STRIPPED is a documentary made by fanboys, for fanboys. The film explores the digital expansion of comics as a result of the death of newspapers. Unfortunately, viewers with the most rudimentary understanding of the comics industry won’t gain much from this documentary except hype. It’s a love that binds most of the documentary from any kind of critical evaluation. That is the doc’s deepest flaw: it never looks deeper into the industry it loves to give to the audience a substantive overview of comics aside from a brief historical trends.
So much of it could be condensed that it’s hard not to write fo the film as a waste for time. For instance, a segment about how “web comics work,” while entertaining, ultimately pads the running time by insert faux 8-bit gameplay to illustrate the web comic industry. (It also intersects into capitalist consumption of identity, which I wrote about here.) Another segment that plays around with an expository section presents the sheer exploitative nature of the comic strip industry, but fails to make any sort of criticism. It limps leaves the viewer to make the connection, because after all, no comic creator is going to criticism the system if it means their job is on the line. The over reliance of talking heads invested in the very system being discussed leads to no critical backbone to the entire piece.
STRIPPED’s lack of depth also arises from its own confused purpose. The film widens its breadth and attempts a basic introduction to the world of newspaper strips, accessible for anyone. This is partly the reason why it lacks any depth into the material. It explores the very basics of comics, much of which any casual comic reader would already know.
Some of the only concrete things I learned from this film include:
- Many popular cartoonists have become managers of their product rather than artists.
- The mass exploitation of cartoonists. In terms of newspaper print, half of their profits go to their managers who work with newspaper publishing.
- Some of cartoon’s origins in illuminated manuscripts of encyclopedias and the like.
- Garfield was popular enough in the 80s to have his own American Express commercial.
This lack of substantive material is more disappointing considering the majority of viewers for this documentary are already comic fans who know this material well. The film’s purpose is adrift: it posits itself as an accessible doc for any person, yet lavishes affection for all the creators that will people the fanboy audiences (who won’t gain much else from the entire doc.) In addition to the doc’s lack of scope, his uncontrolled passion for the medium drains the film of substance as well.
The filmmakers worship at the alter of popular cartoonists, regardless of their artistic merit. Unbalanced screen time, with a peculiar long interview with Greg Evans (Luann) It seems he’s the only one capable of explaining the death of print affecting the comic industry. Meanwhile, creators like Jim Davis (Garfield) or Mort Walker (Beetle Bailey, Hi & Lois), who haven’t picked up a pencil in years (instead managing their business brand), get screen time merely for being popular.
A brief audio clip of Bill Watterson is given the utmost reverence, preceded with a length explanation of who he is and why it’s so important he’s actually giving an interview. Of course, the real reason everyone is so crazy about Watterson is that Calvin and Hobbes was the last comic strip everyone liked. In terms of newspaper print, nothing has received the universal love and acclaim ever since.
Dear Mr. Watterson is a similar documentary that fawns over the comic medium more that it elucidates. The beginning remarks of The New York Times review notes the compounding problem of lack of scope and overwhelming passion:
It’s not entirely clear what documentaries larded with fawning testimonials aim to achieve. A professional seal of approval for the cautious? Reassurance for fans secretly gnawed by doubt? Peer pressure?
STRIPPED doesn’t know either. All it does know is its own admiration for the medium of comics. It lauds any creator, whether a genius or a hack, in its gushing romanticism of the comic art form, ultimately failing to elucidate much of anything.