5 for 5: 5 Comics of 5 Movies in 5 Panels

An annual Matsuya brothers tradition - just as important as Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas Day Movie releases, and New Years Countdowns - is debating and choosing our favorite films of the year. At the end of 2017, Ben and I turned some of our favorite movies into one page comic panels with our Five For Five Comics. We were hoping to share some of our picks in a unique way, get traffic to our friends over at Indiewire, and form a case study for an art-centric content campaign. We were fairly confident about Five for Five as a concept, but we didn't anticipate just the level of enthusiasm we generated across different websites.

We were profiled and interviewed by journalists at slashfilm, nerdist, i09, and Trunkspace, all asking us why we selected these movies and what they meant to us. After some reflection - we collected our reasoning behind picking Get Out, The Shape of Water, Okja, Good Time, and The Florida Project and published it here. We also delve into how we designed the artwork for each of the comic panels and detailed our thought process behind choosing the shots, colors, and angles. We returned again in 2018 with another 5 for 5, collecting films like Black Panther, The Favourite, You Were Never Really Here, First Reformed, and Eighth Grade.

Best Movies of 2017 5 For 5

Best Movies of 2018 5 For 5

Needless to say - Spoilers Abound Below:

Author:
John Matsuya & Ben Matsuya
Illustrator:
Ben Matsuya
Rating:
All ages

5 for 5 Comics: Best Movies of 2017

These are the indie films of 2017 that stuck a real cord with us. We really love celebrating the beautiful works of filmmakers and exposing them to a broader audience. If you like what you see, please feel free to check out our store and buy a print. Ben is a comic book artist that puts a lot of thought behind the composition of your scene; if you’re looking to convey a particular message or emotion through the page. Feel free to contact us to work on a project together.

Shape of Water Comic Poster

We grew up with a deep love of the Universal Horror Classic Creature From The Black Lagoon.” One of my favorite film going excursions was seeing an original 1954 print in 3-D. As a spiritual ancestor to Shape of Water, we were excited to see the film Guillermo Del Toro created.

The fluidity and movement of Elisa and the Amphibian Man was the love story in this mostly silent romance between a mute woman and a fish. In a weird way, this made composing the piece a little easier because Guillermo Del Toro consciously made movement so central to his film by placing visuals first. The centerpiece of the comic is the final underwater shot, where the two lovers are floating in an embrace - almost as if in a dance. I’ll admit that we mulled long and hard about including the actual black and white dance sequence in the comic panels - but it felt too out of place in the environment. With only five panels to work with, Ben wanted to weave the logical narrative thread.

Ben chose to use text (the sign language of Elisa saying “If we do nothing. Then neither are we”) as the only piece of dialogue in the whole 5 for 5 series. I feel this is particularly notable considering she is a deaf character and that the line drives to the heart of the matter: love makes us.

The Shape of Water asks the audience to put aside their preconceived notions of what love is by way of fairy tale. It’s no accident that Richard Jenkins’ Giles struggles hard to find love in a society that tells him he’s unlovable or that the machismo, dick-swinging villain (Michael Shannon’s Richard Strickland) is very rigid in setting down hard and clear societal norms. The villain has very strict ideas of how to do things, a man who even has rules on how to “properly” wash hands would similarly frown on anything that deviates from his norm. Giles, a gay character in pre-Stonewall America, is the example of someone oppressed by the culture. Both characters serve to show that love is not always easy; there are those who hate people for who they love and those that suffer from conventional norms.

Regardless of what the world tells you, sometimes you just fit. Through a sci-fi, horror, romance, Del Toro acknowledges everyone's love; in an often lonely world, the ability to find someone that you just connect to is a wonderful gift to be celebrated.

Okja Comic Poster

Amid vegan hot dogs at the New Beverly, Ben and I were welcomed to a fantastic surprise as director Bong Joon-Ho held an impromptu Q&A at our Okja screening. There’s nothing subtle about Okja. From the film’s message about humanity’s relationship to animals, to the wickedly funny satire on vapid PR and corporate greed, Okja was a film practically made for us. It’s a broadside against industrial farming, corporate messaging, and violent capitalism. Most importantly, it’s a fable and a plea for compassion. A capitalist culture inculcates us and our society to cordone ourselves off from real human (or piggy) connections. It tells us that everything is a competition and that “we’re not here to make friends.”

Aside from the cute Super Piggy, the biggest challenge in this comic panel was finding ways to incorporate the great ensemble of Okja’s well realized world. The narrative arc of the comic takes Mija and Okja through the dark heart of a system that uses and exploits them. The Mirando Corporation captures them and robs them of their idealism and innocence. Jake Gyllenhaal’s noxiously bizarre reality host, shows how broken these talentless, ephemeral “D-List” fame-chasers are (one wonders the damaging side effects to society of elevating these “reality stars” to our higher social strata). In the guise of a competition, he abducts Okja as the world’s newest protein source. It's no accident that one of the most pathetic, broken, characters of the film is a reality-tv host.

As Mija finds and rescues Okja, she comes face to face with Bong Joon Ho’s picaresque characters. Tilda Swinton’s ever-sunny Lucy Mirando (by way of lean-in Ivanka Trump) is a packaged, polished, inauthentic face of a “friendly corporation”. Paul Dano and Steven Yeun do well playing environmental activists who might be a little in over their heads. Mija finally rescues Okja by trading her for the golden idol that these corporations worship: A profit.

Sandwiching the capture, escape, and survival of our duo are the panels showing the idyllic eden of their early relationship and their life after survival - still standing, but haunted by the terrible industrialism and apprehensive of what the future portends. These businessmen and entrepreneurs have a myopic, selfish concern on their own profits and irresponsibly mortgaging the future to their children and childrens’ children.

Okja’s fairytale is a metaphor for the American society we participate and ignore everyday. An indictment of the unfettered greed of our boomer parent’s generation and a warning siren for our own.

Good Time Comic Poster

“I think I just saw a moment.”

That’s how Ben started his phone call to me. “You have to watch this movie called Good Time, and you’ll know it when you see it.” A “moment” is a scene or a shot in a film that takes full advantage of the form of the medium. It’s that unpredictable, scene, shot, or sequence that is so right for the story, and ever so exciting. When I told him I would go watch it, he drove over so he could watch it again. The moment referenced was Buddy Durress’ manic stream of conscious, hilarious monologue in the backseat of a car - describing his drug-fueled run from the cops. A non-actor, just nailing a dialogue; rough around the edges but a moment you can’t take your eyes off. Those are the moments we live for in movies.

For those of you who haven’t seen the film, Robert Pattinson cannonballs through the Safdie Brother’s heist-gone-wrong thriller, as Connie - a small time thief desperate to get bail money for his brother. Absolutely nothing goes right for Connie and he leaves a wake of destruction in his path over the course of one miserable night. The only tools at his disposal is his uncanny ability to improvise (often creating increasingly larger messes) and his fast feet. The manic kineticism of Connie makes you want to believe that he can actually outrun his fate.

In the comic, we tried to capture snapshots of the night's interactions as Connie speeds through each scene propulsed by Daniel Lopatin’s stunning synth score. The music inspired us to emulate Connie’s encounters as brief moments trying to catch up with him. Connie’s wreckless actions will have a profound impact on the lives of these characters, but to him - they are fleeting memories. The final panel is close up of Connie - a still moment in a breakneck film. He’s finally made to process the activities of the night and judging by his character, we don’t quite know if he’s contemplating the past or his next move.

The Florida Project Comic Poster

With Tangerine and now Florida Project, Sean Baker has proven himself to be one of the most humanist filmmakers working today. He is America’s cinematic answer to Italian Neorealism. What do I mean by that? Allow me to indulge in a quick film history lesson.

Following World War II, Italian filmmakers turned away from the escapist, idealized studio films and focused their lenses on the working class. These films were extremely humanist. Stories focused on the marginalized, injustice, and poverty. Shot on location, primarily with non-actors (particularly children). Cinematographers wanted to create a more real atmosphere.

We’re a long way from post-war Italy, but in the wake of the economic “policies” of the Bush Administration and the Republican Party, the  shrinking American middle and working class is struggling to survive. Sean Baker tells stories about people on the margins (transgender prostitutes in Tangerine; near-homeless motel residents in The Florida Project). In both films, he also works with non-actors for his cast and never judges his characters. Even in more comedic moments, Sean Baker’s empathy conveys that each character is worth their dignity. He uses natural light, locations, and shoots sequences (if not entire films) on iPhones.

The Florida Project Comic is my favorite panel 5 for 5. The film follows a homeless “motel resident” and single mother Halley who raises her daughter Moonee in the motels outside of Disneyworld in Orlando while trying to provide for her. Moonee is often left to her own devices in the shadow of the Mouse House, oblivious to the conditions of poverty she lives in. She’ll grow up fast, but right now - she’s still an innocent. Everything is an adventure and not knowing any other life, she finds the wonder in everything.

Ben drew single mom Halley (Bria Vinaite) just as Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) would see her - a Disney princess. Every panel is colored with a pink gloss and Disney-esque tropes (the cow or the dancing bath toys), but each panel always belies a hidden danger: the abandoned condos, the pederast stalking the background, one of Halley’s John’s walking in on Moonee’s bathtime. Willem Dafoe’s Bobby is the only person in this harsh world that shows Halley empathy and kindness - even when she treats him with disrespect.

As children - we see the world with so much wonder - grown adults who are obsessed with Disney are desperately clinging to the safe familiarity of myths. They prefer to live in an illusion at the expense of their own reality. I’ve thought more and more about the dark side of nostalgia and the harm that it enables. In the past months, I’ve seen Bernie Sanders rally successfully for a $15.00 minimum wage in my own Orange County, as ten percent of Disney employees who work full time are or have been homeless. Fifty percent can’t cover basic expenses.

Real people live on the margins of the “Happiest Place on Earth” and for those of us who are more fortunate, it’s easier to go to Fantasyland than to do anything about it. When things get real for Moonee at the end of The Florida Project, she takes off and runs for Disneyland. It’s the only panel without the “pixie dust” shine to it. It’s a place where dreams come true when reality is too harsh. But it’s not real - it’s merely a corporate mirage.

Get Out Comic Poster

Hands down our favorite film of 2017, Get Out played so many keys effortlessly: It's a horror. It's a satire. I's a searing social commentary, but above all it's a brilliant story. Jordan Peele’s film will be remembered as one of the most important films of the year, if not the decade. Peele not only leans into the horror genre – he re-racks it to make something wholly original. When given so much inventive imagery, the difficulty in distilling the film into a comic page was more about choosing from a lot of great scenes.

We wanted to play a lot with light source. Where does the light illuminate and obscure Chris’ perspective in each panel? In the first panel, we have Chris and Rose walking towards the Armitage estate with the sun presumably facing them; blinded by love so to speak. The single stream of light drops Chris deeper into the Sunken Place. It’s both his path downward but also spotlights the way up and out. Yellow flames leap behind the scheming Armitages as Chris is forced to confront the truth in the full light of reality. In the final panel, police beams flicker behind Chris ominously - ambiguous to what happens next.

For us, Get Out’s most impactful scene was Chris’ fall into the “Sunken Place” and Ben decided to frame the panel’s central piece around the vertical tumble into a representation of a world where you are stripped of so much agency. It is a vortex of deep-rooted racism - where one’s past and future is floating in place and where people of color are “put in their place”. This is the sick fantasy of the Armitage family - the suburban, American upper-elite family. The Sunken Place is a perpetual prison for the victim and an exploitative advantage for the perpetrator. Rose and her family talk a good game on racism, but in reality they’re working to exploit Chris - marginalizing him in his own body.

Racism in the 21st century is no longer as overt as in decades past (although the Trump administration is enabling and inviting hostility back into the public discourse); the Sunken Place shows how buried prejudice lies deep within the subconscious and the poisonous effects it has when it surfaces.

5 for 5 Comics: Best Movies of 2018

2018 was a treasure trove of great films. We celebrate the year in film by depicting some of our favorite films in comic panels and was featured on Indiewire. We wanted to create a unique panel and experience for each film within the rules of that film.

Black Panther Comic Poster

It might seem a little strange to include the biggest blockbuster of the year, Black Panther among our typically “indie” five for five series. However, Black Panther has the undeniable spirit of the indies we love and made that spirit more broadly accessible to a wider swath of eager viewers. Ryan Coogler’s film was visually fresh in its globe hopping colors, but also emotionally fresh in re-interpreting the Marvel formula that is beloved by so many. 

In some ways, it was kind of easy finding a good fit for this particular Five for Five. Black Panther is, after all, based on a comic book. However, the difficulty with interpreting some of the big blockbusters is condensing the plot and the soul of the film into five panels that someone can easily identify. With such a wealth of scenes - how could we possibly tell this story in five panels. We knew we wanted to give Black Panther the classic comic book treatment. What else could be so fitting than for the most modern, contemporary feeling Marvel film to get a throwback image… like finding that old copy that slipped under your bed. 

With Stan Lee’s characteristically exaggerated pronouncements and the unabashedly bold colors - Ben Matsuya focused on the ethos of Black Panther versus a retelling. The images speak to T’Challa’s code of honor. His love and respect for home and family. With the movie, you can’t help but cheer. The credit goes to Ryan Coogler’s inspired direction, but part of it is also the enthusiasm of your youth creeping up on you as you see your favorite realized into one of the most successful films of all time.

The Favourite Comic Poster

In Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite, court intrigue abounds as Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman) whims and affections serve as the battleground for political control. Her oldest confidant and ally Sarah (Rachel Weisz) gets more and more wise to newcomer Abigail’s (Emma Stone) intentions. The 18th century setting only magnifies that a human’s lust for power and status is timeless and that it is only matched by our potential for cruelty. We are all animals afterall.

And that served as an inspiration for this particular piece. Lanthimos is a director that has used animals as part of his repertoire (most obviously in “The Lobster”). He often examines people at their most primal: the need for companionship in the Lobster, a survival of the fittest in a pack unit in Killing of a Sacred Deer, and even in the Baroque, Imperial spectacle of Queen Anne’s court - how we are all just monkeys jockeying for power and pleasure. 

In The Favourite Comic, we transformed our protagonists into critters. Both Sarah and Abigail are bunnies - like Queen Anne’s playthings - herself represented by an exhausted and regal old badger. We start with a Lanthimos trademark fisheye lense to summon the arrival of this “All About Eve” Abigail and drift into the power play between the two rabbits. You really get a sense of “Watership Down” with the use of the bunnies. In our final scene, a human hand may betray that this was a miniature doll party, recreating a familiar story from within Queen Anne’s own life.

Eighth Grade Comic Poster

We were fans of Bo Burnham’s early work from Youtube and when we first saw the trailer for Eighth Grade, we both recognized his sense of humor, but also sensed a growth in his storytelling. Sure enough, Burnham and his protagonist Elsie Fisher made a beautiful film about expressing and finding yourself in the age of social media. He points his camera and laughs at some of the absurdities of growing up, the fads, the trends, the slang… but never the people. Fisher’s middle-schooler Kayla Day is awkward, lovable, and sometimes painfully relatable. 

Burnham himself is the product of Youtube and we wanted to tell his story through his character’s Youtube feed. If you’re reading this on your phone, we wanted a sudden swipe of recognition as you encounter Kayla's postings. With the video platform so ubiquitous, even someone’s posts relate an arc of a story. We track Kayla’s middle school adventures and are reminded that every story can be both large and small.

You Were Never Really Here Comic Poster

You Were Never Really Here is a film that takes the loner, badass, assassin archetype and strips him of the element that many filmgoers find “most cool” - his brutal ability and skill. Lynne Ramsay shoots around every possible action sequence to withhold any bloodlust we have for violence - and that description is of the utmost compliment. Ramsay plays your emotions, almost with one hand tied behind her back, making a film just as visceral sans viscera. After distilling the carnage out of this thriller, what we’re left with is a portrait of a truly broken man. The wages of his past sins have left him with deep wounds.

Joe is an assassin for hire. He’s contacted by a state senator whose daughter has been captured by a sex ring; the senator doesn’t want Joe to holdback. Sounds like a familiar enough premise, but in Ramsay’s hands, the seemingly mundane skips any admiration of the “badass” and takes us past sympathy and right into pity. We do see the world through Joe’s eyes, and cinema as an empathy machine places us in his psyche, but it’s a tortured one and not a place where we want to be for long. Even doing good still feels bad. There is no illusion or delusion of fun in this life. 

In our Five for Five, Ben wanted to play a similar trick as Ramsay does and play up the moments that portray Joaquin Phoenix’s Joe in his more heroic and conventional. If you haven’t seen the film, but have seen this tribute - I hope you give it a watch. You’re in for a surprise.

First Reformed Comic Poster

Everything I adore about movies... dare I say... "cinema" is within Paul Schrader's First Reformed. Contemplative, unnerving, righteous, surprising and human: First Reformed is a riveting experience that examines our beliefs and cuts through the noise to reach that unflinching sincerity.

Ethan Hawke's Ernst Toller is a pastor in the midst of a crisis of faith. The mega-church next door proves a stark difference to his dwindling congregation of a historic church. An alcoholic, whose own faith has been shaken, Toller is called upon by a young woman in need of council for husband. Her husband is an environmentalist, haunted by man's pillaging and destruction of the earth. The existential fear and horror of the end of the world is a cause that spurs him to action and Toller finds himself in an impossible argument between what he sees in front of him and his faith. When it becomes clear that institutions, religion, and government will fail to act - Toller's greatest act of faith might be to take matters into his own hands.

Paul Schrader's film was a breath of fresh; like nothing I've seen in a while. It provokes important questions with no easy answers and frequently surprises. It's a fresh original voice told with boldness and confidence. Ben aimed towards having a cathedral-esque stained glass window as the framework for the story. The first panel shows the beautiful scene of Pastor Toller examining a site of our own destruction. Toller is framed in the center of this piece as a figure of either divine justice or sacrifice flanked by the Mary-like Amanda Seyfried and a Cedric the Entertainer's mega-church evangelist pharisee.

First Reformed is a film of big ideas, that does not flinch and does not fail to captivate. It's a film that grabs you, doesn't let go until it wants, and lingers in your thoughts for long after. If you choose to open your eyes to see, you will see.

Conclusion

Films are meant to provoke, evoke, challenge, and entertain. We are lovers of film as much as we are lovers of comics, cause what we ultimately love is storytelling. We celebrate films because we want to share our fandom. If you love these films too, please feel free to contact us - we'd love to hear from you. And if you would like to purchase a print, we will be launching an online store soon - but in the interim, we sell prints for $15.00 plus shipping or three for $40.00 without shipping if you want to contact us via email.

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Matsuya Creative Ben Matsuya John Matsuya

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