Thursday, March 10, 2011

12 Insights from "Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics"



Narrated by Ryan Reynolds (soon to be seen in the title role in "Green Lantern"), "Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics" explores the history of the publisher who gave us Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, among others. There are interviews with Neal Adams, Paul Pope, Neil Gaiman, Louise Simonson, Karen Berger and the recently deceased Dwayne McDuffie, among others. It's a fascinating look behind the scenes of the publisher whose characters have endured for over 50 years.

Here are some insights gleaned from the film:

1. Neal Adams: comic books are the dreams and aspirations of human beings. It's the medium.

If you [combine] the best artist in the world and the best writer in the world, they will make the greatest piece of art in the world and you know what you'll call it? You'll call it a comic book.

RE: Frank Miller—He's not afraid. You gotta be kind of punk. You just gotta be punk once and awhile.

We think if the conditions present themselves, we will be the hero of the moment.

2. The characters with longevity often come from a place of oppression, a place of wanting to break out of the world they're in.

3. Vision and risk (this theme has come up in all of the documentaries on which I've commented). In the 1970's, no one thought that a superhero movie could be a blockbuster. But producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind decided to take a chance. Alexander: "I believe it could be very good as a major film if done right." Ilya: "I thought [the actor for Superman] should be an unknown. They all started working on me and commercial side said we need a star. There's a moment when you weaken and I said you might be right and we started looking for a star. Thank God Redford turned it down."

4. Hiring from without can help. In 1977, 28-year-old Jenette Kahn was hired as the first female and youngest publisher of DC. She had no comics experience but also no preconceived notions. She contributed tremendously to the company's new thinking and its modern literary sensibility.

5. Alan Moore: I don't want everybody to agree with me. I just want people to think.

6. Neil Gaiman: For years I had to explain to people that comics is a medium, not a genre. It's an empty bottle and you can put anything you like in that bottle.

Sandman really was a comic I was writing to please myself. I think there's lots of other people who like the same kinds of stuff I like.

7. Karen Berger (DC Editor): If we're really talking about making comics relevant and really treating this like a literary form, you've got to let people create their own work and have a stake in it.

8. Too much darkness. Despite the success of killing (then resurrecting) Superman, it inspired a rash of imitators. Almost every superhero began having the gritty psychological darkness of Watchmen and The Dark Knight. It became hard to tell the difference between the heroes and the villains because the heroes's behavior had become evil instead of morally ambiguous. There was a lack of meaning. Comics became so dark that they lost sight of their core—triumphing over adversity.

9. Mark Waid: Superheroes had become things that fight against things. They don't fight for anything. Waid and Alex Ross, with Kingdom Come, wanted to get away from meaningless, cynical storytelling.

10. Paul Pope: The world needs inspirational and aspirational heroes.

11. Chip Kidd: You've got to make these characters into real people that you care about. If you can do that then if somebody's dangling off the side of a building, it really does upset you.

12. Comics convey the deepest hopes of the generation.

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