So, I was paging through the latest issue of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, snacking on a little pepperoni and smoked Gouda while the missus watched CROC FILES on The Discovery Channel, and there it was.
Sandwiched in between a compelling ad for L'Oreal and "Jim Mullen's Hot Seat" was the picture of the week.
The new Spider-Man costume Tobey Maguire will be wearing in the largely-anticipated Spidey flick.
"At least he doesn't look like Nicholas Hammond," I thought.
Now, I read all the funny books I could get my hands on when I was a kid. Spider-Man was even a favorite. There's just something compellingly primal to a sixth-grader's imagination to think of yourself able to swing on a webline of your own devising through the man-made canyons of New York City. And, I have to admit, I'm surprisingly in touch with that little ten-year-old Larry that still lives in my psyche, and I'll probably get a big charge out of the film when it comes out. Director Sam Raimi's work is always professional yet unassumingly twisted, and what I've seen of Maguire's acting (THE CIDER HOUSE RULES and some thing I caught late at night on HBO with Reese Witherspoon) makes me think he'll bring a sense of earnestness to it, at least.
And pretty soon we'll have a big orgy of comic book-related consumerism and we won't be able to escape Kirsten Dunst and Willem DaFoe on the talk shows and old guys in Bermuda shorts and black dress socks will be walking the beach with their metal detectors and Spider-Man Underoos and Marvel will be throwing big sacks of Scrooge McDuck gold coins in the air, cackling wildly about how they finally have a decent film made of one of their characters and basically it'll be 1989 all over again except it'll be spiders instead of bats, this time.
And, you know, that's just aces.
If you're Columbia Pictures.
Me? I'm not much interested in weekend grosses and who's got points. I'm interested in a nice, healthy comic book industry, and Marvel's got a chance to do something that's good for COMICS and not just what's good for Marvel.
Remember last summer's X-MEN movie? A decent bit of fluff, sure, but I knew who everyone was. I wasn't exactly the target audience. Fox was after a blockbuster, and that meant people besides comics fans had to go see their flick. They did a yeoman job on the marketing, including even airing a "making-of" special in prime-time which was a thinly-disguised half-hour promo for the film. Got the butts in the seats, as they say.
Now, let's say you had never heard of these X-Men, before, but you've got a little kid and you've caught the cartoon a couple of times and something about it seems a bit familiar and somebody at work reminds you that it's all based on a comic book.
If you're a regular joe, your first thought is gonna be, "They still make comic books, huh?"
But you remember that time you were sick and stayed home from school for a week, and your aunt even drove down from Schenectady because your mom was worried about that fever you had that wouldn't break, but at least you got to take it easy and play "Sorry" and you even fondly recall that big stack of funny books your aunt brought that's probably still in the back of the closet of your old room at your folks' house.
So you go to the drug store down by where you live, after the movie, to see what's up with these X-Men, but there aren't any comics there. No spinner rack, no stacks of coverless ones on the floor. Not like when you were a kid. The assistant manager (who's not much older than you) says he didn't think they made comics anymore when you ask him where to find some. But a guy in line tells you about a store across town where they sell nothing BUT comic books, so you get into your car and drive over there, because you're nothing if not tenacious like it said on your last employee review at work.
Let's just say that you live in a town that has the World's Most Perfect Comic Shop. Rows upon rows of whatever you want. A kid comes in looking for Jason Sandberg's JUPITER, and they have 1-6. A young art student asks for reference on the Vulcan Green Lantern, and the supermodel behind the counter knows that's GL #90 and talks knowledgeably about Mike Grell's career. And you come in and ask for anything with the X-Men in it and no one laughs and you're pointed out to a couple of books and some guys off to the side discuss whether Dougray Scott could have POSSIBLY been cooler than Hugh Jackman and you go home satisfied with your purchase and your shopping trip and you can't wait to read more adventures of those guys you saw in the film and you get home and open the comic…
…and it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
Marvel didn't have the wherewithal to predict that maybe some of the movie audience might seek out the on-going comic adventures. They didn't foresee that maybe people might want to amplify their movie-going experience with a little four-color fun.
This doesn't have to happen with the Spider-Man movie, and here's one I'll give 'em for free:
All Marvel has to do is produce a sixteen page introduction to the Spider-Man mythos, drawn in a clear style, and reminiscent, at least somewhat, of the characters and situations as portrayed in the film… to GIVE AWAY for free at EVERY SINGLE MOVIE THEATRE showing the film. To the kids and their parents. As. They. Go. In.
If I were Marvel, I'd have half a story inside, the last page of which says, "Want to find out what happens to Spidey? Call 1-888-266-4226 or point your web-browser to www.the-master-list.com to find a comic shop nearest you." AND THEN have the sixteen-page end of the story waiting there at the shops FOR FREE.
Any retailer worth his salt can turn those folks coming in into repeat customers, even after he runs out of the Marvel-supplied freebies. He can say, "Sorry, the demand has been more than we thought... but here's a good Spidey comic from the past (out of his quarter box) and a coupon good for one comic free with your next ten dollar purchase. And Marvel has the rest of the story online, so you can find out what happens… Don't have a computer? Well… you can read this print-out of it I have here, if you REALLY want to know how Spidey gets out of that jam."
I'll bet you a dollar more than half of those folks come in the next weekend, looking for Spider-Man, and Superman, and Jimmy Corrigan, and Maus, or anything else they've heard of, and, in fact, are open to the whole damn field of comic books, because once you get a taste of the entertainment that only comics can provide...
…well, I don't have to tell YOU, now, do I?
And the beauty of this is that the budget for the production and printing of this Spidey out-reach comic could be tied to promotion of the film. The studio would have to be behind it, of course, but it'd be a drop in the Hollywood bucket. They could hit the kids with a one-two punch that sells the DVDs of the movie and the Silly-String and the Spider-Man shirts AND get their lunch-money with Spidey books each month until SPIDER-MAN II: ELECTRO BOOGALOO hits the screens. Columbia is happy, Marvel is happy, comic book retailers are happy, and the audience is happy.
If Marvel doesn't get something like this going for May 3, 2002, my plan to see LARRY YOUNG PRESENTS CAPTAIN AMERICA will have three years shaved off the timetable, true believer.
Email about this column should be sent to email@example.com. My sexy little spot of cyberspace is http://www.ait-planetlar.com. You can let me know what's on your mind at the Loose Cannon Message Board or poke around or answer some questions or just generally groove on that crazy vibe we've got going over there.