The IP pipeline connecting the comic book sector to Hollywood continues to pump at a robust pace (and superhero movies now account for 10 of the top 25 highest-grossing films of all time) but the flow isn’t entirely a single-direction one.
Last summer, I wrote up a roll call round-up about the parade of Hollywood types (J.J. Abrams and John Carpenter among them) who have dipped into the world of comic books and graphic novels as visiting creative talent.
Today, a follow-up with new batch of show-biz citizens playing tourist in the vivid landscape of comics: Jack Black, Jay Baruchel, and Twiztid, the venerable Detroit hip-hop duo. Let’s take them in reverse order…
TWIZTID: The hip-hop tandem of Jamie Madrox and Monoxide (whose given names are Jamie Spaniolo and Paul Methric, respectively) have been on the music scene since 1997 but they qualify for dual citizenship in the comics sector these days. The pair not only produce the indie comic book series called Haunted High-Ons (Source Point Press) they also star in the illustrated adventures (with their horror-show stage personas reimagined as a pair of fake ghost hunters who encounter authentic supernatural dangers) which premiered in 2017 with a one-shot story. The duo also own and operate Astronomicon, the Michigan pop-culture convention, which was the site last weekend where they announced that Haunted High-Ons has locked in a production partnership with Ken F. Levin (AMC’s Preacher, Amazon’s The Boys) and his NightSky Productions with an eye toward an animated series. It’s big news for the music biz tandem whose 2019 album, Generation Nightmare, charted both on Billboard’s alternative rock and hip-hop charts.
Says Twiztid: “When we first heard [Levin] was interested in what we have going on with Haunted High-Ons, we were blown away. After finally meeting Ken in person at San Diego Comic-Con, we asked him to come to our show later that night in San Diego. He actually showed, stayed for the whole performance and spent an additional two hours talking comics and TV with us after. It was then that we knew this is the guy we need representing our beloved independent comic franchise as we take this ambitious leap into what some would call the next level.”
Jay Baruchel: The star of the highly regarded hit animation franchise How to Train Your Dragon is rekindling his longtime romance with comic books this Valentine’s Day. That’s because Baruchel wrote a six-page romance story about Nightwing (the hero formerly known as Robin the Boy Wonder) and Batgirl for DC Comics and the just-released anthology collection, DC’s Crimes of Passion. Baruchel scripted the cleverly executed short story while Andie Tong, (Green Lantern: Legacy) handled the artwork. (Baruchel also scripted two upcoming DC adventures featuring the Flash, the fastest man alive.)
Up caught up with Baruchel for a quick chat about comics. The Canadian actor known for This is the End, Knocked Up, and Tropic Thunder grew up outside Montreal but never outgrew his passion for comics. Baruchel’s many pursuits find him wearing different hats (actor, writer, director, author, and stand-up comedian) and, until last year, one of them was as part-owner of Chapter House, a comic book publisher. “Comic book have been a huge part of my life,” Baruchel said. The medium has also left its mark on him. “I’m a chronic daydreamer — to a fault,” Baruchel said in a confessional tone.
The DC projects entrusted him with major properties from the DC library and it’s not a task he took lightly.
“Here’s the thing, the difficulty comes with the weight of reverence and obligation,” Baruchel said. “These are not just bullish*t characters. Theres are pretty canonical, pretty important characters. This f*cking Robin and the Flash for God’s sake. These are effectively icons. The task and challenge I gave myself was: Can I come up with something to do with them that hasn’t been read before? Are there scenarios that make sense for them that we haven’t seen yet? So to try to create something new and colorful that was also authentic and didn’t feel like I was just slapping them into any story. Not every story is good for the hero at hand. So it had to be sincere and authentic and connected to the character but also something kind of different.”
Baruchel loves old sea-faring analogies (and who doesn’t?) and he said navigating the DC universe reminded him of a briny old adage: “An old sailer has to fear the sea enough to respect it but not so much that he can’t do the job he has to do…I have to have a reverence but I can’t be so in awe that I’m unable to add something new to it.”
The least interesting option for the comedy specialist was making fun of the characters. ‘If you’ve never written somebody iconic and you’re grappling with the weight of that, well, the easiest thing to do — kind of the laziest option, really — is to make fun of them. To take the piss out of them, that’s the quick answer.”
JACK BLACK: Jack Black is another devout true believer in the cosmic power of comics and his just-announced Fantagraphics project is a relative rarity among celebrity-name projects in the medium That’s because Black himself is handling the artwork for Post-Apocalypto, a 180-page epic tale about Tenacious D, Black’s over-the-top, face-melting rock duo with longtime collaborator Kyle Gass.
The Fantagraphics book shares its title with the tandem’s most recent album and it ties in to their YouTube show Tenacious D in Post-Apocalypto. It’s a great project for Fantagraphics, the esteemed Seattle publisher behind Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World, Joe Sacco’s Palestine, and Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library.
“When we finished this book there was only one publisher we ever really considered,” Black and Gass said. “Fantagraphics has been the shining beacon of creativity in comic books for decades. We are thrilled to release our magnum opus with the undisputed greatest and best comic book publisher in the world.”