Moving Pictures: Gordon McAlpin on Multiplex
What really goes on behind the scenes at your local multiplex? Gordon McAlpin gives us a backstage pass to all the antics in Multiplex: Enjoy Your Show and in his hilarious webcomic. Here’s his take on the little scenes behind the big screens.
You’ve never worked in a movie theater, but you have friends who have. And I imagine you get a lot of feedback from readers who are current or former movie-theater workers. How closely does Multiplex mirror their real-world experiences?
I do. I've been told by countless readers that Multiplex rings relatively true. Some of it's exaggerated, of course. Most of the Multiplexkids would have been fired years ago, but the same is true of half the characters on The Office, too. Some of the customer service/workplace strips are inspired by stories I've heard, as well as my own experience as a bartender, waiter, barista, and so on. Customer service jobs are all fairly similar.
Do you have any desire to make movies?
Of course! But movies are a lot more expensive to make than comics, so until I get either a video camera or a lot of time on my hands to learn how to animate with Flash, I'll probably just be doing comics.
Speaking of movies, will there be a Multiplex film or TV show?
If any studios out there are interested in letting me develop something, I'd love to hear from them! I think it would work better as a TV show, or—even better—as an animated web series, mixing real-world movie reviews with the same sort of character-based comedy Multiplex readers have been reading for six years now.
But no, I don't have any plans to do one anytime soon.
You’ve been doing this strip since 2005. Do you still love it as much now as you did then?
More, even. I started it out as kind of a lark. Multiplex was just a fun thing I did where I got to snark about movies and "reminisce" about my days working in customer service industries, but it's gotten to be a lot more than that. I've backed off from movie snark and tried to comment on movies in general on a more substantive level (albeit through the lens of fictional characters talking about specific movies), because after a while, snark gets kind of repetitive. I've worked in some thoughts about the past, present, and future of the movie theater industry. And the characters are a lot of fun to hang out with every day, so I look forward to working—even when I'm struggling with scripts.
How difficult was it to start a webcomic and build an audience? Now that you’ve had success at it, does the work of doing a webcomic get easier, or is it still a challenge?
Working on the strip itself is about the same, but promoting the strip—building the audience—has always been a challenge.
The older your strip is, the more daunting your archive looks to new readers, so you need to get print books out and hit the convention circuit to find more. If you have a character- or story-driven comic, this is far more important, too. Multiplex isn't the kind of comic where you can just drop into any strip and get it, and it's not meant to be: It's like Doonesbury with movie and dick jokes, instead of politics. But while that's creatively rewarding, and I think it's more rewarding to my readers in the long run, it is harder to sell to people surfing the web, who generally have a pretty short attention span.
I say Thor was the best comic-book-related movie of 2011, and all my friends say I’m crazy (they, predictably, say X-Men: First Class, which was a fine film, but I don’t want to sit through it again). What do you think was the best comic-book film of the year and why?
I hate to say it, but because I've been absorbed by the process of moving from Chicago to Minneapolis for the last few months, I haven't been able to see nearly as many movies as I would like. So I missed Thor and X-Men: First Class, and between Captain America and Green Hornet, Cap wins pretty easily. Joe Johnston really nailed the tone, as I expected he would, because of The Rocketeer. It was appropriately cheesy/earnest in spots.
If you could pick a comic or graphic novel to see adapted to the big screen, what would it be and why?
That's a tough question. Most of my favorite graphic novels, I think work best as comics. Fun Home, Cages, and the Monsieur Jean books are all wonderful comics, but I don't see any point with adapting them into movies. With action comics, though, the answer's more obvious: movement.
Superheroes lend themselves to film really well, because they're basically action movies already. So with that in mind, I'd love to see a Ted Kord Blue Beetle movie, because he's the greatest superhero ever, except that there's probably only three other people on the planet who would be interested in it. I think the closest we'll ever get to that was Nite Owl in Watchmen. But I can dream, can't I?
How do you see your characters evolving in Multiplex? Do you see this as a permanently ongoing series, or do you have a definite end point you are working toward?
There's a definite end point. I'm planning 10 books in all, and while the first print book only just came out last year, there's already enough material in the website archives for four more books, or there is as soon as I find the time to work on the new material for it.
The series is set in real time, so the characters get older and, hopefully, wiser as the series goes on. But I don't believe that people really change very much, and I think that's reflected in my characters. For instance, Jason has gotten some of his sharper edges worn down over the last couple of years, but he's still very much a prick…ly pear. (Is this a family website?)
In the last year or two, some of the characters have started getting restless with their jobs at the movie theater and are wondering, what next? At some point in the next few years, we'll see a lot of the older characters leaving, or getting promoted, just as you would expect. You don't really see too many 30-year-old ushers, you know? Managers, sure. But not the guys in the red vests.
After doing this strip for several years, are you still as big a fan of the movie-going experience as you always were?
I'm probably more of a fan of it than ever before. I only started getting interested in old movie theaters since I started Multiplex. Other customers frequently drive me nuts, especially people with their blindingly bright phones out during the movie, but I love theaters. There's no better way to see a movie than on a 50-foot screen with surround sound. It makes really good movies all the more immersive. It's going to be a long time before home systems can really rival good theaters in presentation quality. Not that there aren't bad theaters, of course.
What’s coming up in Multiplex that readers should look out for?
On the print side of things, I'm working on the new material for Book 2 whenever I can. I'm looking into ways to fund that, to get it done sooner rather than later. If I were smarter, I would just put out the books without any new comics, but I enjoy revisiting the various eras in the strip, fleshing out aspects of the story that I felt could have been done better or clearer, and talking about movies I didn't get to the first time around.
Online, the main storyline right now involves Jason and Kurt gearing up to make a zombie movie together. That will take up the better part of the next year, and I think it will be really fun, especially once they finally start filming. I'll be drawing the "in-movie" parts of the story by hand, rather than with Adobe Illustrator. I've done hand-drawn stuff for a few imaginary sequences earlier in the series, but not usually for more than a couple of panels at a time.