Stripped: The Comics Documentary

In 201l, cartoonist Dave Kellet (creator of Sheldon) and cinematographer Fred Schroeder started a Kickstarter for a documentary on the history of the comic strip, from the early newspaper days to modern times in the form of the webcomic, featuring interviews from over 70 comic artists from Jeph Jaques to Jim Davis. The project ran into some trouble near the end of the production, requiring a second Kickstarter to purchase the rights to various clips and footage. The film is finally out for sale on the official site and on iTunes and I'd say it was well worth the wait.

From the first few shots you can see that this was a carefully put together film. The opening scene is of a newspaper being thrown on the front porch, a girl retrieving the paper and sitting on her father's lap while we see close up shots of the panels. As we here voice overs of various comic artists talking about their childhood memories, the reason they got into the industry, the panels we see echo those sentiments. A shot of Pierce from Zits saying that if he had a time machine, he'd go back to see the Beatles play live as we here the artists wax nostalgic for their childhood reading the Sunday paper. We see shots of panels of Garfield sick and Rat from Pearls Before Swine yelling “I WANT TO BE WORSHIPPED BY THE @#@*@#* MASSES!” and cartoon characters saying “What's the answer,” “What's the question,” and “There's a chill in the air,” all a prelude to things that will be discussed in the documentary. The demanding work of putting out daily strips regardless of how you feel, the rise and fall of the cultural influence of newspaper comics, and the ominous cloud surrounding newspaper comics as the more and more newspapers go under.

From there, we get a slick documentary that features various comic creators (including the voice of the notoriously reclusive Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes) discussing the ins and outs of the job and the business model, giving equal airtime to both the traditional newspaper creators and the webcomickers. From the trailer, I was afraid that the movie would just be dancing on the grave of the newspaper syndicate (“Get with the times, old man!” Christopher Hastings of Adventures of Dr McNinja says). But instead, we get a love letter to the medium regardless of whether it's in papers or pixels. One of the best parts of the documentary is about halfway through seeing the creators talk shop about their tools, and just seeing them work. You can just see the reverence the filmmakers give the medium when we see an dip pen tapping against an ink well and the sound of an orchestra tunes up plays over it, then Beethoven's 9th Symphony plays as we see pens on paper and styluses on Cintiqs like they were conductors in their own masterpieces.

If I had to say something negative, I'd say that the editing can be a bit annoying at times. There were times when the screen would split into multiple parts and new clips would play in the divisions like panels in a comic. Which isn't bad when it's two or three divisions, but when the screen splits into eight segments and something different plays in each part, it takes away from the interviewees. Similarly, in the webcomic segment, the shot would wipe between interviewers with a hand moving in and swiping between shots like moving between panels on a tablet, which is clever at first but gets old fast. Maybe the filmmakers were afraid that just cutting between segments would be boring, or maybe they just wanted to show off, but these wipes were unnecessary.

Looking past some of the flashy transitions though, Stripped is probably the best comic documentary I've seen since Comic Book Confidential, and if you love comics in any form, I'd say definitely check it out.


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