Slower than a speeding bullet. Not nearly as powerful as a locomotive. Completely unable to leap tall buildings. Yet real people, many with all-too-human foibles, are muscling in on the likes of Superman and Spider-Man on comic book racks these days.
It’s not like flesh-and-blood people have never ventured into the four-color medium before. Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis starred in long-running comic book series back in the 1950s and ’60s. Once-popular actors like Alan Ladd and Buster Crabbe had their own titles, as did western stars like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and John Wayne.
But those comics were fantasy narratives about their on-screen personas, not the actors themselves. The same could be said about the rock band KISS, who battled Marvel Comics super-villain Doctor Doom in a 1977 comic.
More in books
Nowadays, in contrast, popular musicians are appearing in more realistic accounts of their real lives; Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, and Madonna are a few examples. But you don’t have to be a rock star to get your own comic: You can be a politician (Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton), a TV star (Martha Stewart, Betty White), a business mogul (Mark Zuckerberg, a planned Donald Trump bio), or just notorious (Lindsay Lohan appears on the cover of a series called “Infamous,” and a future issue on Charlie Sheen is in the works).
Many of these biographical comics are coming from a Vancouver, Wash.-based publisher called Bluewater Productions, which started out publishing fantasy, science-fiction and horror — time-honored staples of comic books — but more recently has ventured into the less common biography genre with titles like “Female Force” (profiles of prominent women), “Political Power” (politicians) and “Fame” (entertainment celebrities).
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“Bluewater’s biographical comics are good sellers for us, and it’s great to use this medium as an introduction to various political figures and celebrities,” said Gerry Gladston, co-owner of Midtown Comics, which operates several comic-book stores in Manhattan.
“Lady Gaga didn’t like it,” Gladston acknowledged of Bluewater’s profile of the pop diva. “But the book sold.”
Sometimes real-life celebrities rub shoulders with superheroes in the same comic. President Obama has made prominent appearances with both Spider-Man and Archie, for instance. “Project Runway” star Tim Gunn once put on Iron Man’s armor . Even comedian Stephen Colbert (a comics fan in real life) has swung on a web side-by-side with Spidey.
“It’s inherent in our creations that they live in the real world,” Marvel Comics writer Paul Tobin told TODAY.com when Gunn guest-starred in a story he wrote.
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But why are so many ordinary humans (well, OK, maybe not so ordinary) crowding the superheroes on comic-book racks these days? To make money, of course.
“Real-people comic books sometimes sell very well,” Gladston told TODAY.com. “The appearance by President-elect Barack Obama in 2008 on the cover of Spider-Man was the best-selling comic book of the decade. Sometimes, however, a guest appearance by a real person may not do anything to increase sales — it happens quite often.”Slideshow: When real people star in comic books (on this page)
Which just goes to show you: Pop stars and politicians may be fine when it comes to stuff like making hit songs or running the country. But serious work like selling comic books?
That’s a job for Superman.
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