Reid Fleming and David Boswell are two of the great legendary figures of the 80s black and white comics boom – Canadian born cartoonist Boswell created an enduring character in the irascible delivery man Reid Fleming whose bellicose shouts — “I thought I told you to shut up!” — and hostile approach to dairy deposits made him an angry everyman hero. The character became incredibly popular during its ’80s run, and a big studio movie was contemplated, with Boswell writing the script, until the project reached a film exec who didn’t get the unique, absurd humor of the comic. The rest, as they say, is a cartoonist’s life.
Filmmaker Charlie Tyrell has made a 12 minute short about Boswell and his time in Hollywood, called I Thought I Told You To Shut Up, which I encourage you to watch. The biggest reason: it’s gorgeous. Tyrell has shot even the messiest comics studio to look like it exists in some kind of late autumn haze, and it’s fun looking at all the various environments of the interview subjects. And very clever animation is used to bring even prosaic artifacts to life… all in all a very accomplished piece. (Here’s a short interview with Tyrell.)
If that doesn’t entice you, the film is narrated by director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) and features interviews with Matt Groening, Jeph Loeb, Dave (SCTV) Thomas, Ed Asner, Kevin Pollak and Ron (Last Gasp) Turner. It’s very entertaining. And some lessons are revealed.
First off, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles not withstanding, it’s hard to believe now just how popular a black and white comic could become in the 80s. Oddball books like Reid Fleming sold in numbers that DC and Marvel would slay for today and the alt.media of the day was all over these comics.
Second, despite that, no one believed it was anything more than an outsider medium and any attention was cause for a celebratory bonfire. When Hollywood came calling, Boswell did the unthinkable and sold the rights to Fleming to a studio outright for a big payday…meaning it would sit in Warner Bros limbo for the rest of eternity. Some other folks have done this, gong for the big cash grab of selling outright instead of the small stipend of an option, but the former is really a fool’s game. Not too many people make that mistake anymore, but it’s still a cautionary tale.
Third off, I know this is a filmmaker by a…filmmaker, but Reid Flemeing still exists as comics, and we are free to enjoy those as we see fit, one would hope. Boswell has a copious website, where I’m sure you’ll go right after you watch the movie. Sadly, ‘m not sure how much of the Fleming oeuvre is in print and available. IDW printed a Reid Fleming: Worlds Toughest Milkman, Vol. 1 collection back in 2011 but I see it is sold out at Amazon now, doubtless due to this film— which has been shown at dozen of film festivals—being released on the internets. IDW’s backlist is something of an Aladdins cave, so hopefully there are more in the warehouse. This is a volume which belongs in ANY library of comics.
If you can’t get it however, there is a Kindle edition of the first issue of Reid Fleming available for a mere $2.99. Just do it! The other issues are also becoming available for Kindle so if you can’t stop after just one, no worries.
Fourth off…talk about old timey comics, Boswell’s inky line and crosshatching technique is a think of beauty that you could only dream of seeing any one learn these days.
If you don’t have 12 minutes to watch the movie I BEG OF YOU, just watch this 8-bit animated sequence that illustrates the difference between selling and optioning a property. This should be shown at every comics school across the nation on business day.
Oh and one more thing: this short seems to be set on an alternate world where women died, and exist only as a 2-second flickering archival clip. I know the short is only 12 minutes long and I loved it so much I hesitate to bring this up but…well, that’s kind of an 80s comics mindset as well, so maybe it’s a little too historically accurate. Rather than end of a quizzical note, here’s more Reid Fleming art. And note that Walking Dead commission … Skybound/Wizard World are you listening? Make a Walking Dead/Reid Fleming variant cover a real thing!
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.