Comic books are full of make believe characters. No matter how much you want to believe that Batman or Spider-Man exist and are out there watching over you, it's just not true. As comic readers, we know they are just stories. Seeing familiar buildings and landmarks can give the comic a sense of realism. Driving over the George Washington Bridge in New York (where Gwen Stacy died) or passing by Alcatraz (which has popped up recently in the pages of Teen Titans and X-Men), you get that silent little nod to the comic.
Locations aren't the only 'real' elements added to comics. We sometimes see little references to pop culture events or social media tools such as Twitter. What we have seen numerous times over the years is the appearance of real life people. Presidents and celebrities often are incorporated into stories in order to add a little touch of reality.
Seeing these cameos and appearances might give the reader a smile or chuckle, there is a problem with them. Comic book readers often go back and read older issues. Whether it's a copy of the comic, a reprint or collected in a trade paperback, seeing a famous person years later can cause a distraction and interrupt the flow of the story. Should cameos with real people be used or should comics focus only on fictional characters?== TEASER ==
Is That You Mr. President?
There often comes a time when the President has to make an appearance. Heroes sometimes are faced with dangerous threats to the country and the President sometimes has to give his thoughts on the situation or give thanks to the hero. Going back and seeing Superman talk to John F. Kennedy puts an immediate halt to the story. We know comic book characters don't age at the same rate we do. We can usually go back and read a story from years or decades ago and with a little sense of disbelief, we can accept that it's something that happened not too long ago. If a hero is talking to a President that is no longer in office (or even alive), that immediately dates the comic and makes the hero feel older. The same with President Obama appearing in today's comics. Eventually these stories will also become dated.
To prevent this, we sometimes get a generic President. A random guy is drawn and sometimes the face isn't even shown. Because we have places that don't exist in the real world like Metropolis or Latveria we don't have to have the actual current President depicted in comics. Drawing a generic President will prevent this problem until the day we finally get a female President.
TV & Movie Celebrities
The appearance that always comes to mind is when the Not Ready For Prime-Time Players (also known as the cast of NBC's 'Saturday Night Live') turned up in the pages of 1978's Marvel Team-Up #74 (along with a younger Stan Lee). Members such as John Belushi and Gilda Radner are no longer with us. When David Letterman made his comic appearance in 1984's The Avengers #239, you'll immediately notice how much younger he's depicted since it occurred 27 years ago. In 2002, Spider-Man teamed up with Jay Leno. Daniel Craig even made an appearance in a fantasy in an issue of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight.
Celebrity cameos are less essential than the presidential ones. These are usually done more for easter eggs or just for the fun of it. A writer or artist will have to make the decision to use them wisely, if at all. Batman R.I.P. will be known as one of the great Batman stories of recent time. How would the story be affected if a celebrity cameo was thrown in and the story was read years later? The overall story would be the same but seeing a cameo that isn't crucial to the story can momentarily pull the reader out of the story.
Relax, These Are Just Comics
Maybe the answer is to not worry about them. If they happen and are done for fun, we shouldn't be uptight about it. The problem is, a lot of readers do take comics seriously. When I read an issue of X-Men and they're on the hunt for vampires and a Lady Gaga reference pops in, I can't help but roll my eyes.
Sometimes cameos can be done tastefully. Did you catch a certain cameo in The Flash #1? To those that don't know us, they'd have no idea two people from Comic Vine made a little appearance. For those that do, it's pretty dang cool, to say the least.
In order for cameos to work, they do need to be subtle. Seeing Stan Lee in Marvel movies is something fans can enjoy but it doesn't necessarily take away from those that (somehow) don't know who he is. The same goes with comic books. Celebrities can be thrown in but because of the way comic characters are timeless, making a bold statement with an official guest star pinpoints the exact time that story took place. They can be fun and goofy from time to time but should really be used sparingly...unless other comic artists wish to insert me into their panels.