did – I used to read everything! But I am reading more than I did, say, two years ago.

As always, I want to answer your questions, but it does seem as if the flow of questions has trickled down to little more than a drip or two – and you two drips know exactly who you are. So I’m asking if everyone out there reading this column can ask at least one, if not more - questions that can spark an entire column as well as those that can be answered in a word or three.

I also want to know what you would like to see me discuss. Every internet comics columnist has his or her own approach – from doing reviews to writing fun parodies, but I have always like to flit back and forth between a little of everything, never pinning myself down to one thing that will, ultimately, be boring for me.

That’s the column – as planned at any rate – for the foreseeable future. I hope you’ll stick with me and see what we can do.
Don’t forget to write in and ask some questions, and also don’t forget to check out my own webpage at

Take care and see you in seven.
-Marv Wolfman

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