‘Funny Pages’: 8 Official Inspirations Behind the Scuzzy A24 Comedy

Director Owen Kline unpacks the disparate influences behind his screwball look at adolescent hubris.
Daniel Zolghadri reading a comic book in Funny Pages
Photo: A24

Owen Kline's Funny Pages is the kind of film you wish you’d seen as a teenager. It will also make you glad those days are behind you. 

The movie is an excruciating look at adolescent hubris that’s both intensely funny and more disturbing than you might expect. Daniel Zolghadri plays Robert, a talented but arrogant high-schooler with dreams of working as a professional comic-book artist. A traumatic incident convinces him to move out of his family home into a fetid basement flatshare in Trenton, New Jersey in pursuit of artistic integrity and independence. At his day job as a courthouse stenographer, he meets a one-time minor comic-book artist whom he latches onto as a potential teacher. Robert’s chosen medium - not superheroes, but R. Crumb-style underground comix – speaks to the film’s offbeat sensibilities and influences.


Produced by A24 and the Safdie Brothers’ Elara Pictures, with cinematography by legends Sean Price Williams and Hunter Zimny, Funny Pages is blessed with an abundance of talent behind the camera. The cast includes Our Flag Means Death’s Matthew Maher, delivering a standout performance as a one-time assistant colourist at Image Comics struggling with thinly concealed anger issues.

Kline is a former child actor turned known figure in New York’s film world and a constant presence in the city’s various second-hand movie/record/book stores. Anyone who ever felt intimidated by the self-appointed gatekeepers of these kinds of establishments is guaranteed to squirm at his protagonist Robert’s obsequious, ill-fated search for a mentor. We asked Kline to curate some of the disparate influences that informed Funny Pages

‘Martin’, directed by George A. Romero (1977)

Owen Kline: A genuine gothic for the ages. Notably a very personal movie for Romero, loyal to its time and place and the people around him, like his wife and Tom Savini in great raw performances. Martin’s unique expression of horror is a fascinating one. It takes the vampire and the terror of Dracula and funnels it into a story where you never know if this kid is the undead or not – and either reality is horrifying, given this kid’s dreadful process of drugging women for their blood. Is Martin a sicko Jack the Ripper? Is he a vampire? It’s either a sick pathology or true, but either way, it’s an endless curse, and the ending (and ultimate resolution) is perfect. It is an ending both magic, horrifying and inevitable. But until that moment, it makes it two stories in one: “There’s no real magic. Ever.” 


Deeper: All the tragedy and horror of the best gothic stories, set against the backdrop of a drab Pittsburgh suburb. The clumsiness of the violence, a long way from the suggestive, stage-like grandeur of classical vampire films, will stay with you for a long time. One of Romero's best.

 ‘I Want To Go Home’, directed by Alain Resnais (1989)

Kline: This movie articulates a very, very specific cultural collision only Jules Feiffer knew and could take authority on: the bitter old American cartoonist who thinks he’s a hack in Paris for some pretentious comics exhibition. An amazing collision also in regard to Jules Feiffer and Resnais and where their heads were at with their careers in the 80s and what they wanted to say.

Deeper into Movies: Alain Resnais’ interest in comics is a curious footnote in a storied career. Comics are admittedly big in France, but it seems wild that the director of Last Year at Marienbad and Hiroshima, Mon Amour was once in talks to work with Stan Lee on not one, but two films, not to mention he briefly considered adapting Spider-Man. I Want to Go Home is perhaps the closest Resnais came to exploring this passion on screen.

‘Nothing Lasts Forever’, directed by Tom Schiller (1984)

Kline: This felt like it was made for me when I found a boot[leg] of it as a teenager. There's a great gag sequence out of a Warner Brothers cartoon where the protagonist is forced to take an art test by the Port Authority who have seized control over New York Customs in a Depression-era-like city populated by wannabe artists. We're almost at that point.


 Deeper: Due to unspecified legal issues, Nothing Lasts Forever has never had an official release, instead popping up intermittently on television or leaking onto YouTube. In spite (or maybe because) of its arcane properties, a cult has formed around the film. Worth tracking down.

‘Can I Hang Around With You?’ by Joe Bag (1988)

Kline: This was a tape that Henry Hynes from Home Blitz lent me in college that really made me laugh and affected me. “Joe Bag”, with a miserable Joe Schmo point-of-view, reflects on the town he serves and its warped citizens. A hilarious existential spoken word masterwork that’s bleak lyricism fearlessly teeters between high and lowbrow. I still constantly quote it.

Deeper: It’s easy to see how the milieu of Funny Pages – downtrodden, icy spaces of Christmastime New Jersey, populated by outsiders and misanthropes – was informed by this tape.

‘Will Not Attend: Lively Stories of Detachment and Isolation’ by Adam Resnick (2014)

Kline: If you like uncomfortable, comic humiliation-based memoirs, you will struggle to breathe reading this. One of the greatest comedy writers of our time articulates the humiliation of youth, and no words are minced.

Deeper: Emmy winner Adam Resnick is perhaps best known for his work on Late Night with David Letterman, but this pseudo-memoir explores the writer's unique worldview and abject unwillingness to conform. There are shades of Larry David in the author’s obstinate rejection of social compliance. In Resnick’s own words: “I refuse to do anything I don’t want to do.”


‘What’s The Matter Boy?’ by Vic Godard and Subway Sect (1980)

Kline: A life-changing album for me. Personal and funny and sad.

 Deeper: Subway Sect were one of the earliest – and most influential – punk bands. Despite their relatively modest output, the band’s sensitive, melancholy affect distinguished them from their more macho contemporaries. Far from the assaultive, adrenalised tenor of The Sex Pistols and The Clash, there’s a mournful quality to this album, the influence of which can be felt in a litany of indie bands for decades to come. 

The early shorts of Mike Judge

Kline: Discovering these micro-behavioral masterpieces in high school made me think about filmmaking and how you can focus on small, funny details of people’s flaws and eccentricities – and Mike Judge’s [own] roots.

Deeper: Mike Judge has made a name for himself as the man behind Office Space, King of the Hill, Idiocracy and Beavis & Butthead, which just aired its ninth season. His early animation contains all the insight, absurdity, and latent darkness of his later work – sparse comedic worlds that seem tailor made for the internet age. His cockeyed view of the US is always valuable.

‘Heavy Traffic’, directed by Ralph Bakshi (1973)

Kline: Bakshi and Scorsese were on the same freewheelin’ wavelength the same year. What I’m sayin’ is, this is his Mean Streets.

Deeper: Perhaps best known as the creator of 1978’s The Lord of the Rings, Ralph Bakshi has nevertheless consistently tried to broaden Western audience’s perception of animation beyond the Disney formula. His more controversial works include Fritz the Cat and Coonskin, which paved the way for later torch-bearers like Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Heavy Traffic combines live action with animation, exploring city life through the eyes of its twenty-four-year-old, pinball-playing protagonist. 

Funny Pages is in cinemas now.