When it comes to other-media adaptations of comic-book properties, I think it’s safe to say we’re something of a Golden Age of quality entertainment, unrivalled and unseen since the days of the many movie serials of the 1940s. Technology has caught up with the imaginations of the men and women who crafted super-hero adventures for years, and movie producers have realized that not only is there a thirst for good super-hero adaptations, but they’re looking at comics for projects other than that genre for which the medium is best known (at least in Western markets).
The biggest movie blockbuster of the summer is the supremely entertaining Guardians of the Galaxy. The most watched show on television is The Walking Dead. Marvel owns super-hero genre adaptations on the big screen, while this fall, DC Entertainment is poised to reign supreme with a full slate of shows — Arrow, The Flash, Constantine and Gotham — on various networks. Fans who grew up with comics in the 20th century could never have imagined such an embarrassment of riches when it comes to seeing beloved characters brought to life.
But speaking of embarrassment and riches, this seemingly unyielding trend of comics adaptations has stoked the flames of controversy, at least among followers of the comic-book industry: respect (or a lack thereof) for the people who actually crafted the characters and concepts that Hollywood is using to harvest big bucks.
Setting aside the issue of monetary acknowledgement for comics creators for other-media adaptations, let’s look at simple on-screen credits, using the recently released Guardians of the Galaxy as an example. At the end of the flick, there were a slew of comics creators mentioned at the tail end of the closing credits, from Jim Starlin (for Thanos, among others) to Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (for writing stories from which the movie drew the framework for its plot) to the tragically disabled Bill Mantlo (who co-created the film’s most popular character, Rocket). Artists who worked on those stories earned some credit as well, and there was a more prominent credit for the creators of a surprise character who turned up, albeit briefly, in the post-credits scene.
Despite the fact the credits weren’t exhaustive, people applauded these mentions, especially the one for the post-credits scene character (no spoilers here), mainly because those creators had such a long and arduous road in fighting for their creator rights against Marvel for decades.
But none of these many names appeared at the beginning of film, unlike the actors, director and screenwriters who participated. If one hadn’t sat through the closing credits and paid attention, one might think Guardians emerged right out of Hollywood rather than the typewriters, computers, pencils, brushes and pens in home offices in New York, the United Kingdom and other locales.
In a thread (I can no longer find) I saw on Facebook, one comics writer/artist called on colleagues and comics fans to make a statement about creator rights over the weekend by getting out and seeing Sin City: A Dame to Kill For on the big screen. Specifically, he argued that Frank Miller’s name being placed above the title on posters and other material, as well as the mention of his name so frequently in media coverage of the debuting sequel, made the boldest statement possible about respect for the creator of a comic work that’s being brought to a wider audience through the movies.
There’s absolutely no doubt that Miller’s penetration into the wider, mainstream social consciousness is a win for comics, and it’s a testament to the powerful and unique voice he brings to the medium. I’d argue that after Stan Lee, Frank Miller is probably the next-best-known name from the world of comics among members of the public who aren’t intimately familiar with the people who craft comics. I think he’s even better known than Siegel, Shuster and Kane (though it’s arguable), though I’d like to think Jack Kirby might be a name as familiar to non-comics readers as Miller’s.
As for the argument that Miller’s top billing on the new Sin City flick is the kind of creator credit those concerned with such have been clamoring for, I don’t necessarily agree. I’m not saying Miller doesn’t deserve credit; I can’t imagine anyone who would deserve it more in these circumstances, as Sin City is his singular vision that’s been faithfully and meticulously adapted for the big screen.
But I really don’t see Miller’s name emblazoned above “A Dame to Kill For” as a creator credit. I certainly doubt the Hollywood types who agreed to put it there do. No, instead, it’s branding. Miller’s reputation and profile is prominent enough that it’s being used to sell this movie. It was used to sell The Spirit (though that didn’t quite work out as all had hoped), and it’s being used here again to sell Miller’s new Sin City flick.
This is marketing, pure and simple. That Miller’s creative vision has reached a comparable status (in terms of name recognition) as, say, noted directors such as Spielberg or the Coen Brothers, or noteworthy screenwriters such as Charlie Kaufman, is a feather in his cap. And I think it’s good for the medium of comics. But that doesn’t mean Miller has earned the respect of Hollywood suits as a writer and artist, as a creator. I think it means they see his name, along with his talents and creative vision, as another means to bolster their bottom lines.
If Marvel or Warner Bros. thought putting Jack Kirby’s name ahead of the title on Avengers 2: Age of Ultron or displaying the names Siegel, Kane, Shuster and Finger on posters for Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice movie posters would put extra asses in a movie theatre seat next summer, you can be damn sure they’d do it (or consider it).
Alan Moore is another comics creator whose name and reputation has managed to extend beyond the world of comics and into the mainstream, and he’s learned his name is a tool used by a system for which he has disdain to make more money. He’s demanded movie studios remove his name from movies based on his comics. He’s even had Marvel omit his name and refer to him as “the Original Writer” on its Miracleman reprints. Now, his situation isn’t analogous to that of Miller, who has guided adaptations of his work through Hollywood, but Moore’s demands are evidence of name recognition as a means of marketing rather than any kind of credit or respect.
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