Comic Books Are Not Movies

I’m developing a problem when it comes to movies. You see, comic books are the best thing ever. We know that, deep down inside. But hey, movies are pretty awesome too. But why in the world is it absolutely necessary for movies to be involved before the mainstream media ever discusses comics in any way? This summer, you might remember Ron, Conor, and I doing a spate of radio interviews in the middle of a summer of comic book movies. They were fun, and it was a great experience, but it only happened because of the movies. Most of them talked a bit about the movies, and then we talked a bit about comics, and I got to make my spiel, and all was well. But the worst one was when I appeared on The Mark and Brian Show in Los Angeles, which is a big show out there. It was during the week of San Diego, and the very first thing they asked me was “who are the big celebrities at Comic-Con?” and I had no idea, so here I am, with several million people supposedly listening, and I’m stumped on the first question, because I know comics, but paid not a whit of attention to the fact that Keanu Reeves was there. Needless to say, it was a short interview. The only time most people care about comics is when they have something to do with big celebrities and screen adaptations. It even happens here. There’s nothing like a post about a movie, casting, or development story to bring out the page views and the commenters in droves. Again, those are fun conversations, but short of the dreaded comic piracy debate, nothing invites more interest than the movie talk, even from people who clearly love comics.

Comics can be so much more than something film pays attention to now and again. Comics are their own thing, and I will not lose my appreciation and literacy to pray solely to the celluloid (or possibly digital) gods of moving pictures. I am sick of using film success as a way to justify the greatness of comics. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are so many ways in which comics own film, and I’m taking a stand. Whether you’re a reader or a creator, there are things that are so good about comics, that no other storytelling medium can compete.

There is no easier, faster, cheaper, or more direct way to tell your story.

This is a no brainer. We’re a visual species us people, and with a competent artist and writer, a comic book can convey your story far easier than any other way. You might be able to type out a prose story faster, but there’s nothing like visual images to get your point across. A movie could probably do it as well, but it turns out that lining up millions of dollars is difficult. As little as one person can make a comic book. You can put that up on the web, and almost everyone in the world has a chance to read your tale. Everything is getting cheaper and easier to distribute, and comics are no exception. If you’ve got a burning desire to tell your story, but a lack of resources is your problem, comics are the answer. I would argue that a good comic book can connect emotionally just as well as any film, and it’s almost a more personal experience, which requires no home theater or equipment to enjoy. The thing is, I can have an idea right now, get it drawn, and in front of people’s eyes in such a short amount of time, that it’s amazing. It’s almost completely pure, the creator talking to the reader, with very little funnel.

Comics are a small world.

While the size of the comics industry is a disadvantage, the fact is, the comic book community is small, and as fans and creators, that can work to everyone’s advantage. Has anyone noticed that that as soon as a creator establishes themselves in some way, they show up everywhere? Look at Jason Aaron. Scalped isn’t burning up sales charts, but somehow the guy is all over the Marvel Universe doing books. Jonathan Hickman and Jamie McKelvie will soon have similar stories. If you’re a creator, you really only have to be good, and it’s a small enough world that there aren’t layers of people to get through. You can go to any convention, find a guy from Marvel, DC, Top Shelf, Oni, BOOM!, Image or any other company you think is a good fit, and pitch them. I’m not saying you’ll get anything from it, but you’ll get your 2 cents in, and that’s the most you can hope for. Trying pinning down the current head of Warner Bros. somewhere, and seeing where it gets you. As a fan, it’s been said many times, but it is just not hard or expensive to get signatures or sketches from the best people working in the industry. Be it on message boards, podcasts, conventions, or even Twitter, you can have a conversation with almost anyone in comics if you really want to.

Lower stakes = less jerks.

There are obviously still jerks out there. We’ve run across a few of them in our time, but the fact is, since there’s not really that much money to be had in comics, and the stakes are just lower than in films, you’ll find the great ego divide is much smaller than you’d get in Hollywood. The people making comics make comics largely because they really love comics, and therefore, making great comics is their motivation, and not a quest for fame or riches. It’s so unlikely that you get that George Lucas/Stephen Spielberg styled megalomania in comics, because there’s no budget for yes-men. Granted, crazy people are crazy people, and there are nut-jobs, but they’re probably not going to affect you that much. I can say I’ve been in a room with Stan Lee, no handlers, and had a perfectly fun and sincere conversation with him on several occasions, and I’m NOBODY. It’s almost like the industry gives you so little in monetary reward, it attracts very sincere people, and after working in the dregs of TV production for a good part of my 20’s, that’s incredibly refreshing. I met so many people working on shows you never ever heard of who acted like they were studio heads, but in comics, I’ve talked to so many of the biggest names in comics, and the worst insult I could come up with is “awkward.” It is a little sad that some of these geniuses don’t get their due. Unless of course, the movie thing happens.

Comics have virtually no limitations.

If you can think of it, it’s almost certainty that it can be made into a comic book. There need be no advance in computer rendering technology, nor a specific lens, nor a cast of thousands. A comic can be a page long, or more Cerebus-sized. There’s no problem finding the perfect cast, because you have infinite and limitless casting ability. A page can be any size, color or black and white. The scope of the story can come anywhere between Harvey Pekar standing in line at the market to Thanos altering all reality. The only limitations are the creators’ imagination and talent, and while we can’t call draw like Frank Quietly, if your story is good enough, you’ll find someone who can do it if you really want to. If you think about it, motion pictures have been around just about as long as modern comic books, but only in the past decade have films started to catch up to some of the big ideas and concepts that have been populating comics for the better part of the last century. That’s something comics should be proud of, and keep innovating towards.

The next time you find yourself in a conversation with someone who doesn’t read comics, instead of using comics’ presence in the world of film and television, remember all the things comics have going for them. Yeah, the movies are nice, but we don’t need them. There’s a reason the so many films feel like stale also rans, but there are more excellent comics than anyone could ever hope to read, and more coming out every week. I’m so glad to be a part of it.



  1. Yes, visual images. *affectionate jab*

  2. You’re not nobody. You’re somebody Josh…You’re somebody. 🙂

  3. Nobody buts Josh in a corner 🙂

  4. This article makes me want to create a comic book…

  5. @Cam- Same here, yet I can’t draw to save my life. Everytime I read something by the iFanboys on creating I get re-inspired

  6. The same thing happens with video games – a studio producer or PR rep will claim Game X is "so cinematic – it’s like being in a movie." Episodic television does it, too – ever heard an actor claim each episode is so high-quality, it’s like watching a 40-minute movie week to week? It comes down to the fact that films are the most coveted form of entertainment in our society, so naturally the other industries claim themselves to be just as good.

    For the record, though, I agree with you. While it’s ultimately just a reality of the business, comics don’t have anything to prove to anybody. 

  7. Well I hate to be in the minority for anything, but I guess this is where I et slammed. Personally I love comics being turned into movies. It’s just another medium to tell the same story, but it also gets other people who may not be familiar with that story curious and helps sell he book better. Example: I had no idea that Wanted was a comic book movie and when I saw it, I loved it. So should I not have since it was adapted from a comic book?

  8. That’s funny, there’s a quote from Michael Chiklis in the paper today about how "The Shield" is basically "one long movie"…


  9. @MadMart: I got a totally different impression of the article than you.

    I interpreted the article as saying that comics fans shouldn’t feel the need to have movie adaptations to vindicate their love of comics. Not that adaptations were somehow bad.

  10. You know, thinking about this, I realize that my favorite thing about movie adaptations is that I can think of them as a way to share the characters and stories I love with other people.  I love getting to talk about Iron Man with people who had never heard of him before, and being able to piont to a movie that got the story just right (as opposed to having to apologize for ‘Daredevil’ or ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ — no, REALLY, the books are better!)

    But the movies are still just representations of things I love in the comics, and at the end of the day I’d rather read a great ‘Iron Man’ comic than watch the movie again. (And I really love watching the movie again; hoping to do it at least twice this weekend).  This really applies even moreso to creator-owned properties.  I groaned last week when I heard the ‘Whiteout’ movie isn’t out until next fall; then I remembered I have the book on my shelf anytime I want it.  Which is pretty cool.  


  11. @JumpingJupiter-You make a good point.  Often times I would have to tell my friends "yeah, that was a comic before it was a movie" because they just had no idea.  In some ways it makes me feel vindicated, but it also pisses me off because, like Josh said, its really the only time anyone pays any attention to comics.

    I totally agree with what Josh said about comics being a small world.  If you are genuinely talented, your name moves up the ranks fast!  Fraction exploded onto the scene, and I can’t think of anyone else that has moved up faster than Hickman.  I would like to know what other form of entertainment and storytelling lets you move up the ladder that fast.  Maybe porn…

  12. Ya I didn’t even know Twighlight existed until the movie arrived at Comic Con this year and by then apparently it had a huge cult following.

  13. @MadMartigan (great name btw) Yeah, JumpingJupiter got it right.  This has nothing to do wtih movie adaptations, rather it’s a look at all comics have to celebrate in their own right.  They needn’t assimilate, as it were.

  14. But still, now my friends are asking to borrow my comics because of the movies. They’re curious and respectful. I’m certainly not gonna spit on that.

  15. speakin the truth, speakin the truth

  16. Ditto what ohcaroline said, except maybe the part about the Iron Man comics.  There aren’t really any good Iron Man comics except maybe "Extremis".  Not anything that comes anything close to being as good as the movie, anyway.

  17. i don’t know anything about Mark and Brian, but if there were one thing i could know, it would have to be – who the f**k’s dresses them?

    once again Josh you’ve put the fire under my seat. Viva la Comic Revolucion!

  18. @Horatio: Did you check out Fraction’s Iron Man?

  19. Next time you’re on a show like that, Josh, and somebody asks you who the big "celebrities" at the con will be, just start rattling off creators and see how long it will take them to realize they have no idea who you’re talking about.

    "So who are the big stars going to be at Comic-Con?’

    "Well, Mark Millar and Grant Morrison will be there."

    "Are they on The Hills?" 

  20. I won’t forget when I lent my friend Wanted and he was horrified that there wasn’t "bullet bending", I did try to warn him.  I think that people who pick up the books after seeing the movies are always going to be disappointed because comics require IMAGINATION.  Sadly I think that this has vanished from the minds of the majority.  I am certain that this is what novelists thought when comics were unleashed into the lexicon of popular culture.

  21. @ato220 I remember being disappointed that there were no "weirding modules" in the Dune novel.

  22. Yes, but movies and cartoons etc are a way of getting more eyes on the material. I doubt I would have seeked out TMNT comics (which I still didn’t read but I intend do) without the cartoon (the good one) and the first movie. I’m still hoping pizza is mentioned in the comics…

  23. *Single tear*

    I’m so proud to be a comic book fan.

  24. @JumpingJupiter –  I read a couple of Fraction’s Iron Man but it didn’t do much for me.  It’s certainly not in the same league as the film.  Warren Ellis’s "Extremis" takes a very smart look at Iron Man and the art is beautiful, but it’s completely humorless.

  25. Sounding like Alan Moore my friend… I like it!!!

  26. @ultimatehoratio   A couple things: (1) However good the movie is (and I agree it’s really good), you don’t have the movie without Extremis AND Armor Wars AND Demon in a Bottle, and even the dated corny origin story.  It’s a great adaptation that does a first-rate job of streamlining the source material, but it doesn’t exist without the source material.  Some people might understandably prefer to have only the streamlined, finished product but to me, it’s made richer by knowing where that came from.  (2) I didn’t exactly say "the comics are better than the movie"; I said that I’d rather read a great ‘Iron Man’ comic (including a hypothetical potential great comic that hasn’t been written yet) than watch the movie *again*. 

  27. @ohcaroline – Okay I’m with you on  "hypothetical potential great comic that hasn’t been written yet."

     Still, I think Iron Man is one of those rare cases in which the movie is better than any Iron Man comic that could ever be written.  In most cases, like DD, the comic is always going to succeed in ways the movie can’t, but Iron Man is a character that benefits so much from having him actually in motion.  For example, we’ve seen Iron man flying in the comics so much we take it for granted, but in the movie it’s genuinely exciting.  On the same note, the Flash is another character that has great potential on the big screen because the powers of the character would translate so well to film.

  28. I’m not reading the article, I’m waiting for Comics Books Are Not Movies: The Movie starring Steve Buscemi as Josh and maybe Ron Pearlman as connor don’t know who is playing Ron. Can’t wait summer 09.

  29. Hmm I was thinking Mark Bagley as Josh, James Marsden as Ron, and the brother from My Name is Earl as Conor because to me they kinda sound alike.  (No, there’s not any real logic to my casting.) Maybe they could change the plot a little bit so that you die within 24 hours of hearing the podcast unless you can get someone to write an iTunes review for it.  I’d totally watch that.

  30. @grottesco – it’s Hunter.

  31. Bagley?  BAGLEY?

  32. At least you didn’t get Ethan Suplee. 

    I can see Bagley playing on older, grizzled Josh Flanagan.  Like if you were a character in KINGDOM COME.

  33. Interesting article, I don’t necessarily see the differences inherint in the mediums when I watch a movie vs. reading a comic (or in playing a videogame natch) all I see is enjoyment and craft, not necessarily how the craft differs from medium to medium. I imagine that it’s something that I subconsciously realize, but that I merely don’t bring to the fore of my mind.

  34. Don’t make me pick one of the two, Josh.  I love movies and comics.  A lost of reasons overlap, and some of them don’t.  I think good comics deserve more popular attention than they do.  But I also think good movies should get more popular attention than they do.

    Comic writers aren’t the rock stars at comic con, but neither are screenwriters.  Performers will always get more rabid attention because their presence is their claim to fame.  They are their own product and that is a visual thing.  So actors and rock stars are gonna be the bigger draw no matter what.  

    As for the industry differences, I agree.  I’d much rather work in the comics industry than in the movie industry.   

  35. great article Josh.  i loved it

  36. Before I knew what you guys looked like I had these pictures in my mind:

    -Josh was Bagley with a mustache.

    -Ron was Bagley without a mustache.  (I’m not very imaginative.)

    -Conor was the brother from My Name is Earl.

  37. Ya I guess I just misinterpreted the article. But i totally understand and enjoy topics such as this.

  38. Wonderful article, Josh. I couldn’t agree more.

  39. Yeah! I agree 137% Josh. Why do comics have to ride the dick of the movie industry when 95% of what they put out is garbage? Don’t get me wrong, I love movies too, but the VAST majority of movies released are total & utter crap. With comics, only half of what’s put out is trash. 😛

    I don’t think comics will ever be "accepted" on the same level in the mainstream as movies or TV, & I am totally fine with that. If the mainstream think shows like Two & A Half Men are awesome, (shout out to this weeks podcast) then I do not want your approval. On anything.

  40. Great read Josh!

    That is why I am growing sick of San Diego.  Comic conventions shouold not have to play second banana to those Hollywood jag-offs at a function created to celebrate COMICS.  I noticed as amember of the media there that since I wasn’t with Access Hollywood or some other ass-kssing program, that we wrent granted a ny interview time like the tv clowns were with certain "celebrities".  the floor is getting more and more taken over by film studios schlepping some dreck in most cases.  And I am sick of it.  Swinging by the Image Pavillion or the Aspen area had nothing bu great interviews and better people, but when were told by one of Robert Rodrigues’ people that he was doing interviews at a certain time in a certain location, we were denied access because we weren’t part Entertainment Tonight.  So let me get this right, he is there to promote a film based on a COMIC character at a COMIC convention, but COMIC people with press credentials can’t get an interview?  That’s bullshit.  I have interviewed many comic professionals for the piece that I am working on, and unaniously they agree that they have a better time at WonderCon or Emerald City, and that San Diego is work for them.  Its work because for some reason it has been decided that Hollywood needs it ass kissed there and it sucks!

  41. Wow! What would be the movie equivalent of hanging out with Stan Lee? John Ford? John Huston? Robert Altman? Robert Redford? Only one of them is alive, so maybe it’s a moot point.

    I like movies. I like comics. I do feel that modern comics have a stronger connection to cinema than they have in the past. Frank Miller did a lot to bring a sense of flowing movement to comics, beginning with his work on Daredevil, as opposed to a series of "poses." But there was nothing artificial about that. Cinema influenced his artwork, but he’s always been very cognizant of the fact that they are different media. 

    "Widescreen" comics are another example of the movement to telling a story in big brushstrokes that the reader can interpret cinematically. But there are things that comics do on a page, there are ways that stories unveil through the turning of pages, and the movement of the eye across the page, that is wonderfully unique and un-reproducible in cinema.

    Thanks for the article, Josh. 

  42. I feel of two minds on this subject, which, as always, is just the one.

    Cultural relativism is when something not understood by someone is discussed in terms of something they do understand.
    At first, this is wonderful, it allows people to come to grasps with the idea of new DIFFERENT ideas and ways of thinking, but then it turns sour. If the introduced ideas and concepts aren’t then discussed in terms of their own (it’s own language), then they aren’t really new, are they? they’re just reinterpretations of the viewers own culture, which isn’t correct. In order to see things as they are, the language the viewer is speaking has to expand and adapted.
    This is where the problem seems to be cropping up. Keeping in mind that movies and comics are subcultures of their own and really sects of the same sub-culture (that is, from the etic [outside observer’s] side of things, the two are almost identical, varying on very specific points), what we have here is Movielanders assimilating Comiclanders.
    They are coming at comics from a very similar world, but lack the language they need to trully understand it. At the moment, they are describing things through their own language, one that will remain inefficient (and insufficient) until it adapts the language of comics (hehe, the "invisible art"), but there’s a little kink in the normal learning process … like cartoons, comic are viewed by the dominate culture as something to "grow out of", and not a legitimate art form of their own. This is inbred into our way of thinking, because it’s our culture. As such, the sect of moviegoers are unintentionally avoiding the language of comics (they don’t know they’re doing it, they just are). As a result, they are not learning how to understand comics, they are learning who to treat it as an inferior art.

    So now’s the time to take advantage of a brilliant situation. The world of comics could potentially expand by using the movies to validate them to new cultures (the very thing this article is railing against). Instead of complaining that people aren’t getting it, that it’s it own thing, that it shouldn’t be compared to, JUMP ON IT. Say things like, "that wouldn’t be here without the comic, bet you thought those were just for kids, eh?", "want to see the original before it was remade?", "yeah, the adaptation was good. You should read the original *hands ’em a comic*", "Thank goodness people like us support the comic industry, so movies won’t always be crap. You don’t read comics? So you like bad movies?".

    Don’t lose this chance to expanded the world of comics by complaining about ignorance to the ignorant, use their lack of knowledge to your advantage!

    In other words CONVERT THEM.

    Do it before we lose yet more of our hard-won validation in the dominate culture that surrounds us.

  43. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE comics on Wednesdays!!  But come Saturday afternoon, I’m going to the movies and catching the six dollar matinee, fuck it.

    Oh, and Monday I love television cuz Terminator is on and the Terminator chick (not Sarah Connor) is so SEXY!!  She can terminate me anytime!

  44. Someone told me their film professor made her class study comic books to learn visual storytelling.  I think this is in an indication that filmmakers aren’t just paying attention to the medium every once and a while, but that there is more of a dialogue than ever between the two mediums.

    I think its inevitable that comic book movies will provoke the most discussion because it’s a subject that stirs the interest and passion of almost all comic book fans and also brings in people who just like movies. 

    Finally, I think this has a variety of consequences that are both positive and negative.  On the one hand, many creators seem to be treating their comics as part of a pitch package.  On the other hand, because of this, you have probably the greatest diversity of genres and stories that I can remember.  Horror comics were dead and buried before Steve Niles started selling properties like hotcakes.  "Sin City" (the movie) brought back noir and crime.  Granted the best stories are from creators who are interested in making good comics, but it’s these pop culture crossover successes which make larger companies open to non-superhero fare. 

     Ignorance is always frustrating, but there is a growing cultural awareness of comic books as a literary and popular medium.  

  45. You’re right icn1983, the comics stigma is much reduced from where it used to be 20 years ago.  People still don’t read them, but they are more recognized and appreciated as an alternative art form in the US than they ever were before.

  46. As independent comic creators, we have seen the influence that Hollywood has had on the perception of comics from the outside world – but also the effect that it’s had on the comic industry itself.


    We’ve been trying to find a publisher for our indy superhero series, The Uniques, and it’s been disappointing to us just how much the prospect of the movie industry has begun to overshadow comics even in the minds of comic creators and especially editors. Comics have always been merchandising opportunities for the companies who publish them, but since comic movies have become hot commodities, that’s all some creators and publishers seem to care about.


    When talking with a number of smaller independent publishers, the common thread has always been that they see comics as little more than storyboards for movie and TV pitches. They aren’t interested in comics that are intended to just be comics, but salivate over 3-4 issue miniseries that they can immediately turn around into Hollywood projects. Keep them short, splashy, less than 25 words to a page, and keep your premise action-movie simple.


    We can obviously only speak from our own experience, but it seems that comics as an industry are just trying to make the next Watchmen movie– thereby making the next Watchmen comic an impossibility. New creators are encouraged to dumb down their ideas to fit the widescreen storyboard format (and a PG-13 rating, please, to get that wider audience), and if you want to write for the big guys you’d better have a TV or film credit to your name or they won’t even listen to you. It’s been incredibly disappointing to feel like even comics themselves would rather be at the movies.