Ten reasons why comic books are better than films
This is an article published in a Scottish newspaper, The Glasgow Herald, October 2014. It's the first article that I've written myself to appear in a newspaper, as it goes:
Originally from Morningside in Edinburgh, Wilson now lives in Japan. His latest book Musashi, about the samurai and author of Book of Five Rings, is published by Shambhala. The following is the text of a lecture he gave in Tokyo in August:
Films, movies get so much attention, money, power, and I'm a bit sick of it. Because, basically, they don't really deserve it. So here are ten reasons why comic books are better than films. Some of these refer to the film and comic book industry, rather than to films or comics as a medium. In some I am half-joking, but in others I'm deadly serious!
1. Cost and Time
Some big dramatic effect can be made in a comic book for a matter of a few pounds. A similar special effect/CGI could cost millions in a big budget film, so why bother? Is it not an outrageous waste of money when there are so many things desperately in need of funding (like education and health). The world doesn't need another expensive explosion scene in a film, we've got enough already. The comic effect can be also made in a fraction of the time involved for a film. As an extension of this: comics can generally be made more quickly than films, and more efficiently.
2. Personal vision
Aren't you astonished by the sheer amount of people involved in making a big budget film? The end credits that require two songs to be played over them just to fit everybody in. The requirement to have so many voices involved because of the complexity of film-making does mean having a personal vision in the creative work is so much harder than it is in comics. This is despite the auteur theory, which is largely discredited now many think.
Comics, on the other hand, are still normally the product of one, two or perhaps three minds. This is definitely true at the independent level, but even in bigger companies. This fact alone creates a whole box full of positive characteristics.
3. Comics are more experimental, vital and bold
Why do you think the film industry steals every decent idea that comic books have? The amount of films based on comic books has increased considerably over the last ten years or so. But ask yourself: how many can you think of that are anywhere near as good as the original in terms of artistry, boldness of vision, uniqueness, or even plain good story-telling? Only the American Splendour film comes to my mind.
4. Films don't care about their viewers, but comics do
This sounds strange, I will try to explain ... If you are watching a film on TV, you can go off to the other room to make a cup of tea and the film rudely carries on without you - as if you weren't there at all! A film is self-contained, it doesn't need you to let itself unfold. On the other hand, you can put down a comic book that you are reading, and go on holiday for a week. When you return, the comic is right there, exactly in the same place - patiently waiting on you to turn the next page. Comic books need the readers to make them come alive. Comics go at your pace, films just carry on regardless - whether you are paying attention or not. And a lot of the time when watching a film you are in such a zombie trance that your are not even paying that much attention.
5. Reading comics books is a more active process
It follows on from the above that reading a comic book is a more active process than watching a film. It involves more of your intellectual, cognitive processes. You have to make the story come alive, to voice the dialogue in your mind, to connect the visuals and the text, etc. Watching a film, though it also involves a perceptual process, is just that bit less active. This also means that comics are also more personally engaging. You put your own interpretation to it, more so than with a film, so it becomes something you feel close to.
6. Books are physical
A simple observation, but still important. For most people it still feels better to have a physical book in your hands than to read the same story online. Films do not have a physical presence in the way a comic book does. Yes, you can hold a VHS/DVD in your hands, but it's basically packaging. Its not the film itself. Comics books are the paper they are printed on. There is a tactile pleasure to be had from holding one in your hands, turning the pages. Plus their design is often very beautiful and stylish, something of great value in itself. DVD boxes are mostly glorified adverts.
7. Movies get too much attention - support the underdog
There is such a mystique about films and actors that, after a while, there is often a desire in intelligent people to turn away from them, to have a negative reaction. They don't need any more attention put their way. They have enough already. So, let's put some of our money and time into more neglected art forms - of which comics is one very deserving example.
8. Actors get paid too much (Or the famous ones do anyway)
Why should they get so much for what is basically standing around in someone else's clothes, reading someone else's lines to someone else's direction. I've worked behind the scenes in several big-budget films in the large studios and a lot of the acting is really not that hard. It's often just being in the right place and the right time, and everyone around you does the hard work: the make-up team, the technical people, the stage designers, the production assistants.
By comparison comic book writers and artists get paid much less, even the very well-known ones. Even though they often totally create the world of that book by themselves. There may be an editor, letterer, colourer that help. Still, by comparison, the central team in comic books creates the core of the artistic work for much less financial reward than with the film industry. (Of course I should say: some aspects of acting are very difficult, subtle and impressive, and that many new actors gets paid very little and struggle for years).
9. The Film industry sucks!
This is an especially debatable point as the comics industry hasn't got a good reputation either when it comes to treating its creative people well. Still, having been involved in both to some degree, in my opinion the film industry is even more two-faced, whirlwind, and cut-throat than the comics industry.
10. Other people involved in the making of films get treated badly
By "other people" I mean the behind-the-scenes individuals such as production assistants, make-up, extras. The film industry is a bastion of class distinction, or you might say even apartheid. The main actors and "above the line" creative team are like Gods, who have their own little world that exists near to, but oh so far removed from, the grubby world of the "untouchables" who actually do much of the work of making the film. The world of these "untouchables" consists of standing in line in the rain for a meal of beans and hash brownies, waiting in dingy rooms for hours, long tedious work late into the night repeating the same scene over and over again. Of getting up even earlier than the main actors to make sure things are ready, of very little job security or health benefits, almost no recognition and certainly no glamour. Its a very unfair working environment and quite undemocratic. Perhaps this is inevitable within such a money orientated industry.
Again, by comparison comics don't have such a unfair working environment. Even with a well-known Japanese manga creator they often have only two assistants, who share a very similar working environment to their manga sensei, normally the same office. Still, to be fair, stories of mistreatment of assistants can be found in the comic industry. But the point is that it's not as bad or as common as in the film industry.
So, folks - turn off that film and go read a comic book instead. You'll feel a whole lot better.
Sean Michael Wilson is currently working on a graphic memoir, Once Upon a Time in Morningside.