In Anne Thompson’s May 9th Indiewire blog about Marvel Studio’s “The Avengers” super-powered opening weekend (click on the awesome “Avengers” issue #1 cover art for the link), she praises both the film and Marvel Studio’s Kevin Feige, writing:
“Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has with single-minded, dogged focus executed the long-term Marvel plan, which serves to support the Marvel universe and not the usual short-sighted Wall Street-conscious myopia of major studio execs, who think mainly of holding onto their jobs and power by taking as few risks and making as few mistakes as possible. Fear and caution tend to rule the day. Not with Feige. He knows what Marvel fans want and he gives it to them. While studios usually sell their pictures to quadrants of moviegoers, few of them UNDERSTAND their audiences the way Marvel does.”
I absolutely agree with that statement, but understanding one’s audience is only part of the equation that sums up Marvel’s success. What they also do exceptionally well is understand the Marvel universe, all of its characters and histories, and why they work, not just how. Kevin Feige and the fine folks at Marvel don’t have to try to appeal to fans, they are fans, displaying the kind of knowledge and care that is born of geek love.
Whether or not every member of every department of the enterprise that is Marvel today is actually a True Believer, geek love is already there in Marvel’s DNA. From its earliest days, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby put their hearts, souls, and imaginations into telling stories in a medium that was widely demeaned and undervalued. I’m sure Stan and Jack would agreed that there were easier ways to make money, but that is clearly not the only motivating factor for their work. Nobody told them that their comic book about a kid who gets superpowers when he’s bitten by a radioactive spider would sell more copies if they invested the character with depth, pathos, or that made-up Hollywood word, “relatability” (which always sounds like the character is able to relate to the audience, not the intended reverse.) Nobody told Lee and Kirby to do that because nobody could. Besides the fact that nobody had ever done it before, the very idea ran counter to the conventional wisdom that comic book readers were mouth-breathers who just liked to look at colorful pictures. Lee and Kirby created such an amazing array of iconic characters and stories because they cared about the characters and they wanted us to care about them, too. And we did, and still do. Lee and Kirby’s work inspired a generation of readers to care about Marvel’s characters, and many of those inspired readers now work for Marvel and carry the torch. Their love and care for the Marvel universe keeps shining through.
If creative folk in Hollywood and beyond would like to take a lesson from Marvel, please let it be this: Be genuine. If you don’t love it, don’t do it. We can tell when you are just faking your way through something you don’t understand just because you think we’ll like it. That’s insulting to both of us, so stop. “Battleship”? Really? Go fuck yourself. Be honest. Be genuine. Find the thing that you love and devote yourself to that thing. The truth is, no matter how creative you are, you are not unique in this universe. If you love something, I guarantee that there are plenty more people in this world who love it for the same reason and with the same passion that you do. Those are your people. Be honest with them. Geek out with them. They will show their support. If you don’t believe me, pick your favorite Avenger and ask them.