|Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone|
in the latest and greatest version
Lately, I've been very intrigued by the comic book and graphic novel industry. Recently, I took a trip to Paris and, out of curiosity, I wanted to see if the Virgin Megastore on the Champs Elysées was still in business (considering how so many forms of entertainment have gone digital). For me, it was a trip down memory lane, being a poor broke English assistant, I spent many hours with headphones on listening to the latest CDs on the market. (Wow, do I feel old!) Of course, the store had changed and things had been rearranged but, to my surprise, the top floor was dedicated to a café, a small pricey area filled with expensive writing utensils and... comic books and graphic novels. I'm talking walls and rows of comics and graphic novels I'd never heard of and some that have been around for years. All I could think was, "Who reads these?" because I certainly don't. I didn't take a photo to share, but click here if you'd like to see what it looks like.
A few months back I wrote a guest post entitled "The Year of the Superhero," and quite frankly I wrote it because I've noticed how saturated movie theaters have become when it comes to movies about superheroes. By the end of this summer, there will have been five superhero movies released already this year. Marvel Comics alone has a new comic book on stands every Wednesday. Not being a comic book reader, that sure shocked the pants off of me!
And I'm also curious as to why so many people get pulled into these stories. There obviously has to be a market for both comic books and graphic novels if they are getting published on a very regular basis since their popularity exploded in 1939. So, I went in search of some answers.
First, let's start by defining the difference between comic books and graphic novels. According to Graphic Novels.com, here is how they define both mediums:
❝Graphic novels are, simply defined, book-length comics. Sometimes they tell a single, continuous narrative from first page to last; sometimes they are collections of shorter stories or individual comic strips. Comics are sequential visual art, usually with text, that are often told in a series of rectangular panels. Despite the name, not all comics are funny. Many comics and graphic novels emphasize drama, adventure, character development, striking visuals, politics, or romance over laugh-out-loud comedy.❞But what is it about these storylines, with their comically dressed masked men and women and bubbles of words floating about their heads? Why do we need superheroes in our lives?
One of the longest running comics still on the market is The Phantom, the first ever superhero to grace the pages of a newspaper. He doesn't have any supernatural powers like those who followed in his footsteps (i.e. Superman, Spiderman, The Green Lantern, Wonderwoman, etc.), but rather relies upon his natural powers and skills like Batman, Black Widow, and Iron Man. In an informal and unscientific conversation with my husband who used to be quite the fanboy back in the day (and in some ways still is), I asked him what he enjoys about superheroes in general. Do those with supernatural powers outweigh those without? Do the female superheroes need to be sexy in order to draw the male public in? And the stories -- are they any good?
For my husband, The Punisher is his favorite. If you can remember back to the films that have been made, then you'll know they didn't fare too well at the box office. But it's the guns and the vendetta The Punisher has that makes him relatable to the reading public (or mainly to men). He's an antihero of sorts, one who goes after the criminals with any type of war weaponry available. He stands up for the little guy. And, perhaps, there in lies the key. Will any given superhero stand up for Plain Jane and Average Joe when the going gets tough? He pretty much has to if he wants the public to love him.
Here is a list of other characteristics many superheroes share:
- Wears a Costume (I can't think of one who doesn't.)
- Role Model
- Has a Weakness (Kryptonite, anyone?)
- Has an Arch Enemy
- Secret Identity (alter ego)
- Love Interest (i.e. Mary Jane, Lois Lane, any one of Bruce Wayne's women)
- Has a Goal
- Special Powers (not necessarily supernatural powers)
- Earns Respect
- Has a sidekick
- Uses Gadgets
- Has a Lair or Hideout
- Interesting Past (this is what motivates him in his quests)
- Vehicle (i.e. the Batmobile, Iron Man's suit, the cool plane the X-Men use)
Overall, I think what most look for in a superhero is whether or not he is incredible in some extraordinary way and yet is very human and relatable to what is going on in one's life. My husband prefers those who don't possess a supernatural power because they are just like you and me. Take a look at Bruce Wayne. He has this dark past that makes him human on many different levels, but when the sun goes down, he goes out and hunts down the bad guys. At the same time most comic book and graphic novel readers enjoy the badassery of all superheroes, even the somewhat antiheroes like V from V for Vendetta. He's out there cleaning up the streets using his terrorist tactics to fight against his totalitarian government, but also keeping a cozy existence underground enjoying the simpler things in life like music and books. Superman has impressive powers, but at the same time he's just a boy who grew up on a farm and works as a reporter for his day job. You can't get more basic than that, can you?
|Sometimes a superhero never|
connects with the audience, like
with The Green Hornet.
"No one loved it into existence. No one had a dream...it feels less like an adaptation of The Green Hornet than a series of vague gestures on a 'Green Hornet' theme. In the place of the basic elements of storytelling, the movie offers vacancy."In truth, consumers of comic books and graphic novels don't want to spend their money on some vague story that offers no satisfaction in return. They want to see the hero overpower the villain. They want to see what drives that character to go on a vigilante quest. They want to know what weakens the superheroes strengths and how that superhero devises a plan to get around such obstacles. The reader wants to feel his/her own vindication in the end, and, of course, there needs to be a hook to push that reader into buying the next installment in the series.
After all, what Mike LaSalle has to say at the end of his review is very true indeed:
"It's strange, but even in an action comedy, if the audience doesn't care whether the protagonist gets killed, it's a big problem. Without that one human element, all the carefully orchestrated action becomes mere commotion -- and sleep inducing."Keep that in mind. We don't want to become noise in a reader's ear, to the point that he/she stops reading our work. Any writer needs to make the reader care about that main character -- no matter what genre you write!
Are you a comic book/graphic novel reader? If so, what's your favorite and why? Do you feel that any of the longstanding stories have jumped the shark and you just won't read them anymore? Do you feel the films ever measure up to what's written in the books?