In recent years, we have seen an increasing number of comic books written by celebrities from other fields. The tradition stretches back (at least) to 1994, with Glenn Danzig’s comic book company Verotik (about which the less said, perhaps the better). More recently, however, mainstream comics have embraced the invasion of non-comics celebrity writers. The thought seems to be that if you are famous for doing something – anything, in fact – then you should (or at least can) write a comic. Of course, there are cases where this model clearly works. Few will argue that Umbrella Academy is anything other than an inspired, if slightly odd, work of comics art. But there are other instances that are perhaps a good bit more odd than inspired.
For example, in 2004 Monty Python alum John Cleese penned the Elseworlds Superman comic True Brit, which imagines what would have happened if Kal-El’s Kryptonian rocket had landed in Britain instead of Kansas. Instead of the political and social commentary found in the similarly themed Red Son (where Superman lands in the cold war USSR), however, True Brit parodies of the foibles of middle-class British society.
Somewhat more serious, although slightly uneven, is Turf, British talk-show host Jonothan Ross’ 2010 foray into comics writing. To be fair, Ross is not a complete newcomer to comics, having headed up the 2007 BBC documentary In Search of Steve Ditko. Nevertheless, Turf, a vampire/alien/gangster mash-up set in 1920s Prohibition New York, is certainly an odd piece of comics narrative.
Third, and perhaps most odd, is Get Jiro!, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s 2012 comic. Get Jiro! is a straightforward adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, except it is set in the near future, with the warring gangsters replaced by powerful chefs who rule the food-obsessed city. Imagine that the Food Network’s Iron Chef played the same social role as Roman gladiatorial contests, and you get a feel for the tone of this comic.
As my summaries above make clear, I don’t rank any of these celebrity-penned comics as masterpieces. But I did select these three for a very specific reason – they are some of the most interesting comics I have read in the past few years. While perhaps not ‘inspired’, they are worth taking a look at precisely because they are so odd. Perhaps this is because mainstream comics often survive by re-hashing the same familiar plots, themes, and storylines, while a fresh outsider perspective can sometimes inject something truly novel and truly different into the art form. Of course, oddness is not always enough. The well informed reader will note that I have not showcased other comics by Michael Chiklis, Rosario Dawson, Tyrese Gibson, Samuel L. Jackson, Thomas Jane, Eriq La Salle, Shia La Beouf, Jennifer Love-Hewitt, William Shatner, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Rob Zombie (go look them up!).
So, the question really is: Is the trend of celebrity-written comics a good thing – injecting new ideas and new perspectives into comics – or is it just more evidence of the narcissism, etc. that comes with fame?