The opening 10 minutes of comic strip documentary “Stripped” is a flurry of interviews, panels whipping by and so many subjects it hurt my head to keep up with them. If the filmmakers were attempting to mimic the workaholic lifestyle of comic strip producers churning out endless work, they succeeded. Then the doc settles. It becomes more personal. You get a taste of Calvin and Hobbes Writer here, the story of Cathy there, and the best interviewees begin to shine.
“If you’re a good writer but a bad cartoonist, you can make it,” says Garfield creator Jim Davis. In the film Davis says he’s got “an amazing job.” And “It’s the best job in the world,” says artist Lalo Alcaraz, creator of “La Cucaracha.”
“Because you’re on a deadline you have a routine,” says “For Better or Worse” creator Lynn Johnston. The doc explores the studios and minds of some of the most popular comic artists. Each artist’s muse for creativity would inspire anyone in the art, entertainment, writing or photography world.
Comic artists are facing the same struggles that photojournalists, newspaper reporters and many others in the publishing world have endured during the last 15 years. People are buying less print and consuming media digitally. The doc does a good job picking bits from myriad comic artists, young and old, and presenting a nice primer for the state of the comic strip industry.
But the sheer amount of interviews brings about one of the film’s few faults and it’s a big one: the interview sound is very inconsistent. Some sound like they’re coming through a tin can with string. Others sound studio quality. It’s definitely distracting throughout and is what cuts the doc down a notch.
One of the most powerful parts in the film is a nicely cut segment of several artists starting out in their own studio with blank canvas as, digital and paper, and get to work. Fittingly, the score for this segment is Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
The doc’s biggest strength is looking ahead. From the success of Penny Arcade and other online comics to interactive digital strip experiences, comic artists seem to have a consensus that the format will survive in some shape no matter the medium.
Bill Watterson, the elusive creator of “Calvin and Hobbes” — who gave his first interview for the doc, and liked it so much he offered to draw the film’s poster — said creators need to always get better. “People have better things to do than to read your work,” Watterson said. “For heaven’s sake try to entice them with some beauty and fun.”
David Kellett and Fred Schroeder