What do Tyrese Gibson, Brea Grant, and Rashida Jones all have in common? They're all writing comic books; and they're not the only celebrities to do so. Why are so many performers now trying their hands at comics?
Celebrities writing comics isn't exactly new. Kevin Smith took over writing duties on Daredevil in 1999, and he's been knee-deep in the comics world ever since. Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance has had great success with his series The Umbrella Academy. Rosario Dawson co-created the miniseries O.C.T.: Occult Crimes Taskforce, and Milo Ventimiglia has produced the series Rest and Berserker. But we're seeing an increasing trend toward celebrities lending their words and their names to original comics creations.
One celebrity book just out this summer is Tyrese Gibson's Mayhem, and it exemplifies one of the darker aspects of this trend. Mayhem is a bit of a generic comic, following a masked hero who battles the gangs and drug dealers of Los Angeles, but that hasn't stopped Gibson from aggressively hawking his book across the Internet and at this past summer's Comic Con. Gibson, who is credited as one of three writers on Mayhem, tends to sell the book on the strength his recommendation as a famous person rather than its plot. And his marketing tactics — which has included calling people who criticizing his book "haters" — has induced more than a little eye-rolling and prompted Gibson's own marketing director to quit (David Brothers has a great rundown of Mayhem's marketing missteps at 4thletter!).
But Mayhem is about to get a lot of competition in the celebrity comic books field. Oni Press is set to publish Frenemy of the State, co-written by actress Rashida Jones. Jones' book is about a socialite who gets into trouble with the law and agrees to work as a spy in order to stay out of prison. And in early 2010, we will see We Will Bury You, a tale of zombies in the roaring '20s written by Heroes' speedster Brea Grant and her brother Zane.
So are all these celebrity comics just a bid for movie deals? There's certainly that component to it. Dawson already has plans to make (and star in) an adaptation of Occult Crimes Taskforce, though she's still looking for a studio. Gibson has said in interviews that he has no current plans to make a Mayhem movie, but he's made no secret of his desire to take on a superhero role. And Universal Pictures has already acquired the rights to Frenemy of the State; Jones is co-writing the screenplay, but says she's too old to play the lead.
But hopefully there's some love of comics and storytelling at play as well. When Grant was first cast in Heroes, she said she was a big fan of comics, and credited her brother with getting her hooked on The Invisibles. And Emma Caulfield of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame has a passion project that seems unlikely to see the big screen. She's writing Contropussy, a webcomic about a streetwise cat and her often ill-fated animal acquaintances (the most recent plotline featured a Kill Bill-inspired sequence with a sword-wielding bunny rabbit), which she also plans to turn into an animated online series.
Perhaps "I'm going to write a comic" will eventually become the new "I want to direct" in Hollywood, with actors exploiting comics' built-in storyboards to pitch their own projects and build their own roles. But in some cases, celebrities may be recognizing comics as an accessible way to make the transition from performer to creator. Of course, all this may simply be symptomatic of the increasingly blurry lines between various media. After all, while many comic book creators hope to have their books adapted for television or film, publishers can also tap celebrities to adapt their existing projects as comics. Dark Horse has already recognized that potential; the publisher has geek queen Felicia Day adapting her online series The Guild in dead tree format.