Industry insiders talk Comic-Con

The geeks have inherited Hollywood. What's next?

Stan Lee: Iron Man
THR's Comic-Con blog

On the eve of San Diego Comic-Con International, where more than 120,000 pop culture devotees are expected to gather, The Hollywood Reporter's Borys Kit and Matthew Belloni assembled an all-star squadron -- Eric Gitter of Oni Press (publisher of "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World"); writer/executive producer David Goyer ("The Dark Knight," ABC's fall series "Flash Forward"); filmmaker Richard Kelly ("Donnie Darko," the upcoming "The Box"); influential comics writer Grant Morrison ("Batman and Robin"); DC Comics senior vp Gregory Noveck; and writer-director Brian Taylor ("Crank," "Jonah Hex," the upcoming "Gamer") -- to debate who in Hollywood actually understands their work and how geeks in power are a little bit like Hitler.

The Hollywood Reporter: With comic book movies now the norm, the geeks have won the war. What's the next battle?

David Goyer: We become corrupt and a resistance movement starts and has to usurp us. (Laughter.) The thing that I watch with some bemusement is that now that the mainstream has co-opted comic books and geekdom, I can't tell you how many times I'm pitched an obscure, bizarre character, and they say, "We're going to turn this into our 'Iron Man,' " "We're going to turn this into our 'Dark Knight,' " "We're going to turn this into our 'Transformers.' " A lot of these people are jumping onto the bandwagon with absolutely no knowledge or appreciation of the genre.

Eric Gitter: I know that when I get pitched to "reverse-engineer" things through Oni and do it as a graphic novel and then take it out as a film, whenever I hear the phrase "This would be a perfect comic book," it's always from someone who has never read a comic book.

Richard Kelly: If we are going to keep this movement alive, or keep this genre elevated, we must keep generating new ideas. Because there is always going to be this reservoir of existing material -- some of it good, some of it not so good -- but it's all about what the next original idea is.

Goyer: Even creators are saying, "Let's put it out as a comic book first and then it'll be the bait to get a film or television deal." That's obviously the wrong way to go. You're never going to generate anything good that way.

Brian Taylor: "Look, you'll love this, it's a comic book." And they show it to me and I've never heard of it. It's a comic book that was created for a single issue to make you believe that just because it's a comic book, it has some sort of value to it. And it really doesn't. When we were kids and got excited about comic books, the whole idea of guys dressing up in tight suits with super powers that had problems was novel. It was completely original. (Now) it's not original. And (studios) are going to be surprised that that door is going to slam very quickly. All of a sudden people are going to be over guys with superpowers.

Goyer: I'm not sure it is going to evaporate as quickly. I think superhero movies have become a mainstream genre akin to the Western. And just like the Western, just like the spy movies, just like musicals, I think you'll see it will be cyclical. We're maybe 70% through the first really big cycle of it, then two or three years from now it'll wane, maybe for a decade, and it'll go up again.

Grant Morrison: A big thing to think about is that "superhero" is not a genre, they are an ingredient. You can do superhero Westerns, you can do superhero spy movies, you can do superhero kung fu movies, you can do straight-up costumed superheroes, you can do superheroes with no costumes, you can do superheroes that study in social problems. ... And I think what people are starting to learn is that you can apply that ingredient to any genre. And it can elevate it.

Gregory Noveck: There are a couple of factors that are coming into play. You have the general mistrust within the studio system of the spec (script). So now, a lot of writers with specs are saying, "How can I reverse engineer it into IP?" Because for some reason, the studios say, "Oh, if it's based on something, it must have more validity."

Goyer: Even if what it's based on sold only a thousand copies!

Noveck: Or hasn't even been published.

Gitter: By the way, the last four things we've set up were (yet-to-be published comics).

Noveck: So you're the problem!

Gitter: The one thing that makes us comfortable doing that is we are going to publish. We've always said we're going to publish the book no matter what -- if it gets set up, if it doesn't get set up.

Noveck: But just to finish my point, books have been mined forever -- plays, magazine articles, that has been done for 100 years. Then you have, in the case of DC and Marvel, 70 years of creative stuff that has just piled up, that's never been exploited. Add that to "Wow, the technology can handle that now," that is why you've had this explosion.

THR: Grant, as someone who has worked on the big comics and the creator-owned books, are you protective when you're approached by the studios?

Morrison: With something like "We3," I've been very involved. I wrote the screenplay, John Stevenson is (attached) to direct if we can get a studio lined up. For me, as a creator, I want to stay involved for as long as possible. A lot of creators don't want to get involved with Hollywood. Alan Moore ("Watchmen") is the poster boy for someone who doesn't want anything to do with the business. I find it fascinating. If you have a project that matters to you, stay with it. But ultimately understand that it will be different from your original book, and it should be different.

Noveck: That's what's shifted, too. There used to be this delineation between the guys that wrote comic books and the guys that wrote TV shows and movies. Now you have guys like David who do all of it.

Goyer: Five or six years ago it was unheard of to pitch the writer of the comic as the person to write the teleplay or script. Whereas now -- thanks to Grant, Brian K. Vaughan, Ed Brubaker, people like that -- the studios aren't necessarily resistant to the creators coming on board.

Noveck: They certainly want their blessing.

Taylor: It's kind of a natural jump, isn't it? From writing comics to writing a script?

Goyer: It is, but Hollywood used to look down on it. What started to change is initially Hollywood realized that if we can co-opt the creator, we can use him as a publicity tool.

Taylor: It's about respect for the material.

Kelly: No, it's about the fear of pissing off the creator and the fans.

Goyer: The creator goes rogue, Moore being the worst case example. And I'm not casting judgment one way or another on what he did, but it can hurt the project.

THR: How do you feel when you go to Comic-Con and see projects that have nothing to do with the genre. I mean, Fox is promoting "Glee" this year.

Noveck: We're at the point where Comic-Con is not about comic books. Comic-Con is a pop culture fest. "There are 150,000 of my core audience that are going to show up and I'm going to have a bully pulpit to sell my stuff." It makes total sense.

Taylor: I remember when I was kid going to Comic-Con to buy comic books. Now those guys are relegated to the outer sections. These guys with the tables, that's what it was all about. Looking through the boxes and finding that one Jack Kirby issue that you really wanted.

Goyer: I've had an incredibly frustrating experience at the last four or five Comic-Cons. I've been down there for one panel or another and I've tried to break away to get on the floor. There's so many floating reporters and TV people, they buttonhole you and it becomes impossible to purchase anything.

Noveck: I've seen Grant get mauled.

Morrison: I haven't seen the floor since 1991.

Taylor: I get mauled just because they think I'm him!

Goyer: The one thing that is disheartening is that I've noticed more studios and magazines are throwing parties. It's becoming like Sundance. Everyone is vying to get into these ridiculous parties where there's virtually no creators and it's all executives from studios or agents.

Gitter: I need to stick up for this one. We introduce a lot of the creators who wouldn't necessarily get the opportunity to meet some of these people. And we've always tried really hard to use it as a conduit to converge these people together.

Goyer: People will remain nameless, but a couple of years ago, I was down there promoting a project, and the studio threw a big party, and it was involved with a comic book. And one of the creators of the comic wasn't on the list and couldn't get in. I had to vociferously argue with the publicists to get this person in.

Noveck: But (the hoopla) gets us into the discussion. The wide audience is starting to be aware that comic book movies are not just superhero movies. You can have a "Southland Tales," you can have a "Whiteout," we are just about to start shooting "The Losers," we're shooting "Jonah Hex." Even in terms of DC, it's not just about Superman, Batman. It's "look at all the other stuff we have."

Morrison: I don't care about geeks, you know? Geeks shouldn't be given power. When geeks get power, you get Hitler. There's a lot of weird and angry geeks out there. But what (a comic book movie) does is it opens up comics as a medium. It stops being geekish. There's comic books for everyone. There's comic books for women, there's comic books for kids, there's comic books for teenage Goths. That is the important thing that movies are doing.

THR: Comics creators have had mixed results trying to succeed as filmmakers. Are the skills transferable?

Noveck: There has always been a path for playwrights to be directors, even novelists. Now it has become equally legitimate for someone involved in comic books to make that jump.

THR: But when Frank Miller directed "The Spirit," some of the fans of the comics said, "What are you doing? Stay with what you know."

Goyer: You can't generalize like that. Some comic book creators are inevitably going to go into directing. Some of them will be successful and some of them won't. Just like any other people aspiring to direct.

Kelly: Getting to be a film director is so hard. It used to be you had to do commercials or music videos or be a guy like me who wrote a script and was a stubborn little bastard and said, "I'm directing it." But if you are an illustrator or someone who created comic books -- if that's a way in, then that's terrific.

Morrison: One of the things that upsets me is that people are tailoring their comics for movies. We're losing some of the big imagination.

Gitter: No question.

Morrison: Spider-Man wasn't created to be a movie 40 years ago; it took special effects 40 years to learn to do "Spider-Man." I want to see comics nowadays be wilder and more progressive.

Noveck: Have you read your own comics? (Laughter.)

THR: Grant, what's the strangest thing you've found in your recent move to Hollywood?

Morrison: Just the sheer amount of people between the creative person and the person who makes the movie. It's nuts. If the creative person and the director could just sit down and talk together, they can get things done really quickly and we'd have a lot more good movies and they'd come out faster.

Goyer: I think you can take the whole middle management structure of Hollywood and jettison it to the moon and everything would be fine.

Noveck: The good news is that everybody giving notes on the studio side is really in their hearts trying to help make a great movie. The bad news is, specifically when it comes to movies based on comic books, sometimes people giving the notes have no understanding or knowledge of what's important about them.

Goyer: I would say frequently. It's sometimes a bitter pill for me to swallow, post-"Blade," post-"Batman Begins" and "Dark Knight," when I have an executive lecturing me on the genre conventions of a superhero movie, and in some cases citing my own films! It takes every ounce of strength not to punch them in the face.