Instead of having a calendar, I have a newspaper (kids: ask your parents). If it’s Tuesday, it’s Science Times. Wednesday it’s Dining. Thursday, my favorite, has Style and Home. Friday is two Arts sections. Saturday is Charles Blow.
And Monday shines a spotlight on the commerce in media in the business section.
This is great for me, because I write this column on Tuesday. This week, there was a discussion of the new Disney film, Oz the Great and Powerful, opening this weekend. It’s a big gamble for Disney, investing in characters they don’t own, at a time when many expensive fantasy films have not performed to expectations (I’m looking at you, Jack the Giant Slayer).
Hollywood is always looking for the next big thing. At the same time, the people making the financial decisions can be very conservative, especially when we’re talking big-budget special effects. So I guess what I mean is, Hollywood is always looking for the next big sure thing.
The problem is that money people are not always good judges about what the public will like. If it was only a question of appealing to the lowest common denominator, that would be simple, and the multiplex would play all Twilight all the time. That might bring in a steady rate of return, but eventually, the public would get bored and want to see something else. And that something else might cost a lot less than Twilight, and, while that movie not make Twilight money, would make a much more for each dollar invested.
This is why the movie companies look for ideas in other media. This is why they adapt stories from novels, or television shows, or even comic books.
Which brings me to the other story in Monday’s paper. David Carr wrote about The Walking Dead, and how it is more successful on cable’s AMC than many shows on the broadcast networks.
I haven’t been reading the comic, although Robert Kirkman is one of my son’s favorite writers. Still, I’m not surprised the show is so successful. Through dozens of issues, Kirkman wrote characters that appealed to people, that engaged them in a story. Other comics have spawned successful series on television, including Superman (with and without Lois in the title), Superboy, Flash, the Incredible Hulk and Green Arrow.
Comics have been less consistently successful as movies, and I think that’s because the producers do not have to rely as much on character. They seem to think a few good fight scenes will make up for ridiculous plots and people. Look at the difference in the way the Hulk was portrayed on television and on screen right up until The Avengers.
I think the difference is that Joss Whedon understands comics and why they are appealing. He’s actually written them. He has respect for the idea that the action flows from the character, not the other way around. He knows how to tell a character that has proven herself.
Which brings me to this week’s other hot topic. My old pal, Jerry Ordway, wrote a blog post about how difficult it is for comic creators of a certain age to get work. Jerry worked on the death and return of Superman story lines, the bestselling comics of all time. He continues to do work of excellent quality, but because he’s not the flavor of the month, he can’t get any assignments.
Other mass-market entertainment doesn’t play by these rules. Yes, it’s smart to always be scouting hot young talent, because it’s hot and it’s young. Even so, booksellers always want the next Stephen King book, or John Grisham, or J. K. Rowlings, and iTunes pushes Elvis Costello and Judy Collins. Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg still make movies.
The market appreciates proven talent because, well, it’s been proven. It would be great if comic book companies appreciated it too.
SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman
SUNDAY: John Ostrander