Getting the funnies
The ups and downs of the comics page
By Todd Leopold
"Pearls Before Swine": Wicked humor from a terrific comic strip.
ON CNN TV
Watch "Showbiz Tonight" on CNN Headline News, weekdays at 7 p.m. ET.
YOUR E-MAIL ALERTS
(CNN) -- Another weekend, another comic book-inspired film. This time around it's "Fantastic Four."
Seems like a lot of attention is paid to comic books and graphic novels nowadays. The art is often brilliant, the writing dense -- and the payoff can be big if Hollywood buys in, as it has with "Batman," "Spider-Man" and "Sin City," to name three.
But does anyone still care about the comic book's humble cousin, the comic strip? Doesn't seem like it, which is a shame -- they're missing some fine work (and even some laughs).
Indeed, comic strip writers and artists seldom get their due. Unless they're the late Hal Foster ("Prince Valiant") or the not-so-late Berke Breathed ("Opus"), they crank out seven strips a week, 365 days a year. (Even Garry Trudeau, unfairly maligned for his vacations, works a pretty full slate.) They have to get their point across in four panels -- or one. And, usually, they have to make you laugh.
Yet the comics are generally taken for granted -- when they aren't the source of complaints.
There are any number of comic strips giving the page energy nowadays. To name a handful:
And there's still "Doonesbury" and Ben Katchor and "Tom the Dancing Bug" and "Non Sequitur" and "Overboard" and whatever J.C. Duffy's working on.
Admittedly, the comics pages are still filled with sclerotic holdovers such as the slow-motion daily car accident called "Mary Worth" or the created-by-committee "Garfield" or the list-list-list-unfunny punch line "Cathy." (Cathy Guisewite, you were so funny on Carson. What happened?) And sure, some people will always say today's comics are poorly drawn or just plain weird and they'll never hold a candle to "Little Nemo in Slumberland" or "Pogo" or name a childhood favorite.
But you try to provide such dependable and efficient entertainment, and in a few black-and-white panels, yet. Newspapers have been cutting back on comics for years; perhaps they should make an investment.
Eye on Entertainment turns to those other comic heroes.
"Fantastic Four," a Marvel Comics title that actually predates "Spider-Man" and "X Men," features four scientists -- Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), Sue Storm (Jessica Alba), Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) and Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) -- who go into space for an experiment, come into contact with some dangerous cosmic rays, and end up with their DNA altered.
Richards becomes the stretchable Mr. Fantastic, Sue Storm turns into Invisible Woman, Johnny Storm is the flammable Human Torch and Grimm metamorphoses into a rock-like creature called The Thing (no relation to the mid-'70s Volkswagen).
The newly christened Fantastic Four do battle with Dr. Doom (Julian McMahon), who has some nefarious plans for New York. In the process, they become close, despite some past relationships: Sue and Reed are ex-partners, Grimm has some anger issues and Johnny ... well, he's young and impetuous.
If some of this sounds familiar beyond fans of the Marvel universe, the filmmakers were thinking the same thing thing when they saw last fall's "The Incredibles" -- which also features four superheroes with similar traits. However, "The Incredibles" worked on so many levels, thanks to the genius of writer Brad Bird, that it's different than the kind of straight-up comic book material "Fantastic Four" looks to be.
Incidentally, the production notes say that "Fantastic Four" (nobody uses definite articles anymore: witness "War of the Worlds" and "Bad News Bears") "required, for self-evident reasons, four times the special effects power of any previous comic-to-film epics." Perhaps it's just me, but does it really matter how many of your principals have superpowers when it comes to the special effects budget?
"Fantastic Four" opens Friday.
On the tube
|© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.