Alternate Cover: screenwriters in comics

James knows why screenwriters don't respect comics... but why doesn't the comics industry respect itself?

Hulk

Presented with apologies to any screenwriter who releases comics on-time and treats the medium like a proper job.

A few years ago, Joe Quesada convinced cult movie-maker Kevin Smith to write a Daredevil arc. In doing so, Quesada sealed the critical acclaim and sales that ultimately left him in charge of Marvel. He also kick-started a new trend – screenwriters coming to comics. It’s good for sales, it’s good for publicity – what could go wrong?

As it turns out, quite a lot. This week, Marvel released two books by screenwriters. One was Jon Favreau’s Iron Man comic, “Viva Las Vegas” which, despite the high hopes on display as recently as last week’s column, received mixed (largely bad) reviews. Meanwhile, Bob Gale, co-writer of Back to the Future, begins his second arc on Amazing Spider-Man, after a poor reception to the first. Kevin Smith and Lost head-honcho Damon Lindelof both have miniseries so overdue that the likelihood of ever seeing the stories completed is infinitesimally small.

Hollywood, it seems, can’t seem to get comics right. If they’re not phoned in, they’re late. In a way, it’s understandable – after all, the comics industry is tiny. When asked to cater for a TV or film servicing millions, or a comic that comes in shy of 200,000 readers, it’s a no-brainer as to what the writers should choose, because ultimately, they need to pay their bills like anyone else. The real question we should ask isn’t “Why do screenwriters disrespect the comics industry?” – it’s “Why doesn’t the comics industry have more respect for itself?”

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After all, the best comics come from the kind of people with deep, clear understanding of the characters, rather than a passing, if enthusiastic familiarity. Joss Whedon’s Buffy comic is smashing records and gaining well-deserved attention, and his X-Men run was a breath of fresh air for the title, if not ground-breaking. Kevin Smith’s Daredevil renewed interest in the character. Fair enough. But the comics industry? Take Grant Morrison, whose X-Men run was ground-breaking, and whose All Star Superman stories could not be replicated in any other medium. Frank Miller’s Daredevil run contributed more to the character since he was first created by Stan Lee, even as Miller himself helped define a cultural movement.

Then there’s the comics industry trump card – Alan Moore, a genuine modern Shakespeare! Did we really need to humour J. Michael Straczynski when he suggested Rising Stars would be the next Watchmen? Do we need to make excuses for Smith when he releases one issue of a 4-issue series then disappears off the face of the industry, back to movieland? Or do we remind them, next time, just who they’re dealing with?

If it seems like screenwriters treat comics with no respect, then maybe it’s because a meek little comics industry doesn’t convince anyone it deserves any, happily playing the role of the hungry dog, taking whatever meagre scraps are offered from the table.

Especially in a world where comics are providing the basis for the biggest grossing movies of each year, isn’t it time that publishers stop acting like the vanity-project playground for Hollywood? It’s not the 90s anymore – time for comics to reclaim some of that lost dignity.

Alternate Cover will be back next Monday; read James’s last column here.