Comix: Beyond the Comic Book Pages

Comix: Beyond the Comic Book Pages

Comix: Beyond the Comic Book Pages is a documentary on DVD that feels as though it fell through a time warp. From the Comic Sans lettering used on the menu to coverage of topics just about anyone the least bit interested in the medium is already aware of, I was surprised to learn the DVD was released this month, because it feels as though the movie was made at least a decade ago. (Probably both of those statements are true. The press release calls the movie “more than a decade in the making”.)

As written and directed by Michael Valentine, the first section of the film focuses on how, now that Hollywood spends a lot of money on movies based on comic books, that proves that comic fans are cool, not dorky. (There seems to be a lot of self-validation going on here, challenging feelings of inferiority sometimes voiced by fans.) The focus is strongly on superheroes and the old white guys who talk about them. Comics have “something for everybody”, says the narration, while the camera pans over the usual DC and Marvel titles.

The best-known contributors are Stan Lee, Frank Miller, Neal Adams, Mark Waid, Marc Silvestri, and Mike Richardson. The Frank Miller footage is another reason I question how long this has been in production. He looks much better than he’s been shown over the last couple of years. None of the images or interview segments are dated, and the many random fan and cosplay inserts from conventions aren’t identified in any way as to name or location.

Comix: Beyond the Comic Book Pages

The exception to the male-heavy participation comes with a later segment on artistic collaboration (discussing the specialized, assembly-line task breakdown used in corporate comics), which is mostly about Top Cow books. Renae Geerlings from that company comments, and the other female professional interviewed is Amanda Conner (whose time on-screen is brief). The Top Cow segment also features a near-life-size naked-ass Witchblade statue in the back of a lot of the footage.

There’s a section on cosplay; a segment on creator ownership that starts with Image’s founding but winds up discussing speculation and collectibles; and a chapter on comic conventions that feels like a promo reel, again heavy on footage of people in costumes. Gareb Shamus is listed as president of Wizard World, which is another suggestion of the film’s age, or how long it took to assemble it. The final segment is one of those “anyone can make comics, just do it” inspiration pieces. Overall, it’s a grab bag, with little connection between the various focus elements.

The DVD is (rightly) being promoted based on the names participating in the first section, although they tell stories already familiar to the knowledgeable fan, such as

  • the origin of Superman
  • what happened during the 50s scare
  • the DC Silver Age relaunch
  • Stan Lee creating the Fantastic Four
  • and praising Frank Miller for The Dark Knight Returns.

Although billed as interviews, the conversations mostly consist of sound bites and statements you’ve likely heard before. (See below for more on this.) Often, the music is louder than the voices, making it tricky to hear those on-screen as I had to adjust the volume frequently. I also didn’t care for the way the characters selected to be shown are those drawn by modern artists even when the topic is their 1930s origins.

I’m unclear on who the audience for this would be. Maybe insecure fans who think a documentary would validate their hobby or justify the time they’ve spent on it? I suppose there are comic readers and fans out there who don’t know the history of the superhero fan culture, but these days, why would they want or need to spend an hour and a half learning more about it? Libraries may want this, and when some of these well-known names have passed, people will be glad to have the footage, but I didn’t learn anything from it, and I resented how old-fashioned it was in not talking to more women or people of color or people making comics that weren’t about superheroes or horror.

Amazon Prime subscribers can watch the film for free. The DVD package comes with an eight-page mini-comic that seems to have nothing to do with the movie, about a boy who discovers comics are great for imagination. On the first disc, there’s a trailer and more interview topics. There’s a second disc with hour-long interviews with both Stan Lee and Frank Miller. (The distributor provided a review copy.)

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