I’ve gone into some detail elsewhere about how my Forgotten Horrors series of movie encyclopedias (1979 and onward) dovetails with my collaborative comic-book efforts with Timothy Truman and John K. Snyder III. More about all that as things develop at ComicMix. This new batch of Forgotten Horrors commentaries will have more to do with the overall relationship between movies and the comics and, off-and-on, with the self-contained appeal of motion pictures. I have yet to meet the comics enthusiast who lacks an appreciation of film.
Although it is especially plain nowadays that comics exert a significant bearing upon the moviemaking business – with fresh evidence in marquee-value outcroppings for the Spider-Man and TMNT franchises and 300 – the greater historical perspective finds the relationship to be quite the other way around.
It helps to remember a couple of things: Both movies and comics, pretty much as we know them today, began developing late in the 19th century. And an outmoded term for comics is movies; its popular usage as such dates from comparatively recent times. The notion of movies-on-paper took a decisive shape during the 1910s, when a newspaper illustrator named Ed Wheelan began spoofing the moving pictures (also known among the shirtsleeves audience as “moom pitchers” and “fillums”), with cinema-like visual grammar, in a loose-knit series for William Randolph Hearst’s New York American.
Christened Midget Movies in 1918, Wheelan’s series evolved from quick-sketch parodies of cinematic topics to sustained narratives, running for days at a stretch and combining melodramatic plot-and-character developments with cartoonish exaggerations. Wheelan’s move to the Adams Syndicate in 1921 prompted a change of title, to Minute Movies. (Don Markstein’s Web-based Toonopedia points out that the term is “mine-yute,” as in tiny, rather than “minnit,” as in a measure of time. No doubt an intended sense of connection with the Hearst trademark Midget Movies.) Chester Gould showed up in 1924 with a Wheelan takeoff called Fillum Fables – seven years before Gould’s more distinctive breakthrough with Dick Tracy.