Evolution Of Comic Artists In Media

By | Thursday, August 16, 2012 3 comments
The other night, I happened to catch, for the first time, the movie Artists and Models starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Here's the original trailer...
It's basically a standard Martin and Lewis picture with the nominal hook being that Martin is an artist that breaks into comics using the stories Lewis talks about in his sleep. I've seen a few people online stick up for the film, but I thought it was absolutely dreadful. Although, to the film's credit, it did look like the put a fair amount of effort into creating art pages for the Bat-Lady comics. (Anyone have any idea who actually drew those?)

The movie was made in the mid-1950s and naturally reflected the times, so there's a lot of references that echo the calls of Frederick Wertham. The comic artists themselves are portrayed as honest folks trying to earn a living, and the problem with gore and violence was pretty exclusively the fault of the publishers. But, ultimately, it's another Martin and Lewis film, one that gets increasingly frenetic and less coherent as it goes on.

I've also been reminded recently of a few instances where comic artists showed up in sitcoms in the 1990s. Bob is probably the most famous within comicdom, as it starred Bob Newhart as a comic book artist and featured cameos of guys like Jack Kirby, Bob Kane, Sergio Aragones, Marc Silvestri and Jim Lee. Caroline in the City starred Lea Thompson as a comic strip artist. Less remembered for it's comic references are a few episodes of Mad About You wherein Eric Stoltz portrayed an ex-boyfriend who also happened to be launching a new comic.

In all these cases, the comic book artist profession is basically window dressing. The comedy comes from the quirks and neuroses of the various characters, their "wacky" neighbors, and often ludicrous plot contrivances set up for the sake of comedic reactions. (That's the very nature of situation comedies, after all.) And while there's mentions of deadlines and boneheaded publishers and that, they could just as often as not be applied to about any working profession.

All of the bits above, of course, were written by people who aren't in the comic business themselves. They're writers who are trying to emulate a comic environment, with varying degrees of success and/or accuracy.

Perhaps the most accurate interpretation I've seen -- certainly the most sincere -- is Derek Kirk Kim's Mythomania. The same Derek Kirk Kim who's won Xeric, Ignatz, Eisner and Harvey awards. It's available through YouTube and relays the trials and tribulations of Andy Go, aspiring comic book artist. Now there's a lot in the story that isn't directly related to comics, but Kim's been in the business for a while now so he knows what the life of a comic artist is really like. It includes a painful wall of rejection letters and small, uplifting moments when you receive a personally illustrated envelope.

It's interesting to see how the comic artist has been portrayed in other media over the years. I think it absolutely shows a reflection of how our culture at large views comic creators, and that we have increasingly more accurate and respectful works says a lot, I think.
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Ethan said...

One series that comes to mind is 'Mission Hill', one of my favorite shows. It was about a struggling cartoonist/Generation X slacker who lives life aimlessly while simultaneously holding big artistic aspirations. It was designed in a very Peter Bagge/Joe Matt kinda indie-style. But thanks for bringing some of these shows/movies back to light. I've never even heard of 'Bob', but I have to check it out now.

CHASING AMY, an earlier film from Kevin Smith, dealt with the romance between two cartoonists. Because it was written by Smith, there was a strong comics culture evident in the story. Some of the action takes place in a comic convention, where even Mike Allred shows up in a scene.

Totally forgot about Chasing Amy. Thanks for the reminder!