Release Date: 2014
Length: 85 minutes
Director: Dave Kellett, Frederick Schroeder
Starring: Lalo Alcaraz, Gene Ambaum, Bill Amend
It’s certainly a provocative title. It makes sense, I guess, as a marketing ploy. It does make it awkward, though, when one recommends it. There doesn’t seem to be much of an overlap, at least in my experience, between people who like documentaries and people who like narrative film. (As an aside, let me say that turning off the comments would be worth it if all it eliminated were those annoying folks who have to announce their divergence from a stated generality.)
While it talks somewhat about the history of comics, (comic strips, not comic books, as you might have already surmised from the title) and somewhat about the future of comics, it’s really a snapshot of the present moment. Dave Kellett makes gestures at a neutral point of view, but he’s clearly a partisan for moving past print. (As a webcomic artist with two strips, it isn’t exactly surprising.) It colors his presentation, but it isn’t crippling. His editorial hand isn’t too heavy and many of the interviews with people are available in their entirety apart from the film itself.
If this sort of thing is your sort of thing, let me particularly suggest the full interviews with Stephan Pastis, creator of Pearls Before Swine and with Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade. While Pearls might be the last great syndicated newspaper comic, PA is a behemoth among webcomics and certainly one of, if not the most, influential. The creators of each are remarkably clear-eyed about their situations and overlap a great deal in their assessments despite coming at the topic from very different professional positions.
The breadth of participation in this project is impressive, many, many of the major players online and in print are represented, even including some comments from the reclusive Bill Watterson. Like all documentaries it has a rather narrow appeal, but comics themselves are fairly broad. Most people have enjoyed the funny papers at one point or another in their lives. It’s a well made documentary even if the low-budget shows through in places and you won’t fall asleep.