Gerry Conway Reads George Miller’s ‘Justice League’ Script

by Gerry Conway

Years late, I just read the screenplay for the abandoned George Miller “Justice League: Mortal” film (available online if you Google for it).

It’s based roughly on the Brother Eye/OMAC Justice League storyline, and while it’s infinitely better than the Justice League film that saw light last year, it has the same problems that film did– attempting to introduce a massive number of characters, backstories, and motivations in roughly two hours.

What’s ironic is you can understand why the studio balked at making “Justice League: Mortal”– the story is both too ambitious and too thin, trying to do too much and not enough– and yet, when they had a chance to address those problems in “Justice League,” they ended up doubling down on everything that was wrong and removing everything that was right. (There’s much that’s right in the “Mortal” script.)

You have to wonder what the execs at Warners were doing/thinking in the years between “Mortal” and “Justice League.” One thing reading this script proves is that starting a “cinematic universe” with a group film first would have been a huge conceptual mistake.

“Man of Steel,” “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice,” and “Justice League” didn’t fix that mistake, though. They simply spread the mistake over three films instead of one.


Gerry Conway is one of the Kings of TV and film and comic book writing and also one of our Beloved Leader Larry Brody’s longest-lasting and closest friends. Everybody who comes to TVWriter™ should be reading his insightful blog, where this article first appeared. Learn more about Gerry HERE.

Gerry Conway Sees ‘A Wrinkle in Time’

by Gerry Conway

“A Wrinkle In Time” is a disappointing movie.

I went in with high hopes and left deeply annoyed and saddened.

Tonally, it’s a mess. Every single actor seems to be performing in a different movie.

Poor Storm Reid, who seems to have considerable potential, has been misguided into giving a one-note, sullen performance, charmless and flat.

But she isn’t alone– every actor’s performance works against the film. Perfect illustration? Zach Galifianakis as “The Happy Medium.” As his name implies, the character of “Happy Medium” is clearly meant to represent the happiness that comes with a balanced temperament – but Galifianakas plays “The Happy Medium” with restrained snark: mildly impatient, vaguely misanthropic, a fussy introvert whose exterior dismissiveness supposedly conceals a warm heart.

His costume is somber browns; his “cave of balance” looks like a threatening maze of treacherous balance beams out of a dark “American Gladiator.” How does this represent “The Happy Medium?” It’s completely wrong-headed, massively tone-deaf to the underlying material.

There’s only one person to blame for this misfire: the director, Ava DuVernay.

Early word on the film indicated there were tonal issues, and at the time I discounted them – I think it’s quite possible to tread a line between serious and sweet, realistic and fantastic, but it requires a deft touch and a deep sympathy with the ultimate story you’re trying to tell.

In order to tell a serious story set in a fantasy world, you need to love fantasy first, love it so much its common tropes are second nature to your storytelling. Ava DuVernay displays no such sympathy or love for fantasy. Her heart is clearly on the side of “serious” and “realistic” storytelling.

I’m not sure why Disney imagined the woman who directed the brilliant “Selma” and episodes of “Scandal” would be the perfect choice to direct a film that should have embraced the light (but still serious) tone of a “Mary Poppins,” but it was a bad move.

I was rooting for DuVernay because I’m someone who believes we need more diversity among the people empowered to tell stories in film. I still think so. But that doesn’t mean every person is equipped temperamentally to tell every kind of story.

From the evidence of “A Wrinkle In Time,” no matter how fine a director she may be of other kinds of films, DuVernay is a terrible director of fantasy.


Gerry Conway is one of the Kings of TV and film and comic book writing and also one of our Beloved Leader Larry Brody’s longest-lasting and closest friends. Everybody who comes to TVWriter™ should be reading his insightful blog, where this article first appeared. Learn more about Gerry HERE.

Gerry Conway Asks, “Is Comic Book Publishing Doomed?”

by Gerry Conway


EDITOR’S NOTE: We all know how well comic book heroes, villains, and stories are doing on TV and in films these days – they own those media. However, many of us may not know what’s happening with the motherlode, comic books themselves. Gerry Conway’s here to tell us the ironic truth.


Is comic book publishing a doomed enterprise?

Since the days I first entered the business in the late 1960s, one of the perennial fears of creators and industry executives has been the imminent collapse of the retail comic book market.

It’s not an unreasonable fear: in fact, in readership numbers, the market has already collapsed. When I started writing comics fifty years ago, the published sales figures for the solo Superman comic was about 600,000 copies a month. Five years later, sales figures had dropped to about 300,000 a month. By the late 1980s, less than 100,000 a month. [1](http://www.comichron.com/titlespotlights/superman.html) Recent sales of Superman have been in the mid-five figure range. [2](http://www.comicsbeat.com/dc-comics-month-to-month-sales-chart-january-2017-comic-readers-vs-gratuitous-rebirth-one-shots/)

From 600,000 to 60,000– if that isn’t a collapse of readership, I don’t know how else to describe it.

To be fair to Big Blue, and show this isn’t exclusively a DC problem, Spider-Man’s main solo title displays a similar collapse in readership, though its collapse is more recent. [3](http://www.comichron.com/titlespotlights/amazingspiderman.html)

But wait, you’ll say. You’re comparing apples and oranges. Back in 1968, comics were 12 cents each; today they cost an average of $3.44. [4](https://www.statisticbrain.com/comic-book-statistics/)

True enough. In 1968 the median household income was $7,700 annually. [5](https://www2.census.gov/prod2/popscan/p60-065.pdf) In 2016 the median household income was $59,000 (a squishy number with lots of caveats apparently). [6](https://www.thebalance.com/what-is-average-income-in-usa-family-household-history-3306189) Let’s examine all those figures, recognizing that the economic world of 1968 is vastly different from the our world today. (For example, that $7,700 household income was for a one-earner family; today most families are two-earners.)

Let’s take inflation. It’s an eye-opener. $7,700 in 1968 is worth $54,162.42 today [5](http://www.in2013dollars.com/1968-dollars-in-2017?amount=7700), so today’s family is actually ahead by $5,000 a year. (On the other hand that additional $5,000 is worth $725 in 1968 dollars.)

So apparently incomes have more or less kept up with inflation, and in most cases, specifically in the cost of high technology, the price of many items has decreased in real terms since 1968. And many if not most of the things we’ve come to depend on today didn’t even exist in 1968. For example, an RCA color television/phonograph console in 1969 cost $975 for a gigantic 23″ picture [6](http://www.tvhistory.tv/tv-prices.htm)– in 2017 dollars, $6,858.00. Today, you can find an RCA-brand 4K 65″ smart TV for about $590 at Walmart. [7](https://www.walmart.com/ip/RCA-ROKU-4K-65-SMART-UHD-LED-TV/330129369) In 1968 dollars that’s about $100– and nobody in 1968 could even have understood the descriptive terms 4K, 65″, or “smart TV.”

But what about household staples? Haven’t prices skyrocketed for, say, milk?

In 1968 the price of a gallon of milk was $1.07. [8](http://www.the60sofficialsite.com/1968_Economy_and_Prices.html) Today the price is about $3.16. [9](https://www.statista.com/statistics/236854/retail-price-of-milk-in-the-united-states/) That’s less than half the rate of inflation. (Inflation would have put the price of a gallon of milk in 1968 dollars at over $7.)

Cars? Cars in the 1960s ran in price from the low $2000s to the high $5000s, probably averaging around $3500. [10](http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/60scars.html) (My dad bought a Chevy Nova in 1969 for about $2000, if I remember right.) The average price for a new car today is about $33,000 [11](https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2015/05/04/new-car-transaction-price-3-kbb-kelley-blue-book/26690191/)– or about $10,000 more than inflation alone would predict. What do you get for that additional $10,000? Where to start? Computerized controls, air conditioning standard, safety and convenience and energy conserving features drivers in 1968 would have considered science fiction. So maybe the increase in average price is worth it, especially since many people don’t buy cars anymore– they lease them, something that wasn’t an option in 1968.

So, with all these inflation stats considered, how does the comic book business of today compare to the comic book business of 1968?

In purely inflationary terms, everything else being equal, a comic that cost 12 cents in 1968 should cost 84 cents today. But everything else isn’t equal, of course.

The production quality of today’s comics is vastly superior to those of 1968. The four-color newsprint presses of 1968 produced comics that look barely readable compared to the glossy monthlies we see now. So maybe a doubling of price might be justified sheerly for the increase in production quality. Yet isn’t some of that cost of production offset by the change in the system of distribution? In 1968, almost half of a production run was lost to newstand “returns”– to sell 600,000 copies of Superman, National Periodical Publications printed over 1,000,000. Today’s comics are sold on a no-return basis. No excess copies are printed. (This sometimes results in second print runs on popular new titles, something that would have been inconceivable in the 1960s.) Despite the increased price of quality printing, I have to think technological advances in printing and distribution have kept pace with at least some of the companies’ production costs. Creators certainly aren’t making much more money now than they did in 1968. (Top page rates have barely increased over inflation, and average page rates are probably less than you’d expect in inflationary terms.)

So why do comics cost, on average, almost five times what inflation alone might predict? Why haven’t comics benefited from the deflationary pressures that reduced the price of milk and TVs, not to mention all the technological wonders that didn’t exist in 1968 but which have plummeted in price in real terms since their introduction? (Personal computers, video games, VCRs-into-DVDs-into-streaming media, cell phones, e-readers, etc., etc.)

It’s pretty simple to understand, sadly. The reader base for comic books has almost completely disappeared, which requires each reader to pay more for any individual issue in order to support the company that produces the book. My guess is there are about 400,000 regular comic book readers in America. I base this guess on the following statistics:

The total yearly sales in the direct market are about $418,000,000. The average price of a comic is $3.44. [12](https://www.statisticbrain.com/comic-book-statistics/) Divide those numbers and you get the following: 122,511,628 comics sold a year, or about 10,000,000 comics a month.

According to the best guess of various interested parties [13](https://www.newsarama.com/33006-is-the-average-age-of-comic-book-readers-increasing-retailers-talk-state-of-the-business-2017.html) the average comic book reader is somewhere between 25-35 years old. According to labor statistics, the average salary for people between the ages of 24-34 is $39,000. [14](https://smartasset.com/retirement/the-average-salary-by-age)

A little math shows that this block of readers doesn’t have an inexhaustible amount of disposable income. After taxes, a generous guestimate puts the average comic book readers’ weekly income at about $570. Food, shelter, clothing, and transportation all have to come first before they can devote any spending to their comic book interests. Let’s be optimistic and say they’re dedicated readers who devote 5% of their income to buying comics. That’s $28 a week or about 8 comics a week, 24-26 comics a month.

10,000,000 comics sold a month; 25 sold to each reader; 400,000 readers.

How does 400,000 comic book readers (an optimistic number, I admit) compare to the number of people who’ve seen, say, “Black Panther?”

Recent estimates put “Black Panther”’s domestic box office at about $500,000,000 [15](http://deadline.com/2018/03/black-panther-third-weekend-red-sparrow-death-wish-operation-red-sea-detective-chinatown-2-international-box-office-1202310277/) with an average ticket price of $9 [16](https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/average-price-a-movie-ticket-soars-897-2017-1075458), meaning “Black Panther” has been seen by approximately 55,000,000 people.

Fifty-fifty million comic book movie viewers, versus less than half a million readers.

Even if those numbers are wildly inaccurate at the margins, that’s still a ridiculously significant difference. It points to an inescapable fact: comic book readers are at best a very minor part of “comic book culture.”

This is particularly true when you consider that individual readers each have loyalty to only a handful of characters. If you’re buying 25 titles a month on average, and you’re a Batman fan, probably a fifth of your purchases are Batman-related comics. Which means that Batman’s total readership is less than what might be indicated by the cumulative amount of sales across all titles. If the average Batman title (Batman, All-Star Batman, Detective Comics, Batgirl, Batwoman, Nightwing) sells about 50,000 copies, there’s probably quite a bit of overlap– the same buyer purchasing multiple books. There may, in fact, only be about 50,000 actual Batman readers. Ditto for other characters or character lines (X-Men readers, Avengers readers, Superman readers, etc). It’s entirely possible the figure of 400,000 readers is wildly exaggerated. Dedicated fans may be buying more than 25 comics a month. In which case the actual full-time readership might be vastly smaller– maybe only 100,000 readers.

In any event, what’s clear to me is that the viability of comic book publishing as a way to make money directly is clearly limited by a shrinking, if not fully collapsed, market base.

The question is, where do the publishers go from here? Do they continue to pursue that small base of readers? Is there a way for them to attract the vast number of people obviously attracted to the larger “comic book culture” represented by movies and TV? Or will comics (as I believe likely) become a subsidized form of intellectual property development for the more lucrative and culturally impactful film and television divisions of the corporate entities that own them?

Your guess is as good as mine.


Gerry Conway is one of the Kings of TV and film and comic book writing and also one of our Beloved Leader Larry Brody’s longest-lasting and closest friends. Everybody who comes to TVWriter™ should be reading his insightful blog, where this article first appeared. Learn more about Gerry HERE.

The Film Every Film & TV Writer Should See

Not surprisingly, our headline above refers to The Rewrite, written and directed by Mark Lawrence back in 2014 and starring Hugh Grant and Marisa Tomei. No, we don’t know who rewrote it. But that doesn’t mean a rewrite or three didn’t happen, yeah?

by Pinar Tarhan

Marc Lawrence’s The Rewrite (2014) is absolutely delightful. Of course, your chances of enjoying it are higher if you like Hugh Grant and/or Marisa Tomei, romantic comedies that aren’t like every other romantic comedy and movies about writers. Not to mention, the cast includes J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney. J.K. Simmons’ loving but tough/sentimental (you need to see it) character provides a hilarious contrast to his Oscar-winning, ruthless role in Whiplash.

I’m a fan of the genre, director/writer (Mark Lawrence) and the cast. And as a screenwriter (aspiring, but still), I do have a weakness for movies featuring screenwriters and their world.

Isn’t it also great the 50-something protagonist is only 4 years older than the love interest?

So why do I recommend the movie to (screen)writers in particular? Let’s start with the plot:

The Rewrite Plot Summary

Oscar-winning screenwriter Keith Michaels (Hugh Grant) is far from his glory days. He hasn’t been able to sell something in ages and is forced to take a screenwriting teaching gig in a cloudy, small town to pay the bills.

Moreover, he seems totally wrong for the job: He doesn’t believe great writing can be taught, starts a relationship with a young student (not Marisa Tomei) before his first day and pisses off the head of the ethics committee Mary Weldon (Allison Janney). Not to mention, he doesn’t even read the scripts of the students….

Read it all on Pinar Tarhan’s blog.

Gerry Conway on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and the Death of the American Middle Class.

by Gerry Conway

There are many reasons to watch this show on Amazon Prime set in 1958 New York City – terrific writing and direction, wonderful and funny performances, and mouth-watering art direction – but one possibly unintended benefit is the view it provides of a vanished American species: the upwardly mobile, culturally secure, highly educated middle class.

Midge Maisel’s father is a professor of mathematics at Columbia University. He earns what I would assume was considered at the time a reasonable middle class salary as a tenured professor (he’s not a department head). With that salary, he put a daughter through Radcliffe College, employs a maid, lives in an expansive Upper West Side apartment, and supports a stay-at-home wife.

I’ve read reviews by younger Generation-X and Millennial writers who apparently think this is a ridiculous fantasy. Sadly, that says more about those writers’ experiences and expectations in post-Reagan America than it does about the realism of a show set in post-World War II boom-time United States.

My first wife’s father was an attorney in New York City in the 1940s, ‘50s and ’60s with a modest one-man practice. He didn’t consider himself particularly successful, just comfortably middle class. He put my wife through college, owned a lovely co-op apartment in Greenwich Village four blocks from Washington Square Park, drove a BMW (which he parked in a private garage), and supported a stay-at-home wife. They enjoyed Broadway theater and Lincoln Center concerts, spent winter holidays skiing in Vermont, and lived the kind of New York lifestyle only investment bankers can afford today on an income in the mid five figures.

What the fuck happened?

Reagan Republicanism is what happened.

Until the 1980s, it was quite possible for a University professor or a solo-practice lawyer (or a professional writer of comic books) to imagine and achieve a lifestyle similar to that of Midge Maisel’s family.

(In 1975 I lived on the Upper West Side in an apartment that wasn’t very different from the apartment Midge Maisel and her erstwhile schlemiel of a husband enjoy in the series. As we were leaving New York, in 1976, the building was about to go co-op, meaning we could have bought our apartment for $50,000; at the time, I was making about $40,000 a year, so it would’ve been easy. Today that apartment is worth upwards of $3,000,000– plus $2000-3000 monthly maintenance.)

It was not inevitable that the dream of the educated, upwardly mobile middle class in America had to end. It was the deliberate consequence of political decisions designed to favor financial industries like banking and investment over creative and artisanal and industrial industries like the arts and manufacturing. Undermining unions, reducing funding for the arts, discouraging philanthropy in favor of familial wealth accumulation, cutting spending on education, aggravating class conflict between blue collar workers and the middle class (Hardhats versus Eggheads) was all part of the right-wing Reagan Revolution plan to crush the ability of educated progressive professionals to oppose the slow gutting of the New Deal social compact that powered postwar American prosperity.

The Reaganites won. They won so thoroughly that a depiction of typical, moderately successful educated middle class life in 1958 seems to contemporary viewers as silly and unrealistic fantasy.

It wasn’t a fantasy then; it shouldn’t be a fantasy now. The fact that many in my children’s generation see that life as unattainable is one of the saddest results of four decades of Republican economic dominance I can imagine.

There are many reasons we can’t and shouldn’t try to recreate the postwar America depicted in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (that postwar social system supported and depended on gender and racial roles that would be anathema to us today) but there’s no reason to believe that as a country we’re doomed to a continuing spiral of downward expectations.

The aspirational, educated upward mobility depicted in “Mrs. Maisel” shouldn’t be perceived as an impossible fantasy. It should be viewed as a stolen birthright.

We know who stole it. Reaganites, Republicans, Investment Bankers, Financial Wizards, Inherited Wealth, Corporations, and the One Percent.

It’s time we took it back.

 

 


Gerry Conway is one of the Kings of TV and film and comic book writing and also one of our Beloved Leader Larry Brody’s longest-lasting and closest friends. Everybody who comes to TVWriter™ should be reading his insightful blog, where this article first appeared. Learn more about Gerry HERE.