CBR TV: Michael Uslan on Producing Comic Book Movies, Pitching “Batman”
Producer Michael Uslan, the man behind the Batman film franchise, spoke with CBR TV during Comic-Con International in San Diego about producing comic book movies, including the problems he had pitching Batman to Hollywood in the ’80s, but not until spending some time discussing his background as a comic book fan.
“Fans today have no idea what it was like In the ’50s and ’60s, growing up as a comic book fan” Uslan said. “It was the most isolating hobby in the world. I did not know, really, until seventh grade, that there was anyone else on the planet that was so into collecting comics and super heroes like I was.” It was a letter in “Fantastic Four” #15 that clued him in on the fanzine community that was just starting to blossom. After writing for the zines, Uslan and his friends spent time at Marvel and DC’s New York City offices, waiting in the lobby and asking Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Joe Simon and more to autograph their collections and talk comics. Eventually, Uslan became involved in the first comic book convention in NYC, a gathering that held panels, auctions, showed movies and held a costume parade and contest. During this time, Uslan also befriended future “Game of Thrones” author George RR Martin, a fellow New Jersey resident whose name he saw in numerous letter columns.
The producer’s Batman fanhood began when he saw an issue of “Detective Comics” in 1956, an issue involving the hero driving a Bat-Assault Tank, a memory that has stayed with Uslan, influencing even the current Batman movies.
Speaking on the current state of comic book fandom as a whole, from comics to movies, TV and beyond, Uslan stated, “There is a creative golden age. I really believe that. I think some of the greatest work in the history of comics, in art, writing and graphic storytelling, is taking place today.” Crediting the birth and growth of graphic novels for some of the current renaissance, Uslan also credits the fact that so many fans and creators are looking at comics beyond being simply super hero stories, citing “A History of Violence,” “300” and more for pushing the medium forward. He does lament, however, that while one goes to CCI and sees tens of thousands of people in and around the convention center, in costumes and buying product, it’s sad that a character like Aquaman doesn’t sell 200K+ copies of his comic.
Uslan prognosticates on the “superhero movie bubble” bursting after recounting his journey to getting the original, serious Batman movie made. “I was turned down by every studio in Hollywood when I first pitched the dark and serious Batman movie. They told me it was the worst idea they ever heard. They said I was crazy, you can’t do serious comic book films, you can’t do dark super heroes and you can’t make movies based on old TV series — it’s never been done.” Now, Hollywood has seen a generational sea change, and the people who shot him down for years have been replaced by those who grew up with comics and comic book movies. That said, you still have to educate execs that comics are not a movie genre but rather a source of material that can be mined for films, and it is for this reason, there is not a bubble that will burst.