Comix: An Interview with Documentary Filmmaker Michael Valentine

At last year’s comic con, I had the privilege of meeting with Michael Valentine, a documentary filmmaker who had come to New Orleans to promote and screen his engaging film Comix: Beyond the Comic Book Pages. After talking to Mr. Valentine, I’d kept in touch with him, hoping for a possible interview about the documentary, which he was thrilled to grant us.

Comix is a wonderful film about the rise of the comic book industry, the creative processes of those who make them, and the subculture and cosplays that they have inspired at events like Comic-Con. We discussed the director’s inspiration and processes, the current state of the comic publishing industry, and the nature of visual art to tell engaging stories.

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Q: What inspired you to create this documentary?

A: Well, I have loved comic books since I was seven years old, and in 2003 I had a script idea I wanted to make into a comic book. I went to my first local comic book convention in January 2004 and was transported into this world that really blew my mind, and that is when the light bulb went off that I wanted to do a documentary about the comic book industry as a whole.

Q: Is there any particular element of comic books that spoke to you for greater exploration, be it as a storytelling medium, as an industry, or as entertainment?

A: Comic books are some of the best places to find great storytelling, collaboration, amazing art, inkers, colorists, and the publisher all have such an important role. I think the interviews in particular spoke to me. Seeing how passionate the people who make up the industry are, whether it be Stan Lee talking about creating Spiderman or a super passionate fan talking about what comics mean to them and how they have changed their life. That stuff moves me. It goes deeper than just the subject, and I think the film captures some of that passion.

Q: What was the production schedule like, in regard to writing, filming, and just waiting for the right shots to present themselves?

A: Making this film was a labor of love for me, created by a fan, for the fans. COMIX is my brainchild and I funded the entire film on my own. I shot over 300 hours of footage over a ten-year period, did the interviews when people were available, and tons at the conventions. Spontaneity was a big part of the filming process and being flexible because so much of the filming was at conventions. I like having a little bit of that when I film because it keeps things fresh and fun and you sometimes capture things you do not expect, and that is always a good thing.

Q: Do you think that the visual nature of comics, as a medium, makes it more inclined towards the sort of fantastic stories exemplified by DC, Marvel, and Dark Horse?

A: The visual component of comics is crucial to the stories and most of the stories coming from publishers like Marvel, DC, or Dark Horse are extraordinary and fantastic. It is really important, in this medium that the visuals embody what the stories are and can make them even better. That being said there are many comics that use a more basic approach to tell their stories like Sin City from Frank Miller.

Q: In the film, a variety of media is attributed towards the explosion of Superman’s popularity in the early-to-mid-century, such as the Fleischer animations and the TV show starring George Reeves. How do you feel about the usage of multiple mediums of entertainment to make a character more well-known?

A: I think as long as these mediums, be it TV, movies, or others, stay true to the comic it is ok to use them. Now more than ever, the creators of these forms of entertainment are staying very true to the comics. As far as Superman goes it was a different world back then but it is a part of the history of this medium and it was important for me as the film maker to show the viewers, especially the younger ones, what kind of impact Superman made especially in much simpler times, across not only comic books but in TV, radio, toys, games, in everyday foods, and beyond. There really wasn’t anything like it that happened in pop culture at that time and it really paved the way for what was to come.

Q: Do you think the phenomenon with Superman in the 20th century is similar to the way that most peoples’ image of say, Iron Man, comes greatly from modern MCU movies?

A: I always loved the Iron Man character in the comics and the movies did really well especially with casting Robert Downey to play Tony Stark. I really believe that is why the Marvel movies have done so well, because they are cast so well, and that really started with Iron Man. Now my favorite Superman movies are still the ones with Christopher Reeve as Superman. I don’t think there will be any character that is as much of a phenomenon or sensation as Superman was. I would hope that a lot of it is because of what he stands for and that the good that he has is in all of us. He is a positive superhero that stands for values that we all have within us.

Q: Having seen Comix on the DVD, I was surprised to find a small comic upon opening it, which showed a small story about kids reading comics and the imagination it brings to them. This was a really nice touch—were special arrangements made with Kino Lorber (the film’s distribution company) to include it, and are there any interesting stories or asides regarding this DVD exclusive pamphlet?

A: When it came time for the DVD release it was important for me to give the fans something special that they could not find anywhere else! I had so much extra footage I wanted to be included in the film but knew that my distributors did not want a three-hour documentary. So, in releasing the DVD I thought about how important it is as a comic book fan to have the physical copy of their favorite comic in their hand and to add it to their collection, and I wanted the DVD to stir that same enthusiasm. So, on the DVD you get the 85-minute film as well as four hours of bonus footage only available on the DVD that includes the entire Stan Lee and Frank Miller interviews along with tons more interviews. I also talked to Kino Lorber about creating a unique comic book just for the DVD and they loved the idea. I had always wanted to make a comic book, in fact that is where the idea came to make the film, so it was kind of a dream come true for the chance to do it for the DVD release. I came up with the story idea for the mini comic and collaborated with two of my friends and fellow comic book fans to make it. One is an amazing artist who help create the movie poster for the film and all the art for the comic Paul Limgenco, and also comic book expert friend Julian Aquino who helped me flush out the flow of the panels and dialog. We had 8 days to put it all together and it was an amazing collaboration and had a blast together.

Q: Any information you’d like to give our readers on what the promotional comic’s about?

A: The story is focused around an eight-year-old boy named Jack and a few of his friends playing around Jack’s house one seemingly ordinary day. Jack sees a light coming from the attic and goes up to see where the light is coming from and finds a chest that is glowing. As he opens the chest he discovers his first comic book and as he starts to read it his imagination, which is his superpower comes out and he is transformed into Comixman who saves a speeding train, defends the planet from missiles, bombs, meteors, and ultimately defeats a monster and once he closes the book on his adventures he is back in the attic. He is so amazed by the experience that he calls his friends to come up to the attic where they explore and have their own imagination experiences through the comic books, in which they all gain their own super hero identity.

Q: One last question: personally, are you more DC or Marvel?

A: I love characters and story lines from both publishers, and both have characters that are such a part of me and my childhood that it is difficult to have a favorite. I will say my all-time favorite character is Spiderman.

The film Comix: Beyond the Comic Book Pages is distributed by Kino Lorber and available for streaming on Amazon Prime. The Crescent sincerely thanks Mr. Valentine for his time and the opportunity for this interview!

COVER PHOTO: Twitter

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