Comic books and Hollywood have a special relationship. While it's been prevalent for decades, over the last few years, the two have become inextricably linked, with movies like "The Avengers" and "Iron Man 3" making more than a billion dollars each.
At New York Comic Con, "All-Star Western" and "Painkiller Jane" writer Jimmy Palmiotti, BOOM! Studios founder and CEO Ross Richie and Dark Horse Comics publisher Mike Richardson shared the sometimes harsh reality of their experiences as comic book professionals navigating Hollywood in the "Comics, Hollywood - What Creators Need to Know" panel.
Early in the panel, Palmiotti discussed his experiences at Event Comics, a publisher he launched in the 1994 with current Marvel chief creative officer Joe Quesada.
"We were just doing comic books," Palmiotti said. "We didn't think 'Hollywood is going to be interested' or anything like that. We just said, 'Let's make good comic books.'" Both "Ash" and "Painkiler Jane" ended up attracting interest from studios, with the latter ending up as a short-lived Sci Fi Channel series in 2007.
"Back then, they were looking for anything that wasn't tied to Marvel or DC," Palmotti said, admitting to the crowd that he wished he had done things differently. "You're buying the name," he explained from the network's perspective, "but you're changing almost everything about the character."
Richardson spoke from the experience of both having movies made based on Dark Horse's comics -- he said they've optioned 90 projects since 1992 -- and creating comic books based on movies, like "Alien vs. Predator" and their long-running "Star Wars" line.
"I think we sort of invented the way comics based on movies are done now," Richardson said. "You can pick up the Marvel 'Star Wars' and see the difference between that and the Dark Horse 'Star Wars.'"
Richie's Hollywood dealings date back to his time at now-defunct Malibu Comics, which led to a job in the entertainment business -- which in turn prompted his founding of BOOM!.
"I kind of ran away screaming from Hollywood and decided to start a comic book company, because that was my original career, and I knew the comic book world very well, and had a lot of friends in it," Richie said. "I just didn't understand the irony." Founding BOOM!, of course, led to more Hollywood business -- including this past August's successful Denzel Washington/Mark Wahlberg feature "2 Guns," and the publisher's recently announced first-look deal with 20th Century Fox.
It didn't take long for the panelists to get to the downside of movie and TV deals, with Richardson saying, "For me, it's a constant battle. There's this tendency to try and push things away from the reason why they bought it."
Specifically, when developing "The Mask" -- which ultimately became one of the biggest comedy hits of its era -- Richardson said he was talking to a still-active director he declined to name, who told him, "people in comics should stay in comics, and leave the movies to the professionals."
"My comment was, 'I guess he's not our director,'" Richardson said, adding at the time there was a "prejudice against people working in the comic book business." (One unused "Mask" idea, Richardson revealed, was to transform the story into one about a mask-maker who took faces off of corpses to put them on teens and turn them into zombies.)
Another potential negative is seeing an idea a studio considered and passed on show up in a finished product in a different form. "It's never going to be constructed exactly the same way," Palmiotti said. "In a way, whoever gets it out first wins, sometimes."
"Ideas get lifted all the time," Richardson stated. "It hurts sometimes," Palmiotti interjected.
"Especially when it's No. 1 for seven weeks," Richards added.
Richie spoke of the unpredictability of successful adaptations, noting that a comic doesn't necessarily have to sell in huge numbers to attract media interest. "Men in Black," for instance, began it's life as a Malibu property -- "I think it originally sold 7,000 copies," Richie said.
Similarly, "The Crow," Richie said, "originally did not sell well. It sold much better as a graphic novel collection after it attained its legendary status. And comic book sales are much more modest nowadays."
"What I try to explain to people who don't understand the comic book publishing world is that we have the greatest creators, and our world is full of imagination," Richie said. "It's a rich, visual world."
Detailing BOOM's new deal with Fox, Richie explained, "A first look deal with the studio gives them the opportunity to be the first people to check out what BOOM! publishes. It depends on the execution, but the idea is you create a closer relationship with a specific studio. You're a little further down the road to getting a movie made than if you didn't have the deal."
Richardson offered his own perspective on first look deals, as Dark Horse recently had a similar arrangement with Universal, which only yielded one finished film: "R.I.P.D.," one of the biggest critical and financial disappointments of this year.
"When you don't have one, you want one, because it pays your overhead," Richardson said of first look deals. "When you have one, you want out of it."
Much has been made over the years of comic books seemingly being made just as an attempt to sell a movie, and the panel dealt with the issue directly. "Companies that are made to build content for movies, I don't think they last very long, because that's a bad business model," Richardson said, pointing out that Dark Horse has had 90 properties optioned, with 26 filmed. "Most of the time it's not going to get made. So if you're counting on your company's success in getting movies made, that's a bad business model, and it makes for bad comics."
"We try to do great comics, and some of them make movies, and some of those make good movies," Richardson continued. "It's a long process, with a lot of people with their hands in the mix."
"You can always tell when someone's making a comic for a movie, because there's no soul," Palmiotti added.
Winding down the panel on an optimistic note, Richardson expressed his thoughts that Hollywood now takes more comic books much more seriously than they have in the past. "Movies always looked to comics," Richardson said. "The difference is, they thought comics were juvenile in the past. You would never see 'A History of Violence.' What they're really discovering is that comics can deal with serious material, as well as the fantasy or more juvenile material."
Not that every recent TV or movie adaptation hits the mark.
"There was a time I wanted to see Jonah Hex on the screen," Palmiotti told the crowd. "And I still want to see it on the screen."