After finally putting to bed a huge project that we’ve been working on here at CO2 Comics (expect a big announcement next week) I snuck out with my wife for a guilty pleasure.
We went to the movies!
Beside my professional credentials as a comics creator and publisher, I am proud to admit that I am also a variety arts entertainer with a fair range of diverse skills that include balloon sculpting, juggling, stilt walking, puppetry and magic. There has been a buzz of excitement among my friends in the magician community about the new movie, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.” Sporting a great cast that includes Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, Steve Buscemi, Alan Arkin and the stunning Olivia Wilde with a cameo by David Copperfield, himself, this magic parody film was hard to resist, especially for anyone that has ever dabbled as a magician.
I don’t intend that this blog post be a review of “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.” For me, movie was entertaining, though it did not live up to my hopeful expectations. I did find myself, however, identifying with the central theme which paralleled closely to last week’s essay about Jerry Ordway and his experience as a formerly successful comic book artist now struggling to find work. The film had a lesson to be learned by all artists and entertainers which can be summed up simply as “never lose the wonderment that attracted you to your creative medium of choice.”
In the film, Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and his partner Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) rise from childhood friends with a voracious interest in magic to a world-class act that headlines in Vegas with their own dedicated theater. Their performance, dominated by Wonderstone’s ego, becomes routine and, eventually, stale as audience numbers accordingly shrink. The new, hot attraction in town is Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) whose brand of street magic is more “Shock and Awe” a la Criss Angel than a Vegas style production like Copperfield . What classic technique Gray’s magic lacks is overshadowed by vile displays of self mutilation that engage his audiences through what he calls “Mind Rape.”
Wonderstone and Marvelton’s act is no longer deemed viable. The two are out of a job and can’t find work anywhere, now considered washed-up hacks. They must rediscover that wonderment that initially drove them to greatness before they can force their classic act “out of the box” to overcome the superficial sensations of their competition.
This theme is a common challenge that faces all of the arts. Many artists are not prepared to accept the transitional point where the act of doing what they love becomes a job. Many artists discover an inner resentment that their creative freedom is lost because of a necessary need to pander to a market compounded by deadlines, schedules, editors and critics. Their work becomes routine and eventually mundane. They lose the creative joy they once had as artists. They lose the wonder.
When doing what you love becomes work it can sometimes be like losing your best friend. It is either time to move on with your life, find a way to rekindle that relationship or be miserable in it. At CO2 Comics we know first-hand what a slippery slope working in the comics field can be regarding this issue and we remind ourselves every day with our tag line, “Making comics because we want to!” For us it’s true. We love making comics and making them available to an ever changing audience. Bill Cucinotta and I have had a friendship that has endured all these years through good and bad times. It is our mutual affection for the medium and respect for each other as artists that has kept us together on this mission as comic publishers.
My clown friends in the entertainment field have a mantra that paraphrases McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc. They say, “When you’re green you grow, when you’re ripe you rot!” It is a challenge to stay fresh and to continue expanding the horizons of your craft for your own self esteem and for the sake of the audience while always being grounded in the classic fundamentals.
Fundamentals are the key to longevity in any field. Those that embrace them structure their work with a classic frame that will support any inventiveness used to establish the artist’s creative signature. Art with no regard to fundamentals will usually not stand the test of time and will fade into obscurity as a dated novelty.
“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” is an observation of how any medium can be distracted by the extreme. This is not lost on the cast of the film. In a Newsday article Steve Carell is quoted as saying,”It’s the idea that something that is classic and perhaps a bit well worn can casually be replaced by something that might not be considered art, but is new and shocking,” he said. “I think that not only happens in magic but in the comedy world as well. I think there are lots of parallels, especially in television, in terms of what people are watching at this point. People are getting so much info on a daily basis, you need to do something ridiculous just to garner any attention.”
Olivia Wilde follows up with, “”It’s an observation about what people want to watch, and what audiences seem to be demanding,” Wilde said. “People want to be pushed to the brink, to see what they’ve never seen, It’s interesting because it’s happening in sports and in film as well — horror, comedy. People want to be pushed to the edge. I wonder if that’s a reaction to technology and what’s available at our fingertips, or the demands made on entertainment that you pay for, because free content is so plentiful.
“If our film is a love letter to anything, it’s to a classic style of entertainment.”
So comics are not alone in their struggle to attract an audience and to maintain a classic integrity. It’s too bad that this film is ultimately a piece of fluff that will not be taken seriously enough for people to fully digest the message. There is hope for me, however, that classic values in comics will win-out over what I see as a current knee-jerk marketing frenzy that is destabilizing classic and iconic characters and fracturing the fundamentals of good writing, visual storytelling and dynamics. All is good in the world!
Thanks Burt Wonderstone for reminding me of the wonderment that attracted me to comics!
With all that in mind now, grab a pen and jot down these dates and events that Bill Cucinotta and I will be at in the next few weeks. Stop and see us at our booth at The Asbury Park Comic Convention in Asbury Park , NJ on Saturday March 30, 2013 and at the Comic Geek Speak Super Show in Reading, PA. April 6-7, 2013 . Both shows are chock full of classic comic book artists. Show them some love! We want to meet you too and are excited about looking at portfolios of aspiring comic creators. See you there!
Making Comics Because We Want to,