10 Great Movies About Comic-Book Creators
The new biopic Professor Marston and the Wonder Women tells the secret origin of America’s favorite superheroine, revealing how the lives of her creator, William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans) and his long-term polyamorous relationship with two women (played by Rachel Hall and Bella Heathcote), shaped Diana’s views, values, and weapons. It’s a fun, sweet, sexy film, and it joins a slowly expanding list of movies about the makers of the superhero comics that fuel so much of our modern popular culture. Here are ten other great examples to watch, with links where to stream them when applicable:
American Splendor (2003)
Directed by Shari Springer and Robert Pulcini
Cleveland artist Harvey Pekar was an innovator in the field of autobiographical comics. In 2003, he was given a biopic worthy of his art in American Splendor, named for his amazing series of stories about the hapless misadventures of Cleveland artist Harvey Pekar. The real Pekar appears in the film, alongside Paul Giamatti, playing “Harvey Pekar,” and tracing the origins of his transformation from humble file clerk to pillar of the indie comics world. American Splendor is currently available on Cinemax.
Artists and Models (1955)
Directed by Frank Tashlin
Near the end of the long partnership, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis teamed for this comedy about a group of comic creators, which also includes Dororthy Malone as the creator of the beloved “Bat Lady” and Shirley MacClaine as her roommate and model for the character. Director Frank Tashlin was a former comics artist and animator, and he brought that experience to the film, which is one of the greatest in the Martin and Lewis catalog. Artists and Models isn’t currently streaming anywhere, but you can rent or purchase it on Amazon or other online retailers.
Comic Book Confidential (1988)
Directed by Ron Mann
One of the earliest longform documentaries about comic books traces the medium’s early days through the contemporary work released around the film of the film (so the mid-to-late-1980s). As a result, the film’s story is a bit out of date in 2017, but Comic Book Confidential still provides you a good window into the past, and to what was considered the important canonical work in the field circa 1988. Comic Book Confidential is on Comic-Con HQ, which you can watch through Amazon Channels.
Directed by Terry Zwigoff
Terry Zwigoff spent nearly a decade developing, shooting, and editing this film about the life of famed underground artist Robert Crumb and his family. The portrait that emerges is one of the most complex and, in its depiction of Crumb’s brother Charles, one of the saddest ever captured. It’s a great film, and a troubling one as well. (The night after I saw it for the first time, I couldn’t sleep. I just feel like you should know that going in.) Crumb is currently streaming on Filmstruck.
Chasing Amy (1997)
Directed by Kevin Smith
The heroes of Kevin Smith’s indie romantic comedy, Holden (Ben Affleck) and Banky (Jason Lee) are the creators of a popular comic called Bluntman and Chronic (which Smith later turned into a real comic book). 20 years later, some of the film’s sexual politics (Holden falls for a lesbian, played by Joey Lauren Adams) look quite dated. But I can tell you from personal experience that seeing this movie in a theater in 1997, at a time when the internet was in its infancy, and no one I knew wanted to admit to being a comic-book fan, was an important moment for the medium. And the scenes of Holden and Banky at a comic-book convention have a great time capsule feel for what the comics scene was like in the ’90s. You can rent or purchase Chasing Amy, and the film is also available on Starz.
Doomed: The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four (2015)
Directed by Marty Langford
Some comments from Fantastic Four co-creator Stan Lee notwithstanding, Doomed doesn’t feature a lot of direct contributions from comic-book artists. But it does give you a really good sense of the economics of the industry that is now driving so much of the superhero world. In the early 1990s, indie exploitation producer Roger Corman got his hands on the rights to make a Fantastic Four movie. This documentary explores the mysterious motivations behind the film (Was it never intended for release?) and features stories (some hilarious, some incredibly sad) from the making of one of the most misbegotten comic-book movies ever made. Doomed is available on Amazon Prime.
In Search of Steve Ditko (2007)
Watch the closing credits of Thor: Ragnarok closely, and you’ll see Steve Ditko listed among the thank yous. Ditko was one of the pillars of Marvel’s Silver Age; as a co-creator of Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and other characters, he is one of the most important artists of the 20th century. But after a dispute with Stan Lee and the company, he left Marvel, and after a brief runs with the competition, he essentially retreated from the world. He still produces some independent work, but Ditko shuns interviews and any sort of public attention at all cost. This fascinating BBC documentary starring British presenter Jonathan Ross features interviews with Ditko colleagues, and follows Ross as he attempts to track down the notoriously shy genius. In Search of Steve Ditko isn’t commercially available, but copies of it pop up online from time to time.
Future Shock! The Story of 2000 AD (2014)
Directed by Paul Goodwin
The British anthology series 2000 AD is one of the most important comics in modern history (Love the Dredd movie? He got his start in 2000 AD. This lively documentary traces its origins and impact, and features contributions from many of its most important contributors, including Neil Gaiman, John Wagner, Brian Bolland, and Grant Morrison, along with famous fans and acolytes like Alex Garland and Scott Ian. Future Shock! is currently available to stream for members of Amazon Prime.
The Mindscape of Alan Moore (2003)
Directed by Dez Vylenz
Alan Moore is the man responsible (or co-responsible) for comics like Watchmen, V For Vendetta, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and the most famous run in the history of Swamp Thing. This documentary, one of the few Moore has contributed to, explores his work and theories about the comics medium. If you want a pure and varnished blast of pure Alan Moore (and you may not, it can be a lot), this is the place to find it (if you can find it; it’s not commercially available at the moment, though you might see it online).
Superheroes: A Neverending Battle (2013)
A broader overview of the history of superhero comics, this PBS miniseries includes interviews with many of the industry’s titans, including Stan Lee, Neal Adams, Len Wein, Carmine Infantino, Jim Steranko, Jules Feiffer, Joe Quesada, Denny O’Neil, and many more. If you want a solid historical overview with plenty of context and contributions from the men and women who were there, this is a great place to look. It’s currently available on Amazon Prime.
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