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Breakup Girl » Heartbreaking
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December 29, 2008

Heartbreaking

Filed under: pop culture — posted by Chris @ 11:10 am

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My Spirit ScreamsI suffered my own personal heartbreak on the day after Christmas: I saw “Frank Miller’s The Spirit” — a movie that defies logic, taste, the basics of filmmaking, and, most importantly, the source material, Will Eisner’s The Spirit.

Eisner literally wrote the book on graphic storytelling, and his influence on comic book creators — both writers and artists — is so ginormous that the industry’s awards are called The Eisners. His work on The Spirit — in particular the postwar period — is an unparalleled achievement in artistry, combining the mainstream charm of a newspaper strip with groundbreaking film-style visuals all in service to a smart, taut, O. Henry-style short story. To see his soulful, whimsical masterpiece translated to film as a dreary, awkward catalog of Frank Miller’s personal fetishes is a cringe-inducing experience that diminishes two comics legends. People reading comics have known this for some time, but now we have box-office returns to prove that Miller, who wrote some influential comics 20 years ago, is now a mannered, self-aggrandizing hack.

Our Breakup Girl comics are heavily influenced by Will Eisner’s The Spirit. When we first set about trying to tell a rich story in only six (later five) pages, I couldn’t help but study the old Spirits which were just seven pages, but pack a punch greater than most of today’s 32-page comics. Plus, Eisner, always stretching the form, found himself creating stories that were more fable than adventure, not afraid to have the hero take a backseat, and that has always been our goal with BG. Looking back I can also see how his characterizations have also played into my writing. Like The Spirit, Breakup Girl is not a wealthy playboy but a “middle-class superhero,” very much an approachable character in her glitz-free New York neighborhood, who’s costume verges on plain-clothes and who’s workaday approach to crime-fighting is full-bodied, practical and plucky.

Now imagine walking into a Breakup Girl movie and seeing Barb Wire instead. Feel my pain.


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4 Comments »

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Frank Miller and Will Eisner were the two most famous comic book artists at the turn of this century, but they had wildly differing ideas and debated furiously. For one to be given the directorial reins to the other’s personal vision seems tastelessly vindictive.

    I thought I heard an alarm buzzing this morning, and it was the spin cycle resetting. Thanks to Frank, we’ll be right on time for another few years of producers being convinced that “comic books are box office poison.” It never fails. Some well-crafted films that happen to be based on comic books succeed, interest in gold-mining the medium rises, and then there follows a glut of crap work based on comic books. Sigh.

    Oh well, maybe in another three years or so, comic books will find the limelight and attract the better talent again. Is there a bat signal for Joss Whedon?

    Comment by Kindred — December 29, 2008 @ 12:01 pm

  2. Kindred, I think some of the comic-book films currently in production may be good enough (and successful enough) to sustain interest in this kind of film. I hope the reaction by Hollywood to this epic bomb is not to stop making comic-book movies, but to start paying attention to Neil Gaiman’s Law of Superhero Movies: “the closer the film is to the look and feel of what people like about the comic, the more successful it is.” Check out his post from Friday.

    Comment by Chris — December 29, 2008 @ 12:41 pm

  3. I can’t say I’m surprised. From the first trailer this looked like it was going to be pure awful. I enjoyed Sin City from a largely aesthetic perspective, but it wasn’t the kind of style that begged to be repeated. It was Sin City, and it deserved to be unique in that sense. Sure, some of the film techniques could be used *differently* for other film, but from the beginning it looked like The Spirit was going to be put through a Sin City meat grinder.

    It’s sad, because I quite liked some of Frank Miller’s early work, but maybe he needs a few years off… and some therapy.

    Comment by Dan Wilson — December 29, 2008 @ 1:24 pm

  4. Time to put away the eggnog and get out the hard stuff. This is terrible news. (Though, unfortunately, as Dan says, not suprising.)

    Perhaps the thin thread of hope here is that there *is* a reboot mechanism, which sometimes works, “Batman Begins” being the exemplar, here; I was never on board with Burton’s Batman, and it seems like a similar scenario: prima donna auteur obscures impossibly important character, ruining everything for everyone until, many years later, someone who knows better gets it right. I don’t think it’s very likely to kick in here, for a variety of reasons, but… at least there is some love and respect for the property in Hollywood and the people who would have done it right are now far more powerful than they were 28 years ago.

    And, in the very best way, The Spirit lives on in the BG-verse.

    Now, if there were only some tough and talented outsider with the tools, the chops and the motivation to make this neighborhood safe again…..

    Comment by Colin — December 29, 2008 @ 1:50 pm

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