Cowboys & Aliens

Why Cowboys & Aliens Needs to Succeed

On July 29, Cowboys & Aliens opens in movie theaters across the US. Directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man), executive produced by Stephen Spielberg (do I really need to name one of his credits?), written and produced by Damon Lindelof (Lost), and starring Daniel Craig (Casino Royale), Harrison Ford (1 or 2 successful movies, can’t remember the titles) and Olivia Wilde (House). With an estimated budget of $100 million and big star names this is meant to be a big ol’ Hollywood blockbuster.

And most people may not realize it’s based on a comic book. More accurately, Cowboys & Aliens was first an original graphic novel published in 2006 by Platinum Studios and HarperCollins. The concept was created by Platinum chairman Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, and was executed by writers Fred Van Lente (Action Philosophers) and Andrew Foley (Parting Ways) and artists Dennis Calero (X-Factor) and Luciano Lima (Grifter and the Mask).

Comics are still battling a perception problem. The majority of Americans still think comic books = superheroes, maybe with a side dish of funny animals. The truth is that comics have as much if not more diversity as any other entertainment medium and art form. It’s just not as easy to find. Most comic book stores still predominantly sell superhero comics and the industry’s two largest publishers (holding over 75% of the market) almost exclusively publish superhero comics. But there a number of publishers, like Dark Horse Comics, Image Comics, Fantagraphics Books, First Second Books, Drawn & Quarterly, Boom! Studios, Archaia Entertainment, and lots more, that are carrying an ever-expanding selection of great material for readers of any shape and size that could fill up every section of a library. A change is happening, but even so, the perception is still comic book movie = superhero movie. This is reflected from the entertainment press and marketing to audiences’ own descriptions.

Cowboys & Aliens graphic novel (HarperCollins)

Perceptions are changed slowly and gradually. The problem is that a series of big successful Hollywood movies based on a comic book that isn’t superheroes has never really been trumpeted as based on a comic book or graphic novel. There have been notable exceptions, but the lasting impression doesn’t seem to stick. The Mask, Men in Black, From Hell, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Ghost World, A History of Violence, Road to Perdition30 Days of Night, and Red all did reasonably well but either lacked in reach or in leading with the message about their source material. Sin City and 300 are about as good as its gotten but largely because of the strength of Frank Miller’s name. The Walking Dead on TV has been a big leg up. But when this summer season alone has four big superhero movies enforcing the perception, it’s an uphill climb.

With comics sales leaking away every month, comics needs a big influx of readers looking for a wide variety of entertainment. To help put a kick in that awareness, Hollywood and their audiences need to see that big (and successful!) popcorn movies can come from comic books that aren’t about superheroes. And Cowboys & Aliens fits that criteria perfectly with a great high concept, fun setting and lots of explosions.

This year has already seen two failures for non-superhero comic book movies. Priest was based on a Korean comic (or manwha) of the same name by Hyung Min-woo. It was published in the US by Tokyopop, which was in the midst of shutting down its domestic publishing arm as the movie was released. Surely not a good sign. The movie performed about as well as you’d expect, despite some eye-catching trailers. Before that was Dylan Dog: Dead of Night starring Brandon Routh (Superman Returns). The movie was based on the Italian comic book series Dylan Dog, an acclaimed horror comic created by Tiziano Sclavi. Unfortunately it failed to capture the surreal nature of the comic and the main character’s charm in reacting to the horror he investigates.

Both of those movies failed for any number of reasons, but that they have the common link of being adaptations of foreign comic books not about superheroes isn’t good. Cowboys & Aliens needs to be the start of a new trend where Hollywood (and their audiences) starts to see the value in non-superhero comic books that are filled with ideas and concepts people want to experience. It can’t establish this perception all on its own, but with no other movies that fit the bill this summer, it needs to at least push the needle in the opposite direction.

Also released this summer is The Smurfs, which is adapted from the classic Belgian comic Les Schtroumpfs by Peyo, but it’s more associated with the popular animated series that ran on NBC throughout the 1980s, or the little figurines. The Belgian comics have rarely been translated and published in English, which surely contributes to this perception. Papercutz has been doing a great job importing these fun comics to the US.

Otherwise, it’s up to The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn in December, based on the Belgian adventure comics by Hergé.

Free Comic Book Day 2011 is this Saturday

Do you want FREE comics? You’re in luck! This Saturday, May 7, is Free Comic Book Day!

After enjoying the new Marvel Studios movie Thor opening this Friday, head out to your local participating comic book shop and get yourself some all-new comics for absolutely nothing. It’s a great way to discover comics for the first time, get back in to them if it’s been a while, or just celebrate the American art form of comics! (It’s also a great way to prepare yourself for the other big comic book movies this summer: Priest (May 13), X-Men: First Class (June 3), Green Lantern (June 17), Captain America (July 22), and Cowboys & Aliens (July 29).)

You can get exclusive comic books made just for Free Comic Book Day featuring the Amazing Spider-Man, Avatar the Last Airbender, Star Wars: Clone Wars, Green Lantern, Betty & Veronica, Darkwing Duck, Kung Fu Panda, Richie Rich, the Dark Crystal, the Simpsons, Captain America, Thor, Inspector Gadget, Sonic the Hedgehog, the Tick, Mickey Mouse, Young Justice, Batman: the Brave & the Bold, and so many more. See here for a complete list of free comics available at participating stores.

Lots of stores are also holding special sales and events including signings with comics creators.

Locally, comic stores all around Los Angeles County will be celebrating with free comic books, discounted comics and graphic novels, guest appearances by comic book artists and writers, and more! Additional announcements will probably be announced this week, so keep your eye on your favorite store’s website or Facebook page.

Some stores have really pulled out all of the stops:

Golden Apple on Melrose will be open an hour earlier than normal for the big day. Starting right at 10 AM, there will be comics creators giving free autographs and sketches all day, plus 20% off everything, free Lipton Brisk Green Lantern tea & hot dogs, free Priest movie stuff, a bounce house for kids (!) and more! Creators signing: 10 AM – Top Cow Productions president Matt Hawkins, writer Jeff Cahn (Red Spike), writer Owen Weisman (Samurai’s Blood) and cartoonist/animator Scott Shaw! (The Flintstones, Simpsons Comics); 12 noon: actor/writer Walter Koenig (Things to Come); 2 PM – writer Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead, Super Dinosaur) and artist Jason Howard (Super Dinosaur); 4 PM – writer Marc Andreyko (True Blood: Tainted Love, Let Met In: Crossroads), and writers Brian McCarthy & Michael Lent (Brimstone).

At Earth-2 Comics both store locations will have plenty to do, like free sketches from 10 AM to 12 noon by Todd Brocasso Harris (in Sherman Oaks) and Justin Rodrigues (Northridge). Then from 12 noon to 2 PM, writer and DC Comics Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns (Green Lantern, The Flash), and writer and Executive Vice President of Marvel Television Jeph Loeb (Batman: Hush, Spider-Man: Blue) will be available for autographs in Sherman Oaks. The two will be at the Northridge location from 3 to 5 PM. The store will also have an Earth-2 exclusive Green Lantern comic.

Free Comic Book Day 2011 (by Darwyn Cooke)

Meltdown Comics will be holding amazing special events all day long! From 11 AM to 3 PM, including a free screening of Jim Henson‘s classic movie The Dark Crystal and life-sized Skeksis statues used in the original 1982 movie! Writer Brian Holguin, who wrote a new Dark Crystal story in the free comic book flip book released for Free Comic Book Day, will be on hand for autographs, as will David Petersen, writer/illustrator of Mouse Guard, which makes up the second half of the flip book. Plus free posters, prizes, giveaways, and gourmet grilled cheese from The Grilled Cheese Truck. At the same time, from 11 AM to 2 PM, Jason JFish Fischer of Studio JFish will be present to sell his new underground comics, the adults only Junqueland #1, art anthology Fine Literature #2, and fantasy/adventure Jaephisch and the Dark Rainbow Chapters 1 & 2. At 1 PM, Shane and Chris Houghton, creators of the all-ages comic Reed Gunther, will hold a comics creating class just for kids. From 2:00 – 3:30 PM, writers Jeff Cahn (Red Spike) and Owen Weisman (Samurai’s Blood) of Benaroya Publishing will be signing. Finally, at 4 PM in the Meltdown Gallery, there will be a Graphic Noir panel with writer Joshua Hale Fialkov (Echoes, Tumor) and writer/artist Kody Chamberlain (Sweets, Punks: The Comic), as they discuss their creative processes and influences, followed by a brief signing.

Burbank’s House of Secrets will be going all day long, from 11 AM to 7 PM. From 12 noon to 2 PM, they’ll have Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants and Sherm Cohen, cover artist of the new SpongeBob Comics.

The Comic Bug in Hermosa Beach has a ton of creators lined up, scheduled for 12 noon to 3 PM giving free sketches and autographs in addition to huge sales and live super-heroes for photo ops. Their line-up will include writer/artist Mike Mignola (Hellboy, Baltimore), writer Steve Niles (30 Days of Night, Criminal Macabre), TV & comics writer Christopher Yost (Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, New X-Men), writer Joshua Williamson (Fractured Fables, Yo Gabba Gabba Comic Book Time), writer/letterer Richard Starkings (Elephantmen), animator/artist Phil Ortiz (The Simpsons), Jeff Stokely (Fraggle Rock) and lots more. Artist Joe Benitez (Lady Mechanika) will be there 3 – 5 PM.

Collector’s Paradise Comics & Gallery in Winnetka has a full day of events planned, including featured guests like Whilce Portacio (Wetworks, Artifacts), Tomm Coker (Undying Love, Daredevil Noir), Joshua Fialkov (Tumor, Echoes) and a lot more giving autographs and/or sketches to raise money for the non-profit organization The Hero Initiative from 12 noon to 3 PM. Plus the store will be having its biggest sale of the year, costumed superhero characters, and the Calbi gourmet food truck.

Read more on the history of Free Comic Book Day… (more…)