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Telling Stories: The Comic Book Creators (DVD)

Date: Thursday, August 4, 2005
Reviewer: Darren Schroeder
Rating: ****
Writer: Greg Jurls (dir)
Publisher: Hero Video Prod.

Address: PO Box 890397, Huston, TX, 77289-0387, USA.
Price: $24.95(US)

Hero Video Productions has put together a 2-hour DVD of interviews with a range of comic creators. These include Bruce Timm of Batman Animated fame; Novelist turned comic writer Greg Rucka; Jimmy Palmiotti, co-writer of Hawkman, Jonah Hex; writer artist Howard Chaykin; Geoff Johns, currently writes The Flash, Avengers, Avengers Icons: Vision,The Thing: Freakshow as well as co-writing Hawkman and JSA; Steve Englehart who has worked on Batman, Avengers, Captain America, The Hulk, The Avengers among others; Trina Robbins, author of From Girls to Grrlz and The Great Women Cartoonists, as well as writer of comics from alternative to mainstream; the comic artist Adam Hughes; and Arnold Drake, co-created both Deadman and The Doom Patrol. The interviews seem to have been done quiet recently, with Jimmy Palmiott talking about his upcoming work on Jonah Hex

They all discuss their work in talking heads interviews where they respond to questions regarding their work and their relationship to the comics medium, interspersed with images from their work. We also get to visit Englehart in his studio. The interviews in this film are very general in nature and we don't get to hear the questions. The comic creators are allowed to discuss the issues, such as interacting with fans, at their own pace. The various creators' replies are edited together to show the range of opinions on the particular topics:

  • Why Comics?
  • Art and Commerce
  • The Process
  • The Characters
  • Inspiration
  • Legacy
  • The Future

The interweaving of the different creators' comments means the individual contributions tend to get lost in the mix. For the most part the discussions are too laid back for my liking. There's no impression that the interviewers were prepared to challenge the creators to develop their statements. So when Arnold Drake claims to have co-created the first graphic novel there is no follow up on this interesting piece of information, not even a mention of the name of the book It Rhymes with Lust. Trina Robbins' points regarding the lack of exposure of the rich history of female comic creators are well made, but the documentary quickly moves on to talk to all the guys who write superheroes. No overturning of the patriarchy here. The issue of creator rights is alluded to by several of the creators but not in any detail.

The director livens up the interviews with the occasional image from the comics being discussed, but the selection is rather haphazard. Images from the above mentioned It Rhymes with Lust would have been a valuable inclusion; shame the director didn't think so. I've been informed that the producers tried to get a copy of It Rhymes with Lust to show, but due to its extreme rarity couldn't. Some convention sketches or other original artwork might have been better than the random issue covers used.

The production values of the disk are a mixed affair. The picture quality is excellent, but in some of the interviews there is some distracting background noise that makes it clear that several of them were done in a side room at a convention. I did appreciate that they managed to avoid any gimmicky camera work. Sure talking heads can be a bit unexciting, but a crash course in music video shots of people talking would have been a lot worse. Just why the interviews are in widescreen when the clips of artwork are full screen (4*3) is beyond me.

Unless you have a particular interest in the creators involved the general level of discussion tends to be too general to rate as compulsive viewing. Most of them are confident in their own abilities, so some of the discussions will no doubt raise jeers from opinionated readers. I know a few comments made me want to challenge the creator to justify their train of thought. Howard Chaykin gets my award for most interesting talking head, with a line in self-depreciation that is so earnest that it's amusing. Everyone walks away for their time on screen with their reputations unscathed - there are no scandals, bad behaviour or seriously over inflated egos, and a fair amount of good sense on display. This film takes a similar approach to its subject to the "making of" film promos that end up on DVDs; Nothing earth shattering, but fans will find it very watchable.