Shelf Life: Indiana Jones & the Life-Changing Experience

Thu, September 20th, 2012 at 2:58pm PDT

Comic Books
Ron Marz, Columnist

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Indiana Jones and the Life-Changing Experience

With "Raiders of the Lost Ark" returning to movie screens in IMAX, Ron Marz remembers his first life-changing experience with the film

I remember exactly where I was on the night of June 12, 1981. That was the day "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was released in theaters. It was a Friday night and I was at the Mayfair Twin theater, a few miles away from my house, in my hometown of Kingston, NY. And I was watching "Clash of the Titans."

"Clash" came out the same day as "Raiders," and both were playing at the Mayfair Twin, once a huge movie palace, now split down the middle to create two narrow theaters. (The building is now, sadly, home to a discount tire warehouse.) My friends and I wanted to see both movies. We didn't know much about "Raiders," other than George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Han Solo. "Clash," though, that had Ray Harryhausen, master of stop-motion animation. The guy who brought to life Mighty Joe Young, the skeletons in "Jason and the Argonauts," all of Sinbad's monsters. I wanted to be Ray Harryhausen when I was growing up.

So we picked "Clash" on Friday night, feeling like we knew what we were getting. And it was okay. The parts with the stop-motion were pretty good. The rest... eh. Harry Hamlin in a toga.

So the next night, we went back to see "Raiders," and for the price of a movie ticket, I had my life changed. We sat through "Raiders," my friends and I, and felt like we'd been dragged behind a truck for four hours. I can remember being breathless, literally, for long stretches of the movie. I'd never experienced anything like it. We got right back in line and saw the next showing of "Raiders" (after talking my mom into coming back to pick us up in another two hours).

Four years earlier, I'd been enthralled by "Star Wars," transported to... well, you know where "Stars Wars" transported me. That too was a life-altering experience, but "Raiders" was even more so. Both films were rooted in the traditions of pulp storytelling, throwbacks to the kind of adventure found in Saturday morning serials. "Star Wars" owed just as much of a debt to "Flash Gordon" as it did to Kurosawa's "The Hidden Fortress." It imprinted on me like few other films.

Ron is a fan of characters like Indy who are ordinary people caught in extraordinary situations
Test pages by Luke Ross

But "Raiders" had an even bigger effect on me, especially in terms of the kind of stories I would eventually tell. Indiana Jones was a human protagonist, a hero who bleeds and even fails; in fact, most of what he does in "Raiders" is fail. But it's not the failure that's important, it's that Indy never gives up. An ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances is infinitely more interesting (and identifiable) to me than an extraordinary person in extraordinary circumstances. The example I always come back to: I find Roger Thornhill far more intriguing in Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" than I do Jack Ryan in any of Tom Clancy's thrillers. Thornhill is one of us, while Ryan is the best of us. I'm more of a Spider-Man guy than a Captain America guy. More Kyle than Hal. That doesn't mean I don't like Steve Rogers or Hal Jordan as characters. It just means that as a writer and a reader, I'm more a fan of the Everyman.

So last week, despite deadlines breathing down my neck, I went to see Indy in IMAX last week, and took both of my sons. Seeing "Raiders" on the big screen was an experience I wanted to have again, and something I wanted them to experience for the first time. They've seen "Raiders" at home countless times, but this was different. The communal experience of sitting in a darkened theater with an audience, and more importantly, with no distractions, is far different than sitting on your couch.

I asked my younger son if he wanted to wear his official Indy fedora (which he'd inherited from his older brother) to the movie. "Dad," he said, "I'd look like an idiot." The fedora stayed home.

When anyone asks me to name my favorite movie, my answer is invariably "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (followed by "Lawrence of Arabia, in case you were wondering). Seeing "Raiders" again, larger and louder than life, confirmed its place atop my personal "Best of..." list. The best fight scene in a bar, ever. The best chase in a movie, ever. The spray of freckles across Karen Allen's nose. "I dunno, I'm making this up as I go."

Back on June 13, 1981, I didn't realize "Raiders" was teaching me aspects of visual storytelling I'm still using today. Indy's introduction at the beginning of the film is classic. He's seen only in shadow, or from behind, until the moment he uses his whip to disarm the treacherous guide. Great stuff. That's how you introduce a character. It's a very comic-book sort of movie. Visually dramatic, lots of action, regular cliffhangers.

One of my unfulfilled ambitions in comics is writing Indiana Jones. Dark Horse Comics holds the Indy license (along with "Star Wars," of course), but hasn't produced much material in the recent past. So a few years ago, as "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" was getting up and running, I took another run at Indy. My "Samurai: Heaven and Earth" partner, Luke Ross, shares my affection for Indy, so we put together a three-page sequence showing Indy, a femme fatale and some nasty Nazis in Tibet. The kernel of the idea was based on the 1938-39 Tibetan expeditions led by SS officer and zoologist Ernst Shafer.

Ron hopes to tell some indie comic stories in the future
Art by Luke Ross, colors by Mike Atiyeh

Luke drew the hell out of the pages. But it still wasn't enough to get any traction on a new Indy series. The concern was (and is) that there's not enough of an audience for an Indy comic to make a series financially viable. But at least Luke ended up with the assignment of drawing the "Crystal Skull" adaptation for Dark Horse. And I guess it worked out pretty well for me too. During Luke's most recent visit to Manhattan (he lives in Sao Paulo, Brazil), he gave me the generous gift of the original artwork for all three pages.

I haven't yet picked up the Indy Blu-Ray set that was released this week. Those deadlines are still looming, and I don't need the temptation. I plan on getting the set soon, though, and reveling in it. For now, the experience of Indy in IMAX will more than suffice. It was everything I remembered.

Actually, it was better than I remembered, because I got to share it with my boys, who both sat in rapt attention for a movie they'd already seen over and over. When the end credits rolled, I asked my sons how they liked seeing Indy on the big screen. In unison, they told me, "Awesome."

Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it's pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes "Artifacts" for Top Cow, "Prophecy" for Dynamite and his creator-owned title, "Shinku," for Image. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com.

TAGS:  shelf life, ron marz, raiders of the lost ark, indiana jones, luke ross, michael atiyeh

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