By Matt Singer
Movies have always borrowed ideas and stories from other mediums, from literature to theater to television. But in the last decade one medium has surpassed all the others in influence and importance: comic books.
It’s certainly not the first time comics have found a second home in Hollywood. During the first comic book boom of the 1940s, when titles like “Action Comics” routinely sold millions of copies a month, many of the medium’s most popular characters became the subjects of their own movie serials. Super-hero stories, with their outsized protagonists and outlandish villains, proved ideal subjects for the serials. And it didn’t hurt that the two shared an overlapping audience of dime-spending youngsters.
Even after the success of the first “Superman” movie and Tim Burton’s “Batman,” it still took moviemaking technology a few decades to catch up with the inventive imaginations of the men and women who spawned Spider-Man, the X-Men and the rest of their four-colored brood. But the world of comics has provided the inspiration for more than tent-pole theatrics: they’ve provided the spark behind documentaries (“Crumb”), biopics (“American Splendor”), indie self-loathing (“Ghost World”), vampire movies (the “Blade” series) and more.
Just as comics have inspired movies, movies have proven a fruitful inspiration for many comics. And, admittedly, most of the comic book movies that make their way to multiplexes barely scratch the surface of the diversity of styles and genres available in any good comic book store.
Here, then, are five choices particularly well-suited to movie fans. This is not a list of the greatest graphic novels of all time, or anything like that; it’s rather a list of five standout books in five different genres that deserve a wider audience amongst the moviegoing public, and all five are currently in print; most should be available just about anywhere in the country.
“Torso” (Image Comics, $24.95)
Written by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Andreyko; illustrated by Bendis
Genre: Police drama
For Fans Of: “L.A. Confidential,” “The Big Heat”
This black-and-white comic book noir based on a true story and what’s more movieish than that phrase? follows Eliot Ness on one of his largely forgotten cases, on the trail of one of the world’s first recognized serial killers.
Movie Fans Will Particularly Appreciate: Bendis’ cinematography, for lack of a better term. Like a really good D.P., Bendis plays with light and shadow, and his innovative panel layouts beautifully translate film’s editing rhythm to the page.
Cinematic Connections: Ness is also the subject of Brian De Palma’s memorable cop drama “The Untouchables.”
Further Reading: Both Bendis and Andreyko have gone on to high-profile work in mainstream super-hero comics including “Ultimate Spider-Man,” “Daredevil,” and “Manhunter”; Bendis has also created several other crime novels in the style of “Torso” his massive “Jinx,” a noir take on “The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly,” is also highly recommended.
True Story, Swear to God: Chances Are… (AIT/Planet Lar, $14.95)
Written and illustrated by Tom Beland
Genre: Romantic comedy
For Fans Of: “Sleepless in Seattle,” “An Affair to Remember”
Thousands of miles from home on a free vacation, newspaper cartoonist Tom Beland falls in love with a beautiful stranger named Lily he meets at a bus stop.
Movie Fans Will Particularly Appreciate: Beland’s shamelessly at times embarrassingly romantic storyline. Rom-com and chick flick fans take note: you have never seen a more clichéd love story than this one: from the meet cute to the impossible coincidences to the wisecracking friends and relatives dispensing folksy advice, they’re all here. And, of course, it’s all true.
Cinematic Connections: In the midst of his magical first night with Lily, Tom compares himself to George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and, in a somewhat less flattering reference, admits his childhood crush on Lady from “Lady and the Tramp.”
Further Reading: The ups and downs of Tom and Lily’s ongoing love story continue in another collection, and now each month in a new series.
[Photos: “Torso,” Image Comics, 2001; “True Story, Swear to God: Chances Are…”, AIT/Planet Lar, 2003]