(Video link) One of the really fun panels I attended at New York Comic Con discussed a subject with which I'm very familiar: comic book movies, and being a comics fan versus a movies fan. While I dig and respect comic books, I'm definitely in the latter camp. At the panel Comics Pros and Film Buffs: When Fanboys Collide, moderated by John Siuntres of the Word Balloon podcast, a lively discussion took place on how comic book movies impact the comic book industry, but also some less popular movies based on comic books. Bash Brannigan, anyone?
The 1965 movie, How to Murder Your Wife, starring Jack Lemmon, was brought up by Indiewire's Matt Singer. You never hear about this movie in discussions about comic book movies, but then again, it wasn't really based on a comic. The Bash Brannigan comic strip was a byproduct of the movie, created by Lemmon's struggling cartoonist character Stanley Ford (and drawn by actual comic strip artsit, Mel Keefer) who won't write a plotline for his star unless he can make it happen in real life, which he does. I'm a little ashamed of myself that I hadn't heard of this movie before New York Comic Con.
Also brought up was the work of cartoon artist Frank Tashlin, who created comic strips and worked for Warner Bros. on Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies in the 1930s and '40s before directing movies. He was described by the panel as the Judd Apatow of his day, casting the most popular comedic actors of the time for killer ensembles like Shirley MacLaine, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, plus Jayne Mansfield. In Artists and Models, Tashlin took on the Senate hearings of the 1950s that put comic books on trial, featuring a comics-obsessed Jerry Lewis as a witness -- for the prosecution. While I was a little ashamed of myself for not knowing about How to Murder Your Wife, I am deeply ashamed of myself for not knowing about Frank Tashlin. I'm glad this has been rectified.
The discussion moved from these culty gems to today's blockbusters -- The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Avengers, as examples. With comic book professionals on the panel, including Jim McCann, writer for Marvel comics, his frequent collaborator (Mind the Gap, Return of the Dapper Men) Janet Lee, an Eisner-winning illustrator, and Gabriel Hardman, Marvel artist and storyboard artist for The Dark Knight Rises. The big question: Are comic book movies beneficial or detrimental to comic books? There are many issues to consider besides how many copies have been sold, such as how the movies affected the characters in the comics -- how the Iron Man of the comics started acting more like Robert Downey Jr.'s cinematic interpretation of the character, and how Spider-Man's organic web shooters were suddenly a possibility on the pages after appearing on the big screen. On the other hand, comic books that were spun off from existing series, like Buffyverse, brought in a new audience of TV fans anxious to see what happened after Buffy the Vampire Slayer went off the air. Those fans are still buying those comics, and those comics continue to be made.
Logical conclusion: the effects of comic book movies on comic books depend on who is being asked about them. An informal audience poll revealed that the majority believe the movies helped the comics. Also consider the fact that this audience consisted of 100 percent comic con attendees who probably have various levels of devotion to comics.
As a bigger fan of movies than comics, with an undeniable respect for the original source material, this was one of the more interesting panels I attended, and I finally feel less guilty about discovering comic books after the fact.