Guardians of the timely reminder
On Thursday night I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy again, and I enjoyed it just as much second time round. It was big and fun, bold and humorous, but without losing its heart. It was reminiscent of the blockbuster movies of years gone by, rather than those of recent times. More than anything, I was stuck by the feeling that tonally this was the kind of thing I should be creating.
The biggest difference I found between the latest Marvel Studios film and other big-budget spectacle-driven Summer movies, was the way it drew the audience in. It didn’t purely rely on dazzling visuals to keep you interested, although it had those in abundance, instead it brought you close to the main cast early and had you caring about them within minutes. Personally, if I don’t care what happens to the central characters in a story, don’t become emotionally invested in them, then there’s nothing you can do to make me really enjoy the other elements of a production. The second Transformers film left me cold enough that I haven’t bothered to see the third of fourth instalments yet, and the first two Expendables films were devoid of the charm associated with their aging casts’ most successful work. This was well and truly in my wheelhouse, mixing action and adventure with the wit and swagger of something like Get Shorty.
Earlier in the week, when I found time to drag myself away from Awesome Mix Tape Vol.1, I listened to the film’s writer/director James Gunn (Super, Slither) being interviewed on KCRW’s The Treatment. One of the things he mentioned was how the film was about humanity rather than spectacle, and I’m in complete agreement there.
Having enjoyed the film so much, I have started reading Skottie Young’s Rocket Raccoon comic. Two issues into the series and I’m hooked, thanks to the combination of character, humour and spectacle. Young’s writing is just as impressive as his always exceptional artwork, so it’s a must-read Marvel book. I now need to pick up the Star Lord book and current Guardians title, as well as going back and reading the Abnett and Lanning series that the film draws so much from too. Gunn’s movie hasn’t only given me more comics to read, it’s also made me think more about my own writing.
Back in the late 90s I was turned down for the MA in Screenwriting at Cardiff University. The main reason my application was declined was because my work was seen as too commercial and not personal enough. As a result of this I tried to make my work, be it short stories, screenplays or my initial attempts at comics, far more intimate and as a result low-key.
My first ever comic script Darwin was awful. Truly, truly awful. It was a talking heads piece between a limo driver and the highly-evolved chimpanzee sitting in the back. It didn’t read like a comic, it read like a clumsy stage play. I stupidly sent it to Andy Diggle for feedback, just as he was leaving the Tharg shaped 2000AD editorial. Unsurprisingly, he told me that not enough happened and reminded me that comics didn’t have the budgetary restrictions that movies did. He was underwhelmed that despite being able to show anything in the script, I’d opted for a car journey. It was a typical rookie mistake.
Between viewings of GotG I took my daughter to a Comic Art Masterclass , run by Beano writer/artist and former Bristol Comic Festival organiser Kev F Sutherland. What he said in his interview with ITV Wales news reminded me why I started writing comics in the first place.
Making a comic is a bit like making a movie, except you don’t need two hundred million dollars, you don’t need to cast Johnny Deep, you don’t need to blow things up!
I’ve tried over the years to strike a balance between characters you care about and spectacle, trying to blend in some humour along the way too. All these things are evident in fantasy book The Interactives and space opera The Intergalactic Adventures of Zakk Ridley, which I co-wrote with Ian Sharman, but I know there is more I could be doing to get the balance right.
I’m currently re-working Viva Las Venus, the first mini-series I ever completed. I’m taking some elements from the original script, along with aspects from two other space opera ideas that I’d done rough outlines for. I’m also working on Pluto themed action story Forgotten Planet, as well as a number of other mini series ideas which tend to be fantastical or science fiction related. What the movie version of Guardians of the Galaxy has reminded me is that you can go epic in scale, while still making people laugh and making them care about your characters.
I’ll be keeping all of this front of mind as my work continues to progress.