It’s a brand new day, here’s the latest edition of Everyday Hero, your roundup of handpicked headlines from across the fanboy universe…
COMIC BOOKS LOSING THEIR POWERS?: The American comic book has, in some ways, never been bigger in pop culture than today with the commercial blockbusters in Hollywood and the critical respect for graphic novels. But business reporter Tiffany Hsu writes that the core publishing business that has struggled in recent years is up against the wall in the current economy: "A high-stakes battle for survival is underway in the comic book universe, and superheroes such as Wonder Woman and Wolverine have been enlisted in the fight. Even President-elect Barack Obama — and an impostor — have been recruited to help Spider-Man. With mixed results, the nation’s comic book publishers and hundreds of neighborhood shops are fighting off a deteriorating economy, online piracy, rising costs and changing consumer tastes. Comic book sales were down for most of 2008, even at behemoth publisher Marvel Comics. And many small comic stores are closing one by one. Just last week, Marvel released a special edition of Spider-Man in which the superhero notices two identical Obamas at today’s presidential inauguration, uses basketball to weed out the phony and is thanked with a fist-bump from the new president himself. But times are stark, and it may take more than Obama and his illustrated posse to revive business, as the industry nervously trains its spider sense on the notoriously feeble January sales month. ‘Because comics are an escape, they’re a little more protected from the economy,’ said Jonah Weiland, executive producer of website Comic Book Resources. ‘But I wouldn’t say they’re recession-proof. Everyone is preparing for a slump.’ There’s still an appetite for fantasy — experts said the comics market has been resilient, weathering the wilting economy better than other forms of media. At the Los Angeles Public Library, thrifty fans turned comics into a hot item at the checkout counter last summer. ‘If you want to read a series, there could be anywhere from three titles to 50, so it could be a very expensive experience,’ said Albert Johnson, a collection development manager at the library. ‘That’s a big reason why we’re seeing more traffic.’ But even after a year stuffed with blockbuster films based on comic books, growth in all sectors is stalling." [Los Angeles Times]
THE SECRET STORY OF NARNIA: So why exactly did Disney jump ship on the "Chronicles of Narnia" franchise after the first two grossed close to $1.2 billion worldwide for Disney and its partner in the project, Phil Anschutz’s Walden Media? Patrick Goldstein has a long explaination of the economics, politics and personalities involved, here’s an excerpt: "According to multiple sources, the once-close relationship between Disney and Walden began to unravel when, after the first ‘Narnia’ film cleaned up at the box office, Anschutz essentially put a gun to Disney’s head and demanded that the studio renegotiate its deal with Walden. Anschutz insisted that Disney either gave back a sizable chunk of the studio’s lucrative distribution fee or Anschutz would distribute the ‘Narnia’ series on his own. Believing the franchise was too good to give up, Disney reluctantly changed the terms of its Walden deal, but the renegotiation poisoned relations between the two behemoths. When the second film faltered, there was so little good will left over that Disney had far less qualms about cutting its ties with the franchise. To be fair, Walden wasn’t all that happy with the way Disney handled the film. The first movie had been released at Christmas, which seemed a logical slot for a family-oriented picture. But when Disney saw that ‘Prince Caspian’ was an edgier, more youth-oriented film, it decided to go after teenagers as well as family filmgoers. That decision led to what, in hindsight, appears to be a huge blunder, releasing ‘Prince Caspian’ in May, at the start of summer. Sandwiched between ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,’ ‘Prince Caspian’ not only failed to attract many teenagers, but it lost a large piece of its family following, who were turned off by the edgier, not especially well-focused marketing materials. ‘We felt that, for that film, we had to try to appeal to every audience,’ says Disney studio chief Dick Cook. ‘The movie was edgier and tougher and the marketing materials reflected that. Sometimes when you do that, you risk alienating the families and maybe that’s what happened.’ Cook defended the studio’s decision to put the movie into the summer. ‘Warners has always been able to move ‘Harry Potter’ back and forth, so we thought we had just as good a chance of doing well. Honestly, who knows — it may have been a factor. In the summertime, you don’t always get many second chances. But release dates are funny — they never seem to effect a movie people really want to see.’" [The Big Picture]
GRIM STUDIO NEWS: Warner Bros. released the second-highest grossing film of all time last year with "The Dark Knight" and has "Watchmen" and a sixth "Harry Potter" film on tap for 2009. That doesn’t mean everything is rosy at the Burbank lot. Here’s the story by Claudia Eller: "Warner Bros. Entertainment is eliminating 800 jobs, or about 10% of its global workforce, becoming the latest media company to take drastic cost-cutting measures amid a deepening recession. The move is expected to save the movie and television studio more than $50 million annually in costs. Walt Disney Co. is also shortly expected to make substantial cuts in its ABC television division. On Tuesday, radio broadcaster Clear Channel Communications slashed 1,850 jobs, or 9% of its employees. In recent months, others including Viacom Inc., NBC/Universal, video game giant Electronic Arts and Hollywood’s largest independent studio Lionsgate have downsized their ranks as they struggle with the global economic crisis and market downturns of DVD revenue and advertising sales. Of the 800 positions being eliminated by Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros., about 600 people will be laid off across all divisions of the studio’s operations. Another 200 open positions will not be filled. About 300 positions in management information systems, finance and accounting will be outsourced to India and Poland. In addition, about 155 people who work in ‘back office’ positions will be offered jobs with a third-party outsourcing company on the Burbank lot, according to a person familiar with the matter. The layoffs and outsourcing of jobs will begin immediately and continue over a period of time, the person said." [Los Angeles Times]
SUPERMAN MEETS SPIDER-MAN!: Ah, one of the great moments of my childhood was in 1976 when all the rules of physics seemed to stop and the impossible happened: Superman met Spider-Man. What happened? Well, they started punching each other, of course. The book had GREAT cover drawn by Ross Andru (based on a Carmine Infantino layout and tightened by Dick Giordano inks) and a fun story by Gerry Conway with Lex Luthor and Dr. Octopus as the bad guys. It was sold as one of those great oversized tabloid editions. I was thinking of that landmark DC-Marvel crossover this morning when I saw footage of Brandon Routh, the most recent Man of Steel on the silver screen, meeting the considerably shorter Tobey Maguire, who was pitch-perfect as Peter Parker in Sam Raimi’s "Spider-Man" films. If Warner Bros. brings Routh back as the last son of Krypton (that’s no done deal, of course) perhaps we’ll see a summer showdown between the two signature heroes of the top comic-book companies. That would be cool. The two actors met at a charity event, here’s the lowdown from MTV: "They were on hand at Abram Simon Elementary to perform some community service as part of the president-elect’s call to community action on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. But the momentous meeting was the kind that comic geeks salivate over. Maguire was hard at work with volunteers in a classroom at the school trying to figure out how to build the IKEA-style shelving units, when Routh walked by just behind him, but the superheroes-in-street-clothes barely acknowledged each other as they pitched in while wearing their civvies … Though Maguire was kept busy screwing panels of the shelves together, a short time later, as Routh pulled books from boxes to stack them in the newly built cubbies, he happened across a — no joke — Spider-Man book, and walked it over to his super-brethren. ‘I think this is yours,’ he said, handing Maguire the book. The web-slinger laughed, and the actors shook hands and chatted for a few moments before Routh walked back across the room to shelve ‘I Can Read: Spider-Man 3, Meet the Heroes and the Villains.’ ‘I think I can probably beat them all up,’ Routh said. ‘Just kidding.’" [MTV]
TRIVIA QUESTION: "Superman Vs. Spider-Man" was the second comic book published by DC and Marvel partnering together to produce a "publishing event" moment. What was the first? The cover is at the bottom of this post.
ON THIS DATE: Happy birthday today to Mr. David Lynch, one of the great oddballs of cinema history and a truly singular spirit as a filmmaker. Lynch was born in Missoula, Mont., on this day in 1946, and reached the rank of Eagle Scout at age 15 and served as an usher at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy, a bit of random bio data that I thought you would appreciate on this day. Lynch would give us the television masterpiece that is the first two seasons of "Twin Peaks" and unforgettable films such as "Mulholland Drive," "Blue Velvet" and "Eraserhead." To celebrate his day, let’s all get some damn fine coffee … but only after checking to make sure there isn’t a fish in the percolator. To see some video memories of Lynch moments, keep reading …
Here’s the opening of "Twin Peaks"
And a trailer for "Blue Velvet"
As well as the trailer for "Eraserhead"
TRIVIA ANSWER: That first Marvel-DC collaborative "publishing event" was this unexpected 1975 project …
Thanks, as always, for reading and please leave a comment if you enjoy the blog or even if you hate it. Cheers,
— Geoff Boucher
CREDIT: David Lynch photo by Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times. "Prince Caspian" image courtesy of Disney/Walden Media.