“When I met Stan I was like this little kid in awe of every single word as he’s going, ‘Yeah, when I created Spider-Man …’ Wake me up, please!” Michael Valentine says, as breathless as any fan would be about meeting the Godfather of comics.
But his encounter with Stan Lee wasn't limited to a handshake at a convention. The former president of Marvel and creator of iconic characters from Iron Man to the X-Men is a cornerstone of Valentine’s documentary, COMIX: Beyond the Comic Book Pages, along with fellow industry heavyweights like Frank Miller (Sin City), Neal Adams (Batman), Mark Waid (Superman), Todd McFarlane (Spawn), Mike Richardson (Dark Horse Comics) and Marc Silvestri (Image Comics).
About a dozen years in the making, the film was pieced together from nearly 350 hours of footage and more than 200 images from the pages that inspired Valentine as a kid and as an adult superfan. Given the dominance of comic book characters in pop culture right now, he thinks the timing was right to finally unleash his exploration of “the whole phenomenon,” from the masterminds to production to fan culture. And it’s not all superheroes. “There’s horror comics, there’s fun comics, there’s sexy comics, there’s hand-painted art—there are so many different styles now,” says Valentine, adding that indie artists are part of the discovery factor of the film, which is an IndieFEST and Los Angeles Independent Film Festival award winner.
He made it himself, with his wife's support, a personal loan and the grit to just keep tapping on doors until they opened. “This film was a passion project. I started because I love comic books, and to me, just getting it done and having people watch it and enjoy is really the success.” Released in early February, the documentary is available on-demand through services ranging from iTunes and Google Play to Comcast and Dish Network. The DVD drops July 19, and packs about four hours of bonus footage.
But Valentine is already thinking about the next chapter, about going after interviews with famous devotees like Nicolas Cage and Rosario Dawson, and of course digging deeper into the visceral storytelling tradition painted broadly in COMIX. And he hopes it grabs people way outside the culture of comic books, who don't know anything about their political history and heft, let alone their gobsmacking artistry.
Soak it in on Free Comic Book Day, as the Sci Fi Center is screening COMIX and raffling off everything from artwork to action figures to movie tickets. Valentine will be on hand for a Q&A (and is working on getting one of the famous names in the credits to Skype in). He encourages fans to turn up in costume and make it memorable. “I think the film is best when it’s experienced with other people who love what you love.”
COMIX: Beyond the Comic Book Pages May 7, 7 p.m., $5. Sci Fi Center, 5077 Arville St., 855-501-4335.