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Published on October 29th, 2012 | by Thompson


Comics are Box Office Gold

My generation has had the opportunity to enjoy the lucrative eruption of the comic book movie, and there’s good reason for it.  Batman, Superman, Spider-man, X-men, Iron Man, The Avengers – some of the most profitable franchises in the history of cinema were prepared for celluloid.  Their storyboard style makes easy work for writers, producers, directors, directors of photography, costume designers, set designers, and even actors.

Scott McCloud’s chapter “Time Frames” is a creative investigation of the representation of time in comics and a perfect example of why the comic book movie has been such a success.  Comics are incredibly unique when it comes to displaying a passing of time, and have many modes of doing so.  “In comics, as in film, television, and ‘real life,’ it is always now,” but the cool thing about comics is you have access to the past and future – it just depends where you focus your eyes (104).  You can’t ask the projectionist at the theater to rewind the film if you go to the bathroom, and though DVRs now allow us to rewind television, the past, present, and future are never on the screen at once.  Only comics have this unique aspect – the opportunity for the reader to pick their own reading and “time travel” in a way.  The use of randomized panels may “be the influence of other media like film and television, where viewer choice has not generally been feasible” (105).  Comics are trend setters in viewer participation and could even influence the decisions of film and television producers.  The future of cinema, it seems, may be in the hands of comic book artists.

McFarlane Spider-man Web

McFarlane Spider-man Web

McCloud also helps me make my point that comics are the perfect box office vehicles by discussing motion in the same chapter.  Drawing motion is really hard, but comic book artists make it look so easy.  After all, “If you’re going to paint a world filled with motion then be prepared to paint motion!” (109).  Todd McFarlane is a great example of a comic book artist influencing cinema.  Before he left The Amazing Spider-man to create the best-selling comic book Spawn, McFarlane changed the way Spider-man’s webs looked forever.  Formerly a simple checkerboard pattern, McFarlane gave the web motion, as you can see.  The Spider-man movies featured the same web to stay true to the comic, which is also visible in the trailer below.  It’s just another example of the influential power of comics.

Words introduce time by representing that which can only exist in time – sound” (95).  Reminiscent of McCloud’s chapter “Show and Tell,” the original Batman television series is a great example of how words made the jump from the panels of comics onto the screen.  “In comics at its best, words and pictures are like partners in a dance and each one takes turns leading” (156).  This tactic isn’t all that popular today, but it’s important to note that when comic books were first being adapted to the screen, both the words and pictures came along for the ride, and not just in actors’ dialogue, but as an artistic (and hilarious) choice.

I think Lev Manovich would even agree with me that comic books are cinematic gold, as he quotes Bordwell and Staiger, “In the film industry, the goals were not only increased efficiency, economy, and flexibility but also spectacle, concealment of artifice, and what Goldsmith [1934 president of SMPE] called ‘the production of an acceptance semblance of reality” (188).  When the serial film Captain America hit theaters in 1944, movie producers discovered a way to increase efficiency, economy, flexibility, and spectacle, not to mention a way to increase support for the American war effort.  Now, we have The Avengers in 3D because “The new media image is something the user actively goes into” (183) and “[f]or production companies, the constant substitution of codes is necessary to stay competitive” (190).

Though Tron wasn’t based on a comic book, a comic book did follow the release of Tron: Legacy for the same reason of staying competitive in a market that’s been selling fewer and fewer tickets since 2002.  I want to comment Lev Manovich’s Tron comment because since The Language of New Media was published Disney has made huge strides in “photorealistic simulation of ‘real scenes,’” which Manovich called “practically impossible” because “techniques available to commercial animators only cover the particular phenomena of visual reality.  An animator using a particular software package can, for instance, easily create the shape of the human face, but not hair; materials such as plastic or metal but not cloth or leather; the flight of a bird but not the jumps of a frog” (192-193).  I urge you to watch the video below that discusses the “creation” of Jeff Bridges’ character Kevin Flynn for from the 1982 original film.  “Not surprisingly, throughout the history of computer animation, the simulation of a human figure has served as a yardstick for measuring the progress of the whole field,” and now it seems we’re getting ever-closer to reproducing the human form through computer animation, which I imagine would do wonders for the porn industry.

Speaking of Tron: Legacy, I found an interesting parallel to Anne Wysocki and Johndan Johnson-Eilola’s chapter “Blinded by the Letter.”  The Spaniards’ reason for killing the Incan tribes was because “the Mexica had no sense of history – because the Mexica recorded their pasts in paintings rather than in words in books” (357).  There’s a similar scene in Tron: Legacy where Clu searches Kevin Flynn’s home on the grid and his assistant attempts to read one of the books on the shelf, but he has never seen one before, and holds it awkwardly, investigating it.  Of course, [spoiler alert] Kevin Flynn’s son, Sam, has the difficult task of escaping Clu and the grid before Clu can get his army to Earth.  Sam must destroy the grid and its population, much like the Spaniards did the Inca, and all because Clu’s army will “reject the essence of” American civilization, as Constance Classen elegantly put it.  It’s interesting that literacy is used as an all-encompassing term that no one fully understands.  There are so many forms of literacy that there seems no way to be literate in all of them.  Clu’s literacy is in system efficiency, perfection, but that literacy won’t work among Earthlings, much like the Incan tribes’ literacy was in pictures rather than words.  That doesn’t make either of them necessarily wrong.  It just makes them “dangerous” in the eyes of the “civilized.”

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About the Author

When Thompson isn't busy writing for Go Gonzo Journal, you may find him drunk at the movie theater with Professor Heinous or stirring up trouble in a bar with his attorney. Thompson also enjoys skiing, hiking, camping, and watching and betting on baseball and football.

3 Responses to Comics are Box Office Gold

  1. Erica says:

    Your interest and background in film has been making for some really interesting blogs lately. It’s been very helpful to me as someone who knows next to nothing about film. And the Tron video was cray! I shows a really interesting interconnectedness between everything we’ve talked about. We’ve looked at the relationships between words and art, space and time, humans and computers, etc; I think your blog lays out concrete examples of what all of these things look like together in a modern, digital way. Very cool.

    I also liked your line, “It’s interesting that literacy is used as an all-encompassing term that no one fully understands. There are so many forms of literacy that there seems no way to be literate in all of them.” This whole literacy thing has me torn and confused. I’m enjoying reading everyone’s blogs on it to hear the different interpretations. I like that you expand the term to apply to so many forms that is loses the narrow definition Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola mentioned. The various forms of literacy all hold power within certain contexts; I was confused by the idea of empowering people without expecting literacy, but I guess it just depends on the definition of literacy to which is being referred.

  2. Deb B. says:

    Love the connections you made this week in your blog! I thought your observation that “a comic book did follow the release of Tron: Legacy” interesting too. I’ve noticed that in recent years, a lot of comic books have either followed TV series and movies, or been developed concurrently. I was thinking about the Heroes television show and the CBS show Jericho (2006-2008). I think the comic books for Jericho are still being produced and released.

    I had forgotten about the original Batman television series, but as soon as I read what you wrote, I had these vague recollections of the words popping up during “fight” scenes. So, I went to Youtube to revisit those memories. Strangely, the words aren’t as distracting as the incredibly goofy way that Batman and Robin fight those “filthy criminals.” Now this is a little off track from what you blogged about, but I was struck by something about the old Batman series that speaks to Manovich’s discussion about computer games. He argues that “in contrast to modern literature, theater, and cinema, which are built around psychological tensions between characters and movement in psychological space, these computer games return us to ancient forms of narrative in which the plot is driven by the spatial movement of the main hero, traveling through distant lands to save the princess…” (246). Although those “psychological spaces” do exist in the old Batman clips, albeit barely, since they are so campy, I was struck by how much the conversations between Batman and Robin take place en route from one place to another to fight crime. It seems the old series holds an interesting place in the historiography that Manovich is trying to relate from the old to new media forms.

  3. jenny thornburg says:

    Your quote grabbed my attention. “Words introduce time by representing that which can only exist in time – sound” (95). I remember an Ong quote from Oral traditions, “Sound exists only as it’s going out of existence.” If we think about it, sound is unique in that way. It’s so important, but so temporal. Words introduce time…sounds like part of the discussion on ‘text as time and space’ that can be challenging to wrap one’s mind around(which Doug referred to in my blog comments). I’ve been thinking about the linearity of texts. You said: “You can’t ask the projectionist at the theater to rewind the film if you go to the bathroom, and though DVRs now allow us to rewind television, the past, present, and future are never on the screen at once. Only comics have this unique aspect – the opportunity for the reader to pick their own reading and “time travel” in a way.” But it makes me wonder, since the logic of text in comics is sequential, do we really have a choice about how to read them? I mean, we still have to read them from left to right, generally, for the words to make sense, right? There’s still sequence in the text, we encounter the words in order. But I guess we have quick access to the past and present by flipping backward or forward. So language in a book(or comic) is sequenced, but not locked into time(since we can pick up a book and put it down).

    The creation of Clu in your trailer was freaky! All those sensors on Jeff Bridge’s face to record his facial movements… it read like science fiction. In my blog, I had also quoted Manovich’s idea of the yardstick for progress being simulation of the human figure. In a way, we are assured of our place, as the actress said. Amazing as the technology is, it wouldn’t be anything without the actor. Hope that continues to be true! I liked the literacy connection you made in Tron. When we start to recognize these themes elsewhere, we’re really absorbing them. I found your discussion of comics interesting, even though I don’t read them myself. I could see you finding the relevance of class themes there. Good work. As McCloud said, “Images are mediated by our eyes and minds.”

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