Judge Mac McEntire says this documentary suffers from a severe lack of Rob Liefeld.
Artists and writers on art, commerce, and inspiration.
In a series of interviews, comic book professionals of varying ages, backgrounds, and sensibilities discuss their inspirations, their favorite characters, their work methods, and the business of being an artist.
Facts of the Case
Just what comic book creators are featured here? Let's take a look:
• Howard Chaykin
• Arnold Drake
• Steve Englehart
• Adam Hughes
• Geoff Johns
• Jimmy Palmiotti
• Trina Robbins
• Greg Rucka
• Bruce Timm
As with director Greg Jurls' previous documentary, Terry Moore: Paradise Found, this one is a strictly a "talking head" doc. Only instead of aiming the camera at one person, the topic is broken up among nine individuals. The occasional shot of a comic book cover or footage from a convention are the only elements that add some visual variety to the proceedings. But other than that, you'd better prepare yourself for two hours of just talking.
If you've heard of at least some of the creators here, then chances are you'll be interested in what they have to say. The film hits its highlights when the subjects discuss their creative processes, and all the thought that goes into each month's issue. Chaykin talks about the hours of meticulous perfectionism that he requires for every page, all so the final result can have an "improvised" look. Englehart elaborates on writing long-running characters with a respect for the work others had done before him, while Rucka says it's acceptable for one creator to write a character in a different way than another.
There's a lot of talking here. There are also a lot of generalities. An aside: I was in a journalism class a few years ago, and one day the teacher started off the morning by asking about the first cars we drove in high school. Naturally, everyone in the class had some sort of teen driving disaster story to tell. One person had a car that couldn't go in reverse, which made parking an interesting strategic experience. Another once tried backing out pf the garage, somehow forgetting that the garage door was still closed. One by one, we all told an anecdote, each one funnier than the next. As class wrapped up, I assumed that we had wasted the entire morning, but then my teacher revealed that he had a point all along. He said, "This is what you do when you're conducting an interview: You get the other person to tell you a story." Why do I bring this up? Because in a documentary called Telling Stories, I expected anecdotes. For example, Englehart speaks at length about how he approached writing Batman. But I wondered—how did he get the Batman gig to begin with? What was his reaction when he learned he'd be writing for one of the most famous characters around? Fear? Excitement? What was the reaction when his first issue hit the stands? These are the kinds of questions that go unasked here. There's a lot of talk about creativity and comics history, but the personal, human element is lacking.
I'm sure that someone, somewhere, has plans to make a documentary about the lives of comic book creators that is a real in-depth look at their lives and at the business. One that showcases their various quirks and personalities, made for both fans and for casual viewers. This movie, however, is mostly for fans only. When someone mentions Grant Morrison, for example, the viewer is expected to know immediately who that is. Although Jurls wisely begins the doc with each creator giving his or her own bio, there is still a lot here that will just confuse non-fans.
But if you are a fan, there are moments to enjoy here. Each creator has something different to say, which keeps things moving along nicely. Some viewers might wonder why some of today's biggest names (Brian Michael Bendis, Warren Ellis, et cetera) aren't here, but this is a nice mix of personalities for what the film is out to accomplish. Several interviewees can arguably be called the "working stiffs" of comics. They're not necessarily the headline names, but they're the ones who churn out quality work each month.
The full-frame picture here is good, which is to be expected for a film made so recently. The audio track does its job, although the audio here is mostly the interviewees' voices and the occasional musical break. There are no extras, but the main menu is combined with the chapter stop menu, which gives you the option to jump ahead to any segment you want.
It's not the definitive behind-the-scenes work about comics. Instead, it's nine pros talking about what's on their minds. If you're a fan of the creators involved, or if you're curious about just what type of person works in the comics industry, give it a try.
We've got a hung jury here: Guilty for too many generalities and playing to fans only, not guilty for some interesting discussion and a nice mix of personalities.
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