In 2000, M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable showcased a love and interest in comics that transcended most expectation of a superhero film. Nineteen years later, Unbreakable‘s sequel understanding of the medium seems stilted and slightly outdated. But if you want to watch something entertaining about people who make and love comics, there are plenty of incredible films, and even a couple of television shows out there. From indie hits to crude comedies to action thrillers to classic musicals, there’s a whole bunch of brilliant stories that shine a light on the enigmatic industry.
People Places Things
One of the best films about comic books and cartooning ever made, this heartfelt indie comedy focuses on a cartoonist and comics professor played by Jemaine Clement. As his life falls apart around him, he befriends a student in his graphic novel class, played by Jessica Williams, and slowly embarks on a romance with her mother, played by the wonderful Regina Hall. Subversive, sweet, and brutally honest about the creative process, People Places Things is a total joy.
This ’90s oddity stars Courteney Cox as a comic book illustrator who draws Rob Liefeld-esque EXXXTREEME comics about a sexy heroine called Iron Medusa. After a vicious assault in New York, she moves to the titular locale to focus on creating her next book, but is set upon by two strange men, neither of whom can be trusted. This is one of the interesting relics of the ’80s/’90s comics boom which saw a spate of stories featuring comic book creators as protagonists without being focused specifically on their art form. It also happens to be a solid low budget thriller.
Another forgotten ’90s gem is Bob Newhart’s short lived sitcom Bob, which focused on a classic comic book artist who was forced out of the industry by the introduction of the Comics Code Authority. After a long stint as a greeting card artist, he’s hired by a company during the ’90s boom to draw his old character Mad-Dog. It’s a pretty humorous set-up as Bob wants to continue his classic style comics whilst the company wants a violent, extreme, and very ’90s take. This one’s particular intriguing as Marvel actually made tie-comics featuring Mad-Dog.
Caroline in the City
Though many people seem to forget, the core concept of the popular sitcom Caroline in the City was that the titular character was a popular cartoonist, similar in style to Cathy Guisewite, whose simple but dynamic cartoons were ubiquitous during the period. It’s rare to see women represented in the comics industry and this was a refreshing recognition of Guisewite and other female creators’ massive contribution to the art form.
This wildly popular manga-turned-anime series is a brilliant look at two young boys, Akito and Moritaka, who want to become mangaka (manga artists). For many manga fans, it was the first time that they got a look behind the curtain of their favorite medium as the two protagonists end up getting published in the popular manga magazine Shonen Jump. It’s also one of the rare projects that actually deals with the strain of creating and burnout—a major plot point focuses on Moritaka’s grandfather, a mangaka who died from overwork.
Artists and Models
Did you know there was a musical about a female comic creator who lives with her muse played by Shirley MaClaine? Well now you do! Artists and Models centers on a painter named Rick played by Dean Martin and his friend, huge comic book fan Jerry Lewis’ Eugene. Eugene has no idea that he lives in the same building as Abigail played by Dorothy Malone, the artist of his fave comic Bat-Lady. It’s comic book-centric musical comedy of errors in which Rick becomes inspired by Eugene’s strange dreams and becomes a famed comics creator and Abigail ends up leading an anti-comics crusade similar to the real life Wertham depositions.
Even though many of the relationships, moral core, and general message of Kevin Smith’s strange and slut-shamey movie are questionable at best, it was the first time that a lot of people saw the role of a comics creator represented onscreen, notably introducing audiences to the processes of coloring, inking, and pencilling. Ben Affleck and Jason Lee play the co-creators of the Bluntman and Chronic comic, and Joey Lauren Adams plays a gay fellow artist whom Holden falls for.
This strange Eric Roberts offering is only really notable because it stars Stan Lee as himself and a rare onscreen interpretation of the infamous Marvel bullpen. Yep, in this really weird horror thriller, Roberts is a comic book artist who stalks a pretty woman who ends up being kidnapped by a nefarious ring of evil doctors in a very old ambulance. His comic book job plays a pretty large role and he even gets in trouble with Stan for drawing too many women who look like his enigmatic crush.
Images: Shonen Jump, Sony, Miramax, Paramount Pictures, CBS, Alchemy, The Film Arcade