Stripped

I promised Dave Kellett I would write a review of Stripped, the documentary he and Fred Schroeder spent the last three plus years filming and producing. Stripped is an unprecedented behind the scenes look at cartooning. It examines what goes into making comics, who makes them, and discusses the current shift from “paper to pixels” our industry is currently undertaking.

I have had a lot of difficulty expressing my feelings for Stripped. I feel very emotional about it. I play it in the background while I work almost every day. I have downloaded all the unedited interviews that have been offered and watched them repeatedly as well.

This is important to me. It’s so central to who I am. It’s just been impossible to vocalize my thoughts on the movie. But last night I had an epiphany about how to decribe why I feel Stripped is so important. To do so, I need to first tell you about ANOTHER movie, one we’ve watched over 100 times in my household.

“A Knight’s Tale.”

For those unfamiliar with the plot, “A Knight’s Tale” is the story of William Thatcher, a peasant who, with the help of his friends, fakes being a knight to compete in tournaments. William is skilled, wins many events and earns accolades and enemies in his rise to stardom. The film is told in an anachronistic style with many modern references and I will fight anyone who says it’s not super fun to watch.

It’s also totally about webcomics.

William is an amazing competitor. He can fight with swords, he can joust, and he wins every time he enters the lists. He earns his friends money to eat, gets to travel all over England and wins the heart of a princess. But, William is only a knight in his heart. He’s not a knight on paper and that’s all that matters to the people running the show (and to William himself who has a rather large chip on his shoulder about the whole thing).

By the end of the movie (spoilers) William is discovered, disqualified and put in the stocks. luckily, Edward, The Black Prince of Wales, is impressed by William’s knightly heart. He frees William, dubs him a real knight, and allows him to compete under his real name. My favorite line in the movie occurs right before William unhorses his biggest rival. He’s announced to the crowd not by his false name “Sir Ulrich von Leichtenstein” but by his real name “Sir William Thatcher.” After the crowd cheers at his entrance, William’s friend, Wat (played by the incomparable Alan Tudyk), turns to William and says:

“That’s your name, WIll. Sir William Thatcher. Your father heard that.”

So how is this movie about webcomics? Well, I’ve always felt like I faked my way into the profession of cartooning. I didn’t become a cartoonist the way that you’re supposed to. I didn’t submit a package to a syndicate to break into comics by showing work at a convention. I just posted my comics online, said I was a real cartoonist, always spoke with a royal “we” in blog posts and verbally punched anyone in the face who said otherwise.

“You have to be of royal birth to compete.” says William’s friend Roland. “A detail.” responds William. “The landscape is food. Do you want to eat or not?” The landscape for me, was being a professional cartoonist. The fact that I never went through the proper channels to become one was a detail. I’ve had syndicated cartoonists tell me I wasn’t a real cartoonist in my time, and they even have disqualified me from their “tournaments” on occasion. And much like WIlliam Thatcher, I developed a very sizeable chip on my shoulder about it.

In the movie, Prince Edward stands before a riotous crowd and declares that William is a knight and he’s equally qualified to compete with the other knights. For me, Prince Edward is the documentary “Stripped.”

Dave and Fred interviewed everyone in the world of comic strips about the past, present and future of our medium and industry and by including us, by putting us on the screen with the likes of Greg Evans, Lynn Johnston, Bill Amend, Cathy Guisewite, etc, let the world know that we were all the same. Stripped said “Here are the pros. Their passion and dedication to the craft will keep the artform alive despite all odds.”

Stripped knighted us. And it did so without thumbing its nose at anyone. This film could easily be the most comprehensive film on cartooning I’ve ever seen and we’re up there with the giants who inspired us. Shoulder to shoulder. Papers or no.

It’s an important piece of filmmaking. I’ll forever be grateful to David and Fred for all the hard work and sacrifices they made to get this picture made. I am inspired by it every time I play it, and I’m so grateful that we have committed to celluloid all these amazing interviews by our greatest cartoonists. What a treasure. What wealth to all the young cartoonists of the future.

I wish I had more eloquent thoughts about this film, but this is the best I can do. I can’t take it any other way than very personally. I can only relate it to you through the lens of my life.

If I was only allowed one sentence to describe Stripped. I think that sentence would just be “thank you.”