Comic Book Heroes Review

Marvel and DC Comics are the two biggest English language comic book companies in the world, and it is their varied superheroic creations that have dominated cinema screens for the last few years. The comic industry as a whole has benefitted from such exposure, but for every character that is now a household name, there are dozens of small publishers trying for their big break.

Gestalt Comics is one such publisher. Founded in Perth in 2005 by Wolfgang Bylsma and Skye Ogden, the pair have managed to increase their output and get the attention, and praise, they deserve along the way, but it certainly isn’t an easy journey, as Comic Book Heroes, a new documentary reveals.

Conceived by director Nick Dunlop, and airing on Australia’s ABC on August 13 and 20,  it is a fascinating, and sometimes painful examination of the cost of following one’s dreams. Not just the credit card breaking financial cost either. The physical and emotional turmoil that is experienced by the pair, especially, Bylsma is at times harrowing, as frustrations rise and expletives fly.

Bylsma lives in Western Australia, and Ogden in Japan and both men have given Dunlop access to their varied, and harried, lives. It is beautifully shot, making the most of the locations of sunny Perth, sunny San Diego, and crowded Tokyo. The divergence between two guys in the suburbs and those same two guys rubbing shoulders with 125,000 other people at the pop culture perfect storm that is San Diego Comic-Con, means Comic Book Heroes is a delight to witness. For comics readers and those who aren’t, the film is an intriguing, informative and inspiring examination of what it really takes to pursue a specific ambition. There are the highs such as winning awards, and gaining appreciative readers, but there are also lonely times in hotel rooms, distanced from loved ones, the sleep depriving commitment of multi-time zone conversations online and the moments of sheer panic and disappointment that surface when depending on others.

There are moments of humour too, especially with the glimpses of Ogden’s life in Japan, living with his wife and in-laws, but primarily it is a refreshing, raw and honest look at aiming, and achieving, success in the comics industry. It is a world that most people don’t ever witness, and Bylsma and Ogden serve as two likeable, relatable guides, inviting us in to the world of deadlines, travelling and stress. It’s impossible not to witness their unpredictable trials and feel sympathy, and to somehow offer encouragement through the screen, as their resolve and determination faces continual opposition. For anyone who wants to know what it really takes to follow one’s vision, Comic Book Heroes is a must see, as it breaks the barrier between pleasant daydreams and cold, hard reality.

Dunlop followed Gestalt for two years, primarily throughout San Diego Comic-Con in 2011 and 2012, and the majority of the publisher’s talented creators are along for the journey, discussing and promoting the products of their hard work. This crew includes writer Tom Taylor (The Deep) who has also had success, with gigs for Dark Horse and DC Comics, Christian Read (The Eldritch Kid: Whisky and Hate), Emily Smith (Unmasked) and Justin Randall, whose two volumes of Changing Ways have piqued the interest of some of the producers of TV’s The Walking Dead.

Gestalt’s already impressive artwork from their established work looks even more beautiful with subtle motion added, and colouring bleeding to black and white pages. This effect, plus the multiple locations means that Comic Book Heroes is much more than a series of talking heads. Well edited and fast paced, it is a riveting portrait of the maddening dedication, as well as the personal victories and personal sacrifices, of bringing creativity from the suburbs to the international stage.

CBH Doco

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