Face To Face With The Masters
Any citizen of the galaxy may be summoned to answer to the Jedi Council. Here you may read the transcripts of such sessions.
Cellblock 1138 - 1997-1999 - 2000 - 2002 - 2003+
Interview with Mark Hamill - Director and Star of Comic Book: The Movie
Conducted January 20, 2004 - Part 1
It's not often that you get to spend an hour chatting with one of your childhood heroes, but recently I was able to do just that. As Mark Hamill makes the media rounds promoting his DVD "Comic Book: The Movie", he took time to chat on the phone with me for this TFN interview. Mark Hamill is well known for his role as Luke Skywalker, his voice acting work as The Joker, and many other roles, but in "Comic Book: The Movie" he's able to add several new jobs to his resume. He writes, directs, and stars in this "Spinal Tap" for comic geeks.
This mockumentary was mostly filmed at the 2002 San Diego Comic Con. It tells the tale of Don Swan (Hamill), a long time comic fan and an authority on the character "Commander Courage". A movie studio has recently hired Swan as a consultant on a Commander Courage movie. Swan is eager to do it except for one problem. The character has recently been revamped post-9/11 into a grim and gritty character named "Codename: Courage". The Commander's boy sidekick "Liberty Lad" has also now been transformed into the buxom "Liberty Lass". With the movie geared to put the new characters on the big screen, Don Swan looks to use fan outcry to get the studio to use the vintage Commander Courage instead. When the studio hires Swan to make a documentary for the movie's DVD at the San Diego Comic Con, Swan sees his chance. With spacey cameraman Ricky (Wakko Warner's voice and TROOPS actor Jess Harnell) and slimy studio publicist Taylor Donohue (Roger Rose) in tow, Swan begins his quest.
At the San Diego Comic Con, Swan starts his campaign to rally support. He brings in the long lost son of the creator of Commander Courage, Leo Matuzik (played by Futurama's Billy West). He's a sheet metal salesman who finds himself quickly overwhelmed by the fantasy world of the Convention. Swan also makes a traditional Commander Courage costume with his fanzine partner Derek Sprang (played by Spongebob Squarepants himself, Tom Kenny) to help promote the old look. Finally, he grills celebrities like Kevin Smith, Hugh Hefner, Stan Lee, Bruce Campbell, and others to try and sway them away from the dark Codename Courage. But can Swan fight Hollywood and win?
"Comic Book: The Movie" debuts on DVD on January 27th, 2003, but Mark Hamill is already reading the reviews for the film.
Mark Hamill: In Variety he liked it OK, but was not particularly enthusiastic. But it was daunting to me because you can tell that he is not someone who would appreciate the nuances involved or the sort of heartfelt affection that I have for the subject matter.
Scott Chitwood: Right, as I was watching this, I was thinking somebody had to have gone to a convention and be a comic book fan to really appreciate this film.
MH: Well, to the extent that I have put my own sensibilities into the movie, I think that it is one of the only times where the fans are presented as the people who are in the mainstream with the people that don't get it being the outsiders. See, normally like the Comic Book guy, who we all love on the Simpsons, he is very funny and we all know people who are like that, but he is definitely the outsider. It is not from his point of view.
SC: It's funny to see people, like Hollywood executives, trying to get into this strange culture that's been around for so long and is so different.
MH: I think that Roger Rose (playing studio exec Taylor Donohue) does such a great job with that, especially that scene where I am walking the convention floor with him and going on about the Golden Age (of comics) and the Silver Age and the Bronze Age and all of it, and you know he just doesn't get it. He doesn't care. There are certain moments in the film that to me are among my favorites. That's one of them. What Tom Kenny does with Jill, and his son Matt.
Mark also mentions that scenes with Tom Kenny (playing Derek Sprang) and his wife Jill and his son Matt are among his favorites. In the movie, Sprang has dragged his wife and young son to the convention more or less against their will. We see Sprang and his wife dragging their son through the convention when he gets tired. His son, a true comic / toy geek prodigy, also refuses to open up a Shazam toy because it's a collectable. This starts complaining from his wife about how their son refused to open his Christmas presents because they are collectible. Seeing as how I've turned my own kids into comic geeks, dragged them to a convention or two, and stashed away a couple of unopened boxes because they were "collectible", I could identify with Sprang. If you've done any of the above, you will identify with him too.
SC: Their son was hilarious. That's like me and my wife going to a convention.
MH: Same here! Because, I mean, I am married to someone who indulges my hobby but doesn't really share in it.
SC: You and me both, yeah.
MH: Well, you probably hooked up with a really good partner, because there are probably things she really likes that you accept and tolerate, but don't really understand, but that's part of finding the right person.
SC: She let's me warp the children too. My son loves Superman and Batman, and Joker and all that.
MH: Oh, great! To me Jill and Tom and Matt were really like my family was 10-15 years ago. Nathan is now grown up and working at Bongo Comics (run by The Simpson's Matt Groening). That's something that seems so real to me. When (Tom and Jill) told me that story, that comes from real life. That "Don't open it, it's a collectible!" And I said, "I wonder if we can get them to do it again on camera?"
SC: He was so perfect doing that.
MH: Oh, I think so. One of the things that people respond to is the fact that since he is barely out of baby talk he doesn't come off as an actor as much as a real little boy.
SC: Did it take very long to get him to do it?
MH: Well, you can see he was getting a little cranky and a little tired in that shot of them dragging him around when he is dead weight.
SC: Oh, that's great.
MH: Yeah, when I saw that I said "Quick, quick, quick, get that, get that! Get back there so they can walk away from camera." That's something we have all experienced. You don't have to have been to a comic book convention to understand what's going on. I mean that's such a typical thing that you see at theme parks, at Disneyland and so forth at the end of the day.
SC: Exactly. Now how many of your cast were actual die-hard comic fans like you?
Well, not a lot. I thought of Tom Kenny at the last minute, and it really was 11th hour. About a week before we went down to the Con, I gambled and took a chance on calling him, hoping his schedule would be free because I realized that even though I was a comic fan and playing one, there was nobody else in the cast I could really talk to in terms of having comic book banter back and forth. He was someone that I had worked with many times in voiceover who you would finish a recording and you would be way over in the Valley. On the way home I'd stop at a comic book store. Lo and behold, there was Tom. I went in one day to a recording with that Roy Thomas book about the Justice Society, and he picked up the book and was flipping through and just doing really funny, spontaneous comments on all these Golden Age characters that had all the guys in the room just roaring with laughter, and all of the women just puzzled. Like, "Huh?" He was doing things like about Zatanna. "Great costume for a crime fighter. Hey, I'd love to stop that bank robbery, but I can't find my cummerbund." He was just hilarious. The Golden Age Atom. "Here's a good impetuous to become a superhero. You're too short for the police department." I mean he's just wonderful and I think he really can maneuver that fine line between being very humorous without seeming to be performing. And that is one of the things I kept telling my guys, because they are so gifted with voices and impressions, singing and all that. "I want you to be clever and funny, I just don't to catch you at it."
SC: There was a comment in the DVD extras that you had the Justice League of voice actors for a supporting cast.
MH: It was amazing. "We Are The World" of voiceover people.
SC: I couldn't believe it. There were so many favorites of mine in this cast.
MH: And what happened was once the ball got rolling after we came back from the Con and we needed to shoot various scenes to fill in the holes and figure out how to keep a through line through the narrative, I had lots of voiceover people coming up to me saying, "Hey, what about me?" It reminded me of stories about It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World when comics found out, "Wait a second, I'm not in this thing and everybody else is?" A lot of them I was able to accommodate, but I've also kept a list of people that I really wanted to use like Frank Welker, and Jeff Bennett and Pam Siegel who either were unable to do it because of scheduling, Pam was having a baby, or there was no room at the end of the day to fit everyone in.
SC: Do you think you will do a sequel to this?
MH: We have talked about it because we kept the budget modest enough so that by the time Miramax bought it we pretty much broke even.
SC: That was quite a coup to get Miramax to pick it up, too.
MH: Amazing! I never expected that, because I thought this was going to be a niche product which is wonderful in a way because you don't have to aim for the mainstream and try and please the wide range people you have to. I think something about that we were so genuine in what we were doing. As silly as it gets and as over the top as it can be, the foundation to it was so real, at least to me, that I guess the Miramax people responded to that. I wanted very much to include the career of Commander Courage and the black-and-white documentary package. It was something that was an easy sell. I should really start at the beginning which was the fact that originally I cast myself as a documentary film maker who was making a documentary about the San Diego Con. I went off and that's how I pitched it and sold to Creative Light. Once I got up to Wisconsin, I was doing a part in an independent film, and reconnecting with that great state. My dad was in the Navy so we moved from coast to coast to coast to coast. I never was in the Midwest, but I had a lot of different life experiences in different states, Pennsylvania, California, Virginia, New York and eventually even Yokohama, Japan. That's where I went to the last two years of high school. When I was in Wisconsin I really found the people there so refreshing. You get so insular living in "Hollywood" or just in the southern California show business. In New York in theater, there is an obsession with it. Everything revolves around the Tony's, opening nights, what play has fallen below 50% capacity. It is sort of spread out now, lots of newspapers print weekend grosses and all of that, but you lose sight of real people. People that are outside of show business that have their priorities in a much different arrangement. So it was there that I realized if we're going to do something about comic books I don't want to go as an outsider, I want to go as in insider. That's when I became Donald Swan.
SC: How much of you is in Donald Swan?
MH: Well, obviously I understand him and I am drawing upon my own feelings, but exaggerating them. I might think that might I have a little bit of broader view that Donald has, but it's just a hyper-exaggerated version of myself. I know that Ain't it Cool.com's review said "Mark Hamill is a nerd." I was not insulted at all. I really felt like that that's really kind of a badge of honor. Outsiders would think it's an insult, but the people I made the movie for, it's the opposite. I figured if Donald Swan has a passion for a character, it can't be a real character; it can't be a Superman, or a Captain America. Then you have the lawyers coming after you because of copyright and so forth, so it had to be sort of an amalgamation of a lot of different characters.
With that, our conversation continued. Check back soon for part 2 as Mark discusses more about "Comic Book: The Movie", Jess Harnell, the San Diego Comic Con, Star Wars, the Clone Wars cartoon, and more!!
Click here for: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4
Comingsoon.net rates this movie 8 out of 10. Click here for full review.
Click here to view a video clip of Kevin Smith and Mark talking about the original Commander Courage.
The DVD released on January 27th. You can order it from Amazon.com today!