There’s a new store in my neighborhood that sells comic books and all that comes with them these days: graphic novels, character action figures, overly-clever t-shirts, trading cards and supplies for fantasy games.
In my day, there weren’t any stores like this. We bought our comics at the corner drug store (there was a spinning rack right by the front door) and didn’t have any of the associated gift items that make up a lot of the comic market value now.
Today, comics are a huge industry. There are international conventions. There are spin-off graphic novels clearly intended for adults. Comic book characters are the basis, not just for fabulously successful stand-alone movies, but for mega-million dollar franchises of high-grossing movie series and international merchandising. Witness this year’s The Avengers, taken from the long-running Marvel Comic series, the new Batman movie, from the DC Comics’ hero, and Marvel’s SpiderMan film remake.
Part of the difference over time, of course, is that the intended comic audience has changed so substantially since the days when I first read them, during the so-called Silver Age of comics (mid-1950s to 1970). A look at comic conventions, like San Diego’s ComicCon, shows that these days, comics draw late-teens and young adults more than kids running weekly to their local drugstores.
In the end, I couldn’t resist walking into my new local comic store for a quick look. I found it filled with customers, all glasses-wearing, iPhone or iPad toting men in their early 20s. And the way they leafed through the books and stole oblique looks at the two comely young ladies working there reminded me less of my early days flipping through comics at the drug store than guys sneaking looks at the wares of the many adult stores in the Tenderloin.
Then it dawned on me, comics aren’t comics anymore; they’re nerd porn.
People often ask why writing for popular films can be so bad.
I have a hypothesis. But first, let me say I love movies and find the writing in many films to be of very high quality. That said, there are many very popular films that induce audience groans at the silliness, dumbness, flatness and woodenness of their writing.
Let’s start by asking who goes to movies. According to MPAA data, males make up over half of the moviegoing audience. About 50% are under the age of 25. Therefore, the movie audience is more male and a lot younger than the general American population.
So let’s add some unscientific but recent personal experience with that demographic group.
In preparation for taking my son and his classmates to see The Avengers a few weeks ago, I asked my son about the characters I’d likely see in the picture and about the films they’d been in previously. I asked him specifically about Thor because I hadn’t seen that movie when it was released last year. My son’s synopsis (in its entirety) of the 115 minute Thor movie went something like this:
So, Thor’s a god, right? And he comes to earth because of something his brother did. And he meets that girl from Star Wars, who married Anakin, and she’s a doctor. And Thor’s all, like, “Hey, I can’t stay here on earth.” And she’s all, like, “Whatever.” But he tries to go back but can’t because of something his brother did. So he decides to stay. And also, he likes her. So, yeah, that’s it. It was good.
Consider what my teenaged son took from that script. Hardly a reason to put in extra effort, huh?
And as long as Hollywood answers to the purchasing power of an audience that skews young and male, we’re likely to continue getting movies that are looks first and writing second.
Tomorrow after school, I’m going to take 8 thirteen-year-old boys to see ‘The Avengers’ in 3-D and pray that I don’t puke. I don’t know whether it’s my advancing age or advances in film technology but movies in 3-D are starting to make me dizzy and bother my stomach; ‘Green Lantern’ came closest so far to making me hurl.
I could, of course, just drop the kids off at the theater but, to be honest (and I do try to be honest with you), I really want to see it. I confess that I used to read ‘The Avengers’ comic books as a kid and learned a lot about life in those pages.
About the sympathy of physicians…
About the joys of marriage…
About respect for democracy and elected representatives…
I don’t know what lasting life lessons these 8 kids are going to get from this picture, but I’m going to be taking notes.