Michael Wells
by Michael Wells
Thu Jan 29th 2009 at 5:33pm UTC

That’s Not Funny

What is it with comics these days? I noticed two stories about comics in yesterday’s NY Times. The creator of the French cartoon character Astérix is fighting his daughter over selling his company to a conglomerate. And a group of investors are suing Stan Lee and Marvel Entertainment over profits from films based on Lee’s characters (Spiderman, X-Men). That got me thinking about the comics business, which has moved beyond comic books to film and video games and serious money.

Phil Knight (founder and CEO of NIKE) has a new animation company, LAIKA, that’s building studios south of Portland to take on Pixar. They’re just releasing their first feature film, Coraline.

Japanese Manga are big business. There’s a whole wall of them in Powell’s Bookstore and my oldest granddaughter is obsessed with them.

Three major movies in the last year are based on characters by the three big comic companies: The Dark Knight (Batman by DC), Spiderman by Marvel, and Hellboy from Dark Horse.

This year’s best war documentary, Waltz With Bashir, is animated.

Is this driven by escapism, technology, a need for heroes, or what?

5 Responses to “That’s Not Funny”

  1. Scott Says:

    I think you’re pretty close to the mark there about it being escapism.

    I’m in my mid-30’s, but from time to time I like watching 1980’s cartoons on Youtube.

    Why? Because as a kid, I enjoyed the ideas behind them -and I still do. The difference is that now, when I am fed up with all of the ills in the modern world, it is a release to think that such characters, or such a world, can exist, even if only fictional :)

    The need for heroes? Yes, probably to some degree. I think that might have been the appeal in comics even 50 or 60 years ago for people who weren’t having the best time in life, with no help in sight.

    As for the diversity, it just reflects the diversity of tastes…

  2. Robert Says:

    Increasing infantilisation of adults in Western societies.

    Read “Big Babies” by Michael Bywater.

    Or, anything with “Liquid” in the title by Zygmunt Bauman, especially “Liquid Love” – inability to commit to jobs, partners, children, communities is essentially a reluctance to grow up/accept responsibility.

    Comics are for children. Grow up and read something useful.

  3. Matt L. Says:

    For the comic book adaptations (don’t forget “Iron Man”), I’d be more tempted to blame Hollywood for spending so much time mining the back catalogue rather than taking risks with original material.

    “Waltz With Bashir” is a different matter, as it’s original and not at all for kids. There, I’d say it’s an artistic statement made through technology. Its use of animation with a bit of real footage is a bit like the same way Schindler’s List used black and white with a splash of colour (the girl in the red dress).

  4. Kwende Kefentse Says:

    Before things get too glib here, I suggest that you guys take a look at this: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/scott_mccloud_on_comics.html

    Comics are actually one of the more sophisticated ways of transmitting complex ideas, and one of the best ways of conveying meaning. Moreover, comic books are very serious pieces of narrative technology. The emerging field of data visualization is taking cues from comics – why not Hollywood?

    Also, comics are not about content so much as they are about form. A comic can be about ANYTHING. Heroes, while generally associated with comic books, actually make up a very small percentage of comic output.

    Perhaps this is not so much a need to escape the real world so much as its a recognition of more effective ways to investigate its essence.

    As a comic geek that hits the shop weekly, I could go on, but I’ll chill. McCloud is certainly clear enough.

  5. Michael Wells Says:


    Fascinating. I have seen inklings of comics beyond humor or storytelling, but never an analysis of comics themselves.

    So how does this emerging complexity of comics relate to my observation that they’re becoming big business? Are the legal fights over historic comics (Astérix, Spiderman) related to their new uses? And are things like comic-based action films or serious animation (Waltz with Bashir) offshoots of the new medium? Is this making sense, I’m wondering how the mundane and the new communications are related?