Comic-book writers have drawing power in Hollywood
These are strange, heady days for comic-book creators who find themselves signing autographs in the same room as Hollywood celebrities -- and sometimes the movie stars are the ones asking for the signatures.
“This is pretty awesome,” said Ed Brubaker, the Seattle-based comic-book writer, as he wandered through a backstage room where the cast of the film “Watchmen” was preparing for a promotional appearance at WonderCon, the huge Bay Area comic-book convention.
Dave Gibbons, the artist of the original “Watchmen” comics, was at a center table signing posters and enjoying the attention of cast members, among them Jackie Earle Haley, an Oscar-nominated actor who gave the bespectacled British illustrator a reverent bow. “I am shocked again and again,” Gibbons said of the mad swirl. “I never expected this.”
Brubaker has high hopes of joining Gibbons, Mike Mignola (“Hellboy”) and Frank Miller (“300" and “Sin City”) in the vanguard of printed-page auteurs who are all the rage in Hollywood. Sam Raimi, best known as director of the massive “Spider-Man” franchise, and Tom Cruise are moving forward with a feature-film adaptation of the writer’s “Sleeper” series (it’s a dark adventure tale about a man who is impervious to pain but can store it up and pass it on to others with a touch of his hand) and today Sony launches an ambitious 10-episode Web series called “Angel of Death,” which stars Zoe Bell (“Death Proof”), Lucy Lawless (“Battlestar Galactica”) and Doug Jones (Abe Sapien in the “Hellboy” films) in a nasty noir tale.
The series will appear on Crackle.com, Sony’s bid to create a video entertainment hub on the Internet, and executives there gave the green light on the Brubaker project before he had even begun typing the assassin story. The reason, according to Eric Berger, senior vice president of digital networks for Sony Pictures Television, is the writer’s red-hot reputation (“He is a master storyteller”) and, oddly, Brubaker’s background in comics, a medium where short episodic stories can be enjoyed as stand-alone pieces but also have the longer arcs and subplots that build loyal audiences.
“Comic-book writers have a lot to offer right now,” Berger said. “There’s a lot of edgy material and talent there.”
Who would have expected that the words “comic book conventions” and “fashionable” would be uttered in the same sentence? Still, Steve Niles, Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis and Geoff Johns are just a few of the comic-book scribes who are hearing from producers and studios, especially after the box office bang of “The Dark Knight,” “Iron Man” and “Wanted” last year.
“Last summer changed everything, you could feel it,” said Brubaker. “I even got money for the Batman movie because DC [Comics] felt like there were fingerprints of stories I had written in the movie. But all over L.A. there are these industry people buying comic books looking for a movie deal.”
Brubaker has won two Eisner awards for comics writing and he also made international headlines last year by killing off Steve Rogers, better known as Captain America, who had been fighting the good fight since World War II. Right now he is winning raves for “Incognito,” a series about a super villain in a witness protection program. Marvel Comics and Brubaker both got a flurry of phone calls from Hollywood producers who wanted an advance copy of the galleys so they could pounce quickly on the property.
“The reason is if you look at the generation now in power in the entertainment industry, they grew up with comics as serious stuff,” the 42-year-old Brubaker said. “The geeks have won.”
In past decades, comics creators were often met with a shove or chuckle when their heroes made the leap to the silver screen; the creators of Superman, for instance, were clawing by on a $20,000-a-year pension when the 1978 movie racked up more than $275 million at the box office.
Comics creators have gone from afterthought status to in-demand idea men.
Niles, whose “30 Days of Night” vampire comics hit the movie screen in 2007, stood in amid the bustling WonderCon trading floor and listed the projects he has at various points in the Hollywood pipeline.
One is “Criminal Macabre,” his Dark Horse Comics series about a junkie detective who tracks down supernatural beasties in L.A. There’ve been plenty of calls about the series through the year, but Niles realized a sad fact along the way: “A lot of people,” he said, “weren’t actually bothering to read it before they called.”
Sometimes, the ideas are so high concept, who needs to bother reading?
Take Brubaker’s “Angel of Death,” a lean $1-million production. Bell plays an assassin who gets stabbed through the skull; she survives, but the head injury leaves her with an awkward side effect: She suddenly develops a conscience.
Late last year, visiting the downtown L.A. set of “Angel,” Brubaker watched as Bell and some faux bad guys exchanged gunfire in a funeral parlor. He said the plot was inspired by medical reports he saw about a Texas man who walked into an emergency room with a hunting knife jutting out of his skull.
“Then I had this image of this assassin standing, like, in a doorway holding a gun with a knife sticking out of the top of her head and blood trickling down her face,” Brubaker said. “They green-lit it before I even wrote it, and they started filming two weeks after the final draft. I guess that’s the world we’re living in right now.”