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Monday, July 09, 2018 

Two interviews with Bob Layton

Two different interviews with artist/writer Layton, famous for his role on Iron Man in the Bronze Age, were published this week. One is from the Tampa Bay Times, and I noticed they brought up a change made to the supervillain Ghost:
Your Ghost was a man. In this movie, Ghost is a woman. Do you have an issue with that change?

In the case of the Ghost, I am perfectly fine with that. The Ghost was a gender non-specific character. When we created him, Ghost was a nickname for a spy and the fact that he had powers of a literal ghost. We never knew anything about him. We wanted to deliberately keep him mysterious. He could have been anybody. I don’t think changing the gender alters that in any way.
I wouldn't be too sure of that. The fact is that by now, even in the films, all this gender-bending is getting out of hand. What if we're getting to the point where, for example, a white guy cannot play Nick Fury ever again on screen? That wouldn't be good, IMO. Sure, if this were to at least remain in the cinematic world, it might not be an issue, but we've already long seen how it's leaked over to the comics as well, under the flawed notion the audience would not only flock to the comics en masse, but that they wouldn't care something was changed for the sake of it.

Layton also thinks Tony Stark may meet his swan song in the next Avengers film:
Back to Tony Stark. Is the next Avengers his Marvel movie farewell?

I am only speculating, but I will guess that (Robert Downey Jr.) is done. He has been doing the same role for over 10 years now, and I think as with any actor sometimes, it is time to move on.

So, do you think Tony Stark dies?

That is one way of doing it, but I’d only be guessing. I know this — I wouldn’t want to recast Tony Stark. Who would want to try to top Downey? But, if Tony doesn’t come back, they can put somebody else in the armor and start a new generation of Iron Man.
Sigh. I decidedly must disagree here. If the British could do it with the James Bond films and the Doctor Who series on TV, and replace one actor with another, why can't US filmmakers do the same? What matters is talent, not an individual. Besides, the film franchise could eventually run out, and then it'll be several decades until it's tried again (if films are even still made by then), and they'll need a new actor in Downey's stead. But then, the main worry is, what if an exit by Tony Stark means an entry by a more PC/SJW creation like Riri Williams? After the recent SJW debacle, it wouldn't be the slightest bit helpful to do it that way.

The second one is from Adventures in Poor Taste, and this is the more interesting one, where Layton brings up a few points he'd made 5 years ago, about where the Big Two are headed. And that includes mention of a certain aforementioned SJW-catering creation while talking about Downey's future with the film franchise:
Layton: I think it would be smart for him to move on while he’s still young enough to do some other stuff, but the money Hollywood throws at you is hard to turn down too, because they throw some serious bucks. I mean, he’s the highest paid male actor in Hollywood and he’s raising a family, so who knows? I don’t really know. I would say retire the character and let somebody else be Iron Man for a while. Draft some Riri whatever her name is — I hate that.

AiPT!: You said in your panel you don’t follow the comics…

Layton: I don’t follow the comics but I know about her because when they do something egregious, all my fans start writing me immediately. So I know every horrible thing that’s ever happened to Iron Man even though I don’t follow the books, because the fans hate the Iron Man comic.
They sure do. Not just because of the forcible replacement that came along in the guise of Riri, but also because Tony's own background was drastically altered so he was no longer Howard and Maria Stark's son. I'm glad if Layton understands any of that. And, there's more:
AiPT!: During your panel you also said some interesting things about a career in comics, and I know you said Marvel is a very different company now than when you were working there. What’s your take on the current state of Marvel Comics?

Layton: Yeah, because Marvel now is about the brand, not about the characters anymore. Everything’s that Marvel brand, you know? I don’t think it’s the same thing, it’s like artists are taking front and center on a lot of books and it was never that way. I mean, most of the guys who grew up, they only found out I did the book in retrospect — they were just reading it every month because they couldn’t wait for the next issue, and that’s the way it should be — shouldn’t be about us, we shouldn’t overshadow the characters or the story. But they’re at such a point where sales are so low too that anything sells a book. That’s part of the problem to me, being on the inside and having been a businessman in the industry. I saw the writing on the walls — it’s an unsustainable business model. You can’t keep going on. Sooner or later Marvel or DC, Warner Bros. or Disney will look at the publishing arm as diminishing returns. Both of them have the largest reprint libraries in the world. I mean, think about — when’s the last time you saw a Mickey Mouse comic? Mickey Mouse is the most popular character globally — most known character. They don’t make comics of Mickey Mouse anymore. Once you climb the rungs of the ladder and become part of the lexicon, you push the ladder off — you’re on top. All this other stuff, Iron Man sells what, 20,000 copies a month or something? You think they’re even making a profit off that? And the price keeps going up. Now we’re competing with Netflix. When comics hit $7, they’re dead, because it’s just cheaper to get a Netflix subscription and watch all the Marvel stuff in the cinematic universe. So as I said, 10 years ago I saw the writing on the wall. And not that I don’t love comics — I do…

[Layton takes a moment to sign something for a fan]

So yeah, I saw as a businessman–having owned two companies — it’s an unsustainable business model. This industry hasn’t changed in 75 years. We’re still putting out this pamphlet that you have to encase in plastic so it doesn’t rot. And when I do the ‘how the comics industry works’ lecture I was talking about, I always end on an up note. I talk about the European and French model. Have you been to a comic shop in France?

AiPT!: I haven’t.

Layton: Oh my God, they’re unbelievable. Everything is hardback books–great, very large, original-art-sized — they’re made to last. Single, contained stories, higher price points so the retailer makes more money, advance against royalties just like James Patterson novels. I mean, it’s a totally different business model but the French have sustained that for 30 years. That’s what we need to be doing here–experimenting with getting it out to a wider audience.

The trouble is, if your mom goes to see the X-Men, right? And she loves the X-Men the first time she sees it–she loves it and she goes, “I want more X-Men, where do I get more X-Men?” You have to try to go find a comic shop–good luck with that, first of all, and then when you get there, it’s like a sweaty little porn store done by some guy using a cigar box as a cash register- – most of them, I mean, not all of them are, but you know what I’m talking about. Most of them are fly-by-night kind of places. And you pick up any X-Men — it’s none of the characters from the movie. They don’t look like the characters, there’s no introduction to the characters because it’s not written for a mass audience like it was when I did comics. It’s done for the niche audience that just reads X-Men comics, so you’re a part six of a 12-part story and you have no idea what’s going on. So as a result, the movies — you don’t get a bounce in the comic industry because we’re not on the newsstand anymore. We’re not accessible in that way.
Let me note that some French/Belgian comics still come first as strips in anthology magazines like Spirou and the now defunct Pilote, but there are plenty more today coming in the album-shaped format only, and IMO, that's a far better way to go in this day and age when US comics publishers are still firmly glued to the outmoded pamphlets. I'm sure they even know it's unsustainable, but don't care due to their political/crossover obsessions, and they see the old model as perfect for shielding their beliefs. If they moved to paperback/hardcover only format, it would entail more responsibility, because selling in bookstores requires more of that as they're actually in the business of winning, and that doesn't jibe well with their twisted obsessions. Layton may not have mentioned, but company wide crossovers are another factor in the medium's downfall, and to shift to a model used in Europe could put an end to that obsession as well, explaining why the Big Two are still stuck on it, all for the sake of a dwindling audience not interested in serious quality.

Will the studios eventually close down the publishers? It might happen, and it was reported some time ago WB might sell off DC. I'm sure their failure to make a successful franchise out of the movies plays a part in that. If they are sold off, of course, it's vital to see to it a responsible owner will be found, with no overt political obsessions and such, and to make sure it's not some shady company from a place like Qatar, or George Soros. That would be utterly disastrous if that happened, and that's why maybe Layton, as a businessman, might want to take part in finding better ownership and management for the Big Two, if their publishing arms are ever sold off, which is possible. For now, it's clear Marvel's being kept open if only because Disney's making use of the PC characters and such they're concocting for the sake of movie material. But that doesn't mean they'll stick with that approach for long, and sooner or later, they certainly are bound to shut down the Big Two's publishing, because it's clear they're not moving units and dollars anymore. In fact, while they do have big libraries, the problem is much of what's come post-2000 is such garbage, and bound to clog up the shelves along with the shoddiest pamphlet stories, so as far as the modern stuff is concerned, there's no guarantee many people would care for the newer stuff when the older proves much better for reading.

There are ways to one day improve results as the Big Two. But under the current conditions, it won't happen.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

"I wouldn't be too sure of that."

One would assume the character's co-creator could be sure of that.

"The fact is that by now, even in the films, all this gender-bending is getting out of hand."

What other gender-bending in the films?

" What if we're getting to the point where, for example, a white guy cannot play Nick Fury ever again on screen?"

Well, what if? The Nick Fury of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is based on the character from Marvel's Ultimate line, who was based on ... actor Samuel L. Jackson. He's not the same Nick Fury who, in the comics, led the Howling Commandos during World War II. This version of Nick Fury just happens to be a black guy. Maybe some day there will be another opportunity for David Hasselhoff to take a crack at the role.

A: Do you actually think the current American market can be sustained on collections or bulky graphic novel storylines only?

B: I'm glad you've mentioned Spirou because I'm wondering one thing: how many French/Belgian comics have you read?

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