Giving a whole new meaning to ‘film strip’

“It’s definitely about the theatre as much as it is the characters,” says Multiplex cartoonist Gordon McAlpin

Originally published in Boxoffice magazine
August, 2007
by Chad Greene

As the recent release of the third “web”-isode in the Spider-Man film franchise illustrated, movies based on comics are more and more common. Far less common, however, are comics based on movies.

The best of that rare breed is Multiplex, a weekly webcomic written and illustrated by Gordon McAlpin. A sit-com-ic strip about the teen-to-twentysomethings who toil at the fictional Multiplex 10 Cinemas, it packages workplace wackiness with motion picture parodies in a South Park-esque aesthetic.

Even though much of the humor in Multiplex is inspired by movies—and movie theatres—the comparison to that classic Comedy Central cartoon isn’t an inappropriate one, considering McAlpin originally envisioned it as a series of animated shorts.

“Honestly, I think Multiplex lends itself better towards ongoing serialized storytelling,” McAlpin tells BOXOFFICE. “Which is interesting, because I mostly watch movies—which are self contained. Obviously, movies have sequels and prequels, but they don’t really lend themselves toward serialized stories like TV shows, where there can be hundreds of episodes.

“But Multiplex, I really see as more of an ongoing thing—characters are going to come and go—although no one has gone just yet. But it’s called ‘Multiplex,’ not ‘The Adventures of Jason and Kurt,’” points out McAlpin, referring to his hilarious leading men. “It’s definitely about the theatre as much as it is the characters.”

McAlpin has never worked at a multiplex, but figures he comes close to capturing the full comic potential inherent in working the box office or concession stand based on the feedback he receives on a private forum for movie theatre employees he hosts on

“I’ve only ever seen one post that said that Multiplex wasn’t true to what it was like to work in a movie theatre,” he says. “But other people who have worked at them say that it’s pretty much dead-on.”

Although “almost everything about Multiplex is completely made up,” the satirical strip was initially inspired by the evenings McAlpin spent hanging out with friends who worked at a theatre.

“Back in Peoria, which is my hometown, my friend Kurt and his girlfriend at the time, Melissa, both worked at the Willow Knolls 14. So I would kind of go in and hang out with them while they worked … and, you know, watch free movies,” chuckles McAlpin, a graphic designer—and self-confessed “movie nerd”—who made his first foray into the world of webcomics with the irregular Stripped Books feature on, in which he would illustrate transcripts taken of literary events in Chicago.

“At some point, Kurt suggested that I do a comic strip about a bunch of kids who work at a movie theater, and I was like, ‘No, that’d be stupid.’ But three years later, I found myself going, ‘You know, I’d kind of like to do a cartoon based off that,’” McAlpin says. “And Kurt doesn’t have any creative input on it, but my debt to him is paid by having the second lead character be named after him.”

Even though Hollywood’s gone comics crazy in the last couple of years, there’s no development deal in place for a Multiplex movie as of yet—but the strips are certainly cinematic in their own right.

“Multiplex is kind of laid out as stills from a movie screen,” says McAlpin, who is also one-third of the “The Triple Feature,” a comedic crew of cineastes/cartoonists who do a Monday movie webcast. (Comprising the other two-thirds are likeminded webcomic creators Tom Brazelton of Theater Hopper and Joe Dunn of Joe Loves Crappy Movies.)

“It’s meant to look like a movie on paper, but that’s not entirely what comics are,” he says. “Even though that’s what I’m trying for, you can definitely do much, much more than that. You can break panel borders, you can get a lot more experimental with layout and composition with drawn images than you can with motion. They’re both visual storytelling, though.”