Comic book fans meet your new obsession. Along with his buddy Dave Babbit, the insanely smart, funny and opinionated Dru Jeffries hosts 24 Panels Per Second, a podcast about comic books on film that’s as entertaining as it is intellectual. After all, Jeffries, a PhD candidate at Concordia University in Film & Moving Image Studies, has the brains to back up his inner fanboy. But worry not; the podcast isn’t all academic theory for those of us who can’t intellectualize why we like X-Men. Besides, Jeffries will be the first to admit his favourite film is The Rocketeer, largely because of Jennifer Connelly circa-1990. We’re psyched for a special episode of 24 Panels Per Second on June 23rd, which will be devoted to Tim Burton’s Batman (to coincide with the film’s 25th anniversary). We caught up with Jeffries to find out more…
You host the podcast 24 Panels Per Second. What’s it about and what do you discuss on it?
As we say at the beginning of every episode, 24 Panels Per Second is the podcast about comic books on film, and it’s hosted by myself and my good friend Dave Babbitt. It’s a monthly podcast wherein we talk about films based on or otherwise connected to the medium of comics. For each episode, we choose a feature film to be our main review, and then we bookend that with segments about other topics. For instance, in April’s episode, we discussed the film When the Wind Blows as our main review – it’s a 1986 British animated film about a nuclear holocaust with music by Roger Waters of Pink Floyd – and we also talked about Darren Aronofsky’s graphic novel adaptation of his film Noah and the PBS documentary Superheroes: A Never-ending Battle. So that’s quite a lot of diverse content in one episode. Definitely something for everybody!
I think that people too often conflate “comic books” with “superheroes” and that absolutely doesn’t do justice to what’s going on in the medium. Sure, superhero films are the most visible, but there’s a lot more out there for people willing to dig. And for those who want somebody else to do the digging for them, they can just listen to 24 Panels!
We also do bonus episodes whenever a new comic book film hits theatres, so we’re not completely stuck in the past. We recently had a good fight about X-Men: Days of Future Past. (I didn’t like it!) On upcoming episodes, we’ll be discussing films as diverse as Friday Foster (a blaxploitation film starring Pam Grier), the 80s Schwarzenegger vehicle Red Sonja, and the recent lesbian coming-of-age film Blue is the Warmest Colour. This month we’re doing a special episode devoted entirely to Tim Burton’s Batman to coincide with its 25th anniversary.
You’re working on you PhD and writing your thesis on comic book films. Give us not-so-smartie-pants a summary of what you focus on and what you’ve discovered in your studies.
I’m a few months away from the PhD yet – I’m currently writing the last chapter of my dissertation, which is about how contemporary film style has been influenced by the medium of comics. A lot of people assume that the film frame and the comics panel, for instance, are basically interchangeable and serve identical functions in their respective media, but that’s definitely not the case.
When I originally set out to plan my dissertation, I was definitely in a different place than I am now; I started out thinking that I would be talking about these films as adaptations, and now my first chapter is all about the inadequacy of adaptation theory to address what makes these films unique and what makes their contribution to contemporary film culture distinctive. On the podcast, we talk about big issues sometimes, but it’s all very off-the-cuff and not necessarily rigorous in an academic sense. (I’m well-known for my groan-worthy jokes on the show. Just ask my co-host.) The show has been a great way to keep the subject fun even when I’m totally mired in theory throughout my work day. It’s a bit like having a dual identity – something many of the characters we discuss know quite a bit about.
What are some of your favourite comic book-to-film adaptations of all time and why?
Here’s where I reveal myself to not be a Tastemaker at all! Some of my favourites have been either ignored or dismissed by most people. I grew up on The Rocketeer, a 1990 Disney film which is an adaptation of Dave Stevens’ short comic series from the 80s, though its set just prior to World War II. No film speaks more directly to my childhood dreams of finding a rocket pack and dating early 90s Jennifer Connelly! It’s also a great adventure film in the tradition of Indiana Jones, except I saw it before I saw those films; when I finally did see the Indiana Jones movies, they seemed like a poor man’s Rocketeer!
I also love The Amazing Spider-Man beyond all reason. (Yes, the reboot, not the original one with Tobey Maguire.) It’s the only superhero film, in my opinion, that actually tries to engage its viewers on an emotional level. You might not care too much about the supervillain plot, but the romance in that film is a real romance; the chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone is transcendent and that gives the film real stakes. I also think Ang Lee’s Hulk is an underrated masterpiece and Marvel Studios’ finest hour thus far has been Captain America: The First Avenger (it’s no coincidence that it’s helmed by the same director as The Rocketeer).
As for non-superhero fare, Barbarella is charming and hilarious. It’s definitely one of my all-time favourites, and I think it made for one of our best discussions on the podcast. American Splendor and Ghost World are both fantastic adaptations of indie comics. And Dick Tracy is definitely worth revisiting!
What comic books or graphic novels would you like to see turned into films that haven’t been yet?
I’m teaching a course on comics at Wilfrid Laurier University right now, and while I was putting it together I got really into Canadian comics. I always wanted to see an Alpha Flight movie – that’s Marvel’s Canadian superhero team, originally introduced in X-Men comics – but now I would love to see a Nelvana of the Northern Lights movie even more. Nelvana is one of the very first female superheroes, and two Toronto-based comic historians have recently restored and released the entire run of the character for the first time since the 1940s! Speaking of Can-Con, I’d also love to see some of Jeff Lemire’s work in film form, particularly Sweet Tooth and Essex County.
My dream comic book film, though, would be an animated adaptation of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s we3. It’s a graphic novel about three escaped laboratory animals – a dog, a cat, and a rabbit – and it’s the rare work of art that treats animals as animals without presuming that humans are somehow better than them. As a staunch animal rights advocate and vegan, it’s a narrative that I’d love to see get more exposure. It’d be a tough watch (for the same reasons that it’s a tough read), but it’s one well worth experiencing.
Let’s get social for a moment. How do we stay up to date with you?
The best way to follow me is on Twitter. I stay as far away from Facebook as possible, but the podcast does have a presence there at facebook.com/24panels. Our website is 24panelspersecond.com, and you can subscribe to the show by searching in iTunes or by clicking the link at the top of our homepage!