Talking Pictures

Buffed Bluff

Janet Orsi

Back to the Drawing Board: Major comic-book artist Norm Breyfogle (“Batman”) believes the characters in “Eraser” are dumb and dumber.

These heavyweight comic book artists think Arnie’s ‘Eraser’ is too big for its own britches

By David Templeton

Metro Santa Cruz writer David Templeton takes interesting people to interesting movies in an ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This time out, he takes acclaimed comic book illustrators Brent Anderson and Norm Breyfogle to see Arnold Schwarzenegger’s noisy new action flick, Eraser.

Across the steaming cloud rising from our coffee mugs, someone points out that in the new witness-protection movie, Eraser, the only federal marshal not wearing a bulletproof vest was Arnold Schwarzenegger. “He didn’t need it,” explains comic book illustrator Norm Breyfogle (Batman, Prime, Metaphysique). “Arnold just catches bullets in the folds of his muscles.”

“He’s indestructible,” agrees fellow artist Brent Anderson (AstroCity, X-Men). “He got a spike through the hand and a bullet through the shoulder. It didn’t even faze him.” We have gathered at a coffeehouse across from the megaplex theater where a line is forming for the next showing of Eraser, a silly, loud, mean-spirited film about a big guy (Arnie) protecting a little woman (Vanessa Williams) from bad men. Things blow up, bullets rip flesh, alligators eat people.

“It’s a mile wide and a centimeter deep,” Anderson quips, amiably. “And that seems to sum up pop culture these days–it’s driven by a 12-year-old mentality.”

“Or less,” Breyfogle grins.

Breyfogle and Anderson, who live in different parts of Northern California, may seem unlikely critics of popular culture’s inclination toward adolescence, being that each illustrates comics that are traditionally sold to that demographic niche. Yet each has positioned himself at the forefront of a movement to take comics into deeper, more meaningful territory. With Breyfogle’s philosophical Metaphysique and Anderson’s joyously humanistic AstroCity, the average comic book’s IQ has shifted significantly higher.

Now, if only movies would do the same thing.

“When I was 12 I would have loved this,” Anderson confesses. “But I wasn’t very discriminating. When I was 12, one of my favorites was The Vikings with Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis. I thought that was the coolest movie. I recently borrowed a laserdisk version from a friend, and guess what? It was boring! It didn’t recreate the feeling of being 12 like Jurassic Park does or Star Wars does.”

“In the ’40s and earlier, most of the movies being made were made for adults,” Breyfogle suggests. “Very few were made for children. But kids have more money now. Every mall has a theater. There are lots of reasons that have brought teenagers into the theater that didn’t exist many decades ago.”

“Arnold’s no dummy,” Anderson asserts.

“I saw Arnold on Letterman the other night,” Breyfogle disagrees. “He’s a dummy.”

“I’ve seen him on talk shows too,” comes the reply. “He’s not that dumb. He knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t take himself too seriously.”

“I hope not!” Breyfogle retorts.

The S-man’s artistically destructive powers have not been limited to the flashy flicks on the big screen either, Anderson contends, arguing that Arnold also is responsible for the preponderance of improbably beefy superheroes. “It started with Conan the Barbarian, in what–1981?” he explains. “Before that, comic-book superheroes were drawn as muscular, but not so, umm, bulky. In the Conan books, he was always described as lean and wolfish, but in comes Schwarzenegger–who looks like a bear–and suddenly the comic book heroes began to change. All the young artists began to draw characters with bigger and bigger muscles.”

Breyfogle agrees. “If they drew characters back in the ’60s the way they draw them now,” he says, “everyone would have thought it was ludicrous. But I don’t know how much you can blame Arnold for that, because body builders in general have become much, much bigger, and body building is more culturally accepted now than it was.”

“But it was Arnold that gave legitimacy to body building,” Anderson says. “It used to have a huge stigma attached to it.”

“The only thing that legitimized body building is that it’s become a way to make money,” Breyfogle says. “We live in a culture focused on monetary gain. The more money something makes, the more legitimate it is.”

“I suppose we can’t really blame Arnold for being popular,” Anderson argues. “We’re the ones who put him there. We’re the ones who shell out the bucks to see him flash his muscles while explosions rip across the screen. We can only blame ourselves.”

“Right,” Breyfogle shrugs. “At our very core, we’re only animals. We’re apes. And apes like shiny things.”

From the July 18-24, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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