Talking Comics with Tim: Miguel Cima

This Saturday, November 14, at 3 PM, Jim Hanley's Universe (at 4 West 33rd St.in New York) will present "an EXCLUSIVE screening of the award-winning documentary (and comics evangelism project) Dig Comics with filmmaker Miguel Cima". In advance of this screening, I caught up with Cima to discuss the project, as well as to find out where things stand on the planned expanded version of the documentary. At the San Diego Comic-Con this past summer, Dig Comics received the Best Documentary Award at the Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival (CCI-IFF). According to Jim Hanley's Universe, after the exclusive screening, it will also "have an A-List panel discussion with Mr. Cima; Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort; Writer/Editor of the PW Beat Blog, Heidi MacDonald; noted DC writer/editor and founder of Paradox Press, Andy Helfer; author and editor of the Graphic NYC Blog Chris Irving; and author of Superman on the Couch and Disguised as Clark Kent, Danny Fingeroth!" Cima's passion and strong opinions are apparent in this email interview--and I appreciate his time. Please be sure to visit YouTube for the Dig Comics trailer.

Tim O'Shea: How long have you been pursuing this project, and in terms of your documentary approach, I was curious if there were certain documentary makers that influenced how your approached the project?

Miguel Cima: I’ve been working on this for about three years now. I guess my main angle is sort of a Michael Moore model, as in let’s see what’s wrong here and what can be done. Plus I too am a husky loudmouth, so there you are.

O'Shea: How did Edward James Olmos get involved in the documentary?

Cima: His son Michael runs his film production office and is a comic book enthusiast. Michael is also an accomplished film director (he made Splinter for Dark Horse Studios). My girlfriend works at Image Entertainment, which distributed his film, and there was the connection. Michael got EJO (Edward James Olmos) interested on a lot of levels, especially the educational and literacy potential that comic books bring – a huge cause for him. But EJO also really loved the movie and has not only been extraordinarily supportive, but also very complimentary of my work. I’ve been a fan of his for years, so when I met him, I told him that and he responded by saying, “Hey - I’m a big fan of yours!” That floored me.

O'Shea: A recent review of the documentary at AICN wrote the following "I put the word “documentary” in quotes because while the movie is informative and well crafted it definitely has an agenda. That agenda is to get the viewer to begin reading and hopefully grow to love the art form that is comic books." Would you agree that your project has an agenda?

Cima: Totally. I’m being a propagandist, there can be no doubt. But then, I think most films are, in their own way. My motivation here is to change and affect attitudes towards the great art form of comic books – which have been much maligned, in my view. There are great artists – plenty of them far outside the superhero genre – who I consider to be as great as Beethoven, Picasso, Chaplin or any other great artist in any medium. Not only do they deserve reward and recognition, but the public deserves to be exposed to the beauty which they offer. I want people to discover this great and vibrant thing they are missing out on. So in that sense, I look at it as doing a public service, and hopefully a small contribution towards the overall benefit of the human condition through art.

O'Shea: Were you walking up to people cold when you did the man on the street interviews, or did you do some off camera prep work. Why I ask is if you did those cold, I wonder how often folks walked away without listening to what you had to say.

Cima: HA! Those poor suckers… Well, maybe there was lag time from a previous interview, but it was all pretty spontaneous. The producer would stop them, ask them to be in the film, then I’d start giving them my spiel with cameras rolling, and seeing what their attitudes towards comics was. Honestly, these people were just great, and for the most part, seemed pleasantly surprised by what I was offering – a glimpse into a whole new world of art.

O'Shea: The current incarnation of Dig Comics is being shown at upcoming festivals, can you mention upcoming opportunities to see it?

Cima: YES! We are screening at Jim Hanley’s Universe in New York City on Saturday, November 14th, 3PM. I’m moderating a post-screening panel on the future of comics with Tom Brevoort, Andy Helfer, Danny Fingeroth, Heidi McDonald and Christopher Irving. Details here.  That’s probably it for the year, but much more is coming in 2010. Folks can check out updates for future events on Facebook - become a fan! Plus see where we’ve been and other fun stuff at www.digcomics.com.

O'Shea: What plans are in the pipeline for Dig Comics in 2010 and beyond?

Cima: Funding for the feature is #1 – making the feature is #2. Until that happens, it’s screenings, film fests, and all the events we can whip up to get folks interested. Any interested parties should definitely contact us. It’s not a whole lot of money we need, and with all the huge comics movies coming up these next few years, it shouldn’t be tough to make money on it.

O'Shea: The Dig Comics site provides a list of  recommended comics--who compiled that list?

Cima: Me. Totally subjective. But my goal there is for either newcomers to comics, or readers who stick to just one genre (i.e., “fanboys) to have a place where they can check out concise reviews of various works across all genres and art styles, and see if I can’t help them find a comic book which will appeal to them. Most reviewers tend to stick either to superheroes or fancypants “alternative” books – I want a one-stop place where people can browse all across the board and find the scene that they can dig. And I only include stuff that I have read and love. My associate producer Corey Blake is also doing a regular blog along the same lines – check him out at www.coreyblake.com (of all places). He’s looking more at interesting new releases than comics he loves, but still a great place to seek some guidance.

O'Shea: A recent Twitter said the following "Comic Con founder [Shel Dorf] dead at 76, born near same time as comics industry. Makes me wonder if comics has another 76 yrs left itself..." Why did you say that? (about comics?)

Cima: Because I’ve heard too many big publisher execs say in interviews that their concern is not comics, but how they can monetize the legacy characters. That’s totally fucked up! Imagine Capitol Records was like, well, these Beatles T-shirts and video games are doing great, we no longer need to distribute music. How insane would that be? Robbed of Beatles music, that’s my analogy. How is it that such mentalities are holding the keys to an art form? It’s outrageous! These guys would be ready to let Spider-Man comics vanish as long as the movies prove to be the most lucrative. And the fact is readership is down and keeps going down. It doesn’t make sense economically, either as there are obviously great opportunities to up readership and sell more books, but really, it’s just a sin for them to think that way, and it’s nuts that these guys would admit as much in public. So, yeah, if the big publishers don’t step up, comics may well go the way of the Zoetrope.

O'Shea: One more Twitter question--around the time of the Disney/Marvel deal, you wrote: "Disney's gonna fucking kill comics dead. Goodbye pencils & pages, hello rated 'G' IMAX in new 3D. Today's news is alarming to say the least." Are you still that concerned about the deal?

Cima: Not as much, I suppose. I wasn’t being too charitable that day, because I’ve spent enough time working in studios and record labels to know how MOST of those people think. To be fair, I should wait and see what they do before judging. I’d love to be surprised.

O'Shea: Any final thoughts?

Cima: I could go on and on, but the main thing is this: if you don’t read comics, give them a try, you are missing out on a very cool experience. And if you DO read comics, it’s up to you to help change the playing field. Expose your friends to comics. Give them as birthday or holiday gifts to Grandma Peaches and your nephew Bobby. And don’t be dumb and give granny Wolverine Slashes Mutant Aliens – she ain’t reading that. Become an expert not only of your preferred genre, but of all comics, and expose accordingly. There’s plenty of stuff for kids, tweeners, young adults, and older folks, girls & boys, all backgrounds. Find the stuff and put it in their hands. Each and every fan has the opportunity to be on the frontlines of the effort to get America to once again DIG COMCIS! Their reward will be even more great work from more great artists, and a world where you go from being a nerd to being a tastemaker.

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