Everyone loves comic strips. And that’s probably a good thing because they permeate much of our popular culture. Whether you read them in the daily newspaper, as a web comic, or see them shared on Facebook, comic strips are hard to avoid.
I love comics and have since an early age. I remember laughing hysterically at collections of Garfield comics in elementary school. This fascination with comic strips and cartooning has stayed with me my entire life. When a film documentary on the subject hit Kickstarter, I jumped at the chance to become involved. I plunked down 20 bucks and waited.
Fast forward exactly a year and the Stripped movie was placed into my hands. Well, placed in my digital inbox to be exact.
I’ve watched, read, and even funded other cartoon-related works over the years, looking for the perfect piece that encapsulated the wonderful world of cartooning. Most have tried and failed in varying degrees. Stripped is the best comic strip doc I’ve encountered. It’s a terrific mix of oral history from the various creators on the front lines of the industry — past, present, and future.
There are legends (and personal heroes) like Jim Davis (Garfield), Mort Walker (Beetle Bailey), and Dan Piraro (Bizarro). The film also interviews the young bucks like Matt Inman (The Oatmeal), Kate Beaton (Hark, A Vagrant!), and Ryan North (Dinosaur Comics) who are taking the medium into fun new directions. There are dozens of other creators included in this enterprising documentary.
A big draw of the film is the inclusion of Bill Watterson. He’s the reclusive creator of Calvin & Hobbes who famously retired the strip in 1995. Hardly, if ever, heard from since, Stripped includes an audio interview with the man. Apparently it’s the first time he’s agreed to be recorded. I’ll admit that Watterson’s brief segments don’t offer much insight but it is nice to hear from him. He also contributed the artwork for the poster — a noteworthy event in itself.
The production level of this documentary is extraordinary. Of course the design is great. You can expect that from a visual artist turned film maker. Co-writer and director Dave Kellett is also the cartoonist behind Sheldon. The music is an ideal match to the visuals. The score is by Stefan Lessard, bassist for the Dave Matthews Band.
Above these aesthetic components, it’s really the doc’s organization that makes it great. It seems like a simple outline on paper: the past, present, and future of comics. It’s the mix of interviews, interstitials, and visual exhibits that raise a simple concept into a spectacular collection. As with any good documentary film, there are conflicts. The failing newspaper industry and questionable future of online comics are two main themes.
I love that they chose to include a family-friendly version of the film. There are only a couple of curse words uttered in interviews to warrant a censored version but I’m so thankful they did. This documentary does inspire you to create a webcomic. At least it does me. The doc has numerous examples of creators’ childhood works. It will undoubtedly inspire future generations to get working.
However, for those looking to make it big in the world of comics, the film offers plenty of dissuasion. The hours required to create new work daily are excruciating, the rewards are minimal, and the chances to even make it to syndication are somewhere between slim and none — and getting worse all the time.
The reel of extra footage is terrific for wanna-be creators like myself. There are some funny anecdotes from the likes of Bill Amend (Foxtrot) and Lalo Alcaraz (La Cucaracha). Plus, the chance to see Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine) work was alone worth my contribution. You see that you can have pretty meager tools and have a successful strip that runs in 650 newspapers.
Watching the film’s credits you can get a sense of the amazing amount of work that went into acquiring license or permission to use all the various art as well as TV/film clips. I’d dare you to find a big Hollywood film with a longer set of credits — even without the list of backers.
If you do stick around long enough to see the thousands of Kickstarter backer names, you’ll find my name. I’m happy that I’ve found a worthy comics documentary and extremely proud that I made a tiny contribution into having it made.