No new EBI this week, because Erin is here and she wins. but I can still bring you a blast from the past…
April 14, 2004
Everything But Imaginary #58: From the Movie Theater to the Comic Shop
A week ago, we here at Everything But Imaginary Global Headquarters talked to you about the current crop of comic books that have been turned into movies. What, you don’t believe me? Go ahead, click here to read last week’s column. Remember now? Ah, good times, huh? (Sigh.)
Anyway, our discussion last week was about how we’re getting a lot of pretty solid comic-book-to-movie adaptations these days, and that’s a good thing. The question, though, is whether or not those movies ever translate into higher sales of the comic book. Unfortunately, I think the answer is probably “no.” Or at the most optimistic, “not for long.” When Spider-Man was released in 2002, it was seen by millions of people, but of those millions about three new people picked up comic books, all named “Bernie.” That wasn’t quite the windfall we want if we’re going to get comics out of the shadowed corners of the artistic spectrum and make them big again.
There are a lot of ways that visibility can be increased. One of the most obvious is the premium giveaway — this has happened to me twice in recent years. When I went to the opening-day showing of X-Men, I got a movie prequel comic, and when I went to the Empire Strikes Back: Special Edition premiere, I got a free Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron #1/2 special. This was extremely cool to me, and cool to my friends as well. Unfortunately, most of us already read comics on a regular basis, so we weren’t the target audience. There were others in the theater with us of course, adults and children who got the free comics, several I even saw reading them while waiting for the movie to start, but how many of them actually went out afterwards and found a comic book shop to pick up the next issue? Painfully few.
The implementation of Free Comic Book Day has been a real help with this idea, and tying it in with a major comic book movie is a good plan — if it’s marketed properly. This year’s FCBD will be the Saturday after the Wednesday premiere of Spider-Man 2. If people like the movie, they may want to check out some comics, especially if they know they can get them for free. That’s the tricky part: if they know. Would it be that difficult or expensive for Marvel to perhaps attach an ad to the beginning of Spider-Man 2 (if you put it at the end nobody will be there to see it) telling the audience “Get free comics this Saturday! Go to www.freecomicbookday.com to find the store nearest you?” That would be three days of advertising to the people who’ve got time off in anticipation of the coming July 4 weekend – if that doesn’t drive up business to comic book stores, what would?
Oh yeah. The store. That’s problem number two.
I keep harping on this, I know, but it’s important. As much as I love the comic book store, keeping the focus on direct distribution is just a case of preaching to the converted. People walking out of a Hellboy theater last weekend or a Punisher theater this weekend, having enjoyed their respective films, may be interested to read more about the characters, perhaps in that clever 25-cent Hellboy: The Corpse special, but how will they do so if they don’t go to comic shops already? Let’s say this person (we’re going to call him Fred for the sake of expediency) is already a voracious reader. Fred reads lots of novels, magazines, newspapers, etc., and has no preconceived notions about comics being just for kids. But Fred doesn’t know where any comic store is, so how is he going to learn more about Frank Castle?
Here’s our chance: Fred does go to the bookstore. His bookstore may even have a graphic novel section, but he doesn’t browse it much because it’s near the back and 75 percent of it is Japanese Manga. We need a display of Punisher trade paperback in a visible area. We need a reprint of Garth Ennis’s Welcome Back Frank TPB with a photo cover of Thomas Jane. And most importantly, we need an outlet for the monthly books there as well. We need bookstores to carry comics that we never would have dreamed of selling outside a comic book store ten years ago. Something that amazes me is that our local Border’s not only put in a spinner rack some time ago, but it carries Vertigo and Max titles, recognizing that more mature people are reading comic books. Fortunately, the bottom rows still consist of Archie and Powerpuff Girls, where the kids can still get to them.
Once we’ve got Fred looking at these comics, and I hate to say it, I think we need to keep him away from movie adaptations, for the simple reason that most comic book movie adaptations just aren’t very good. Now I haven’t read the Punisher adaptation, but most of them I’ve read suffer from the same problems over and over again: the dialogue doesn’t work as well in the comic as on the screen, too much is cut out to make it fit in 64 (or 48 or, Heaven forbid, 32) pages, the action scenes don’t work because of a need to replicate camera angles and the artwork suffers as the artist struggles to replicate the faces of the actors from the film. There are exceptions to this rule, and if any fine writers or creators of movie adaptation comics happen to be reading this column, rest assured, your stuff was just plain brilliant, but in general these adaptations just don’t work. So what if someone sees a comic-based movie they like and then pick up a lousy adaptation as their first exposure to the real comic? We’ve just lost a potential reader.
And finally, I think it’s important to play up films that are based on lesser-known comic book properties. A couple of years ago I was buying a DVD and the checkout girl at the bookstore commented upon my choice of movies. We talked for a few minutes and she asked me if I’d ever been to the local New Orleans arthouse cinema.
“Sure, I’ve been there,” I lied. I’d never been there in my life, mostly out of a desire to stay entirely out of New Orleans proper without a really good reason, such as my mother is dying of an alien ailment and the only cure is the sludge that collects against the docks at the New Orleans Riverboat casino and my brother lost his car keys. But the checkout girl was cute and I wasn’t about to tell her that.
“Have you seen Made?” she asked.
“No, I haven’t, but I’ve heard good things about it.” This time I told the truth.
“I haven’t seen it either,” she said. “There’s this other one playing I want to see too, it’s called Ghost World.”
I ask, “Isn’t that the one based on the comic book by–”
“Daniel Clowes,” we both say at the same time.
It was at this point that I realized that a line was accumulating behind me and people were beginning to give me dirty looks, so I paid for the DVD and left. When I got to my car, two things soon occurred to me:
1. Idiot. You should have asked her to the movies.
2. Hey, she not only knew about Ghost World, she knew who did the comic it’s based on.
Now granted, you would expect your average bookstore personnel to have a bit more savvy about that sort of thing than Joe Schmo, but she was probably the only person I talked to about Ghost World that knew it was based on a comic book. Similarly, nobody knew From Hell was a comic book first when that film came out, and you should have seen the strange looks I got from people when I tried to tell them about the Road to Perdition comic. A few people knew that American Splendor was a comic, but since the movie is about the guy who wrote the comic, they would have to be as smart as your average Warner Brothers executive to let that one slip past them.
I’m seeing a lot more of Harvey Pekar’s Splendor books on the stands these days, and Max Allan Collins finally got the chance to continue the Perdition series, but the readership spreading across the board just hasn’t happened. Perdition, Ghost World and Splendor all got Academy Award nominations, for Heaven’s sake! If that can boost sales for books like Master and Commander, Cold Mountain or a little tome called Lord of the Rings, why can’t it work for comic books?
It’s all about perception and exposure, folks. Go rent those movies I talked about, watch ‘em with some non-comic fans and then give them the original graphic novels. Watch their eyes bug out. We all want comics to be bigger and better and movies are just one way that can happen.
If only it’s done right.
FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: April 7, 2004
Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Phil Winslade have taken an early lead in the race for the EBI “Best New Title” award with their great comic The Monolith. The third issue, out last week, finishes off the first story arc in which Alice Cohen inherits a house from her grandmother only to find an incredibly powerful Golem (a mystical warrior from Hebrew myth made of clay and blood) walled up in her basement. People upset over the demise of Sentinel should give this book a chance, as the story has a lot of the same “boy and his robot” feel to it, and since only the first three issues are out, it should be relatively easy to track them down and give this worthy comic a read.
Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast and the weekly audio fiction podcast Blake M. Petit’s Evercast. E-mail him at Blake@comixtreme.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page.