From the drawing board to the big screen

By Karina Brown

“After ‘X-Men’ hit at the box office, all the studios started buying up every comic property they could get their hands on,” said Jason Lee’s character Brodie in “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.” Turns out he was right.

Some of us grew up reading comics like “The Punisher,” “Batman” or “Hellboy,” but many of us had no idea what they were until they came out on the big screen.

-Now, big-time movie producers and actors like Ben Affleck, Halle Berry and Keanu Reaves are signing up to take part in the latest comic frenzy, which allows those who aren’t comic fanatics to appreciate the story lines.

“I’m so happy that they are doing comic movies that are good now, ” said Rick Berg, manager of DeKalb’s Graham Cracker Comics, 901Lucinda Ave. “And it’s not so much that they are good comic book movies; they’re just good movies.”

There always have been comic-based TV shows, like Batman with his action bubbles neatly labeled “BOOM!” and “POW!” And some movies, such as “The Road to Perdition,” are based on comic books.

Some past directors succeeded in making generic comic films like “Superman” in 1978 or “Batman” in 1989. Berg explains that most movies based off comic books in the ‘90s used the name to make money and left quality as an afterthought.

Such was the case with “The Punisher,” directed by Mark Goldblatt in 1989, with Dolph Lundgren playing the lead. It never made it to the big screen and is referred to as one of the biggest comic flops.

“He didn’t even have the skull on his shirt that distinguishes his whole being,” Berg said.

-Now, it seems comic book movies have come out of the closet. “Spider-Man” ranks as the all-time leader for opening weekends at the box office at more than $114 million and went on to gross more than $800 million worldwide, according to

Comic book movies are making more money than ever before. Berg said current directors understand the stories because they grew up with the comics and transported their appreciation to the big screen. But will this comic high steadily increase or eventually become exhausted?

“The bat suit does not have nipples! It’s true!” said Jacques Betts, an adviser for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and an avid comic book collector who shares his contempt of past comic movies. Betts said comic movies in the past were made to suit large audiences but sometimes forgot to respect the authentic concepts, culture and costumes of the original comic. Now, the movies are more focused on the comic.

“I was blown away at how authentic they were in ‘Hellboy’ to the essence of the plot,” Betts said of the comic that has become one of the hottest items at Graham Cracker Comics.

Comic books didn’t gain much popularity until the 1980s.

“In the ‘60s, nobody really cared about comics — they were made for kids, and the characters were puffy and always smiling,” Berg said. “It wasn’t until the ‘80s when Ronald Reagan was in office, and there was a strong sense of nationalism. Superman and Batman started to get buff, and the plot lines became more adult.”

Berg explained that the “Superman theory” has carried over to the big screen. Jeffrey Chown, a communication professor and director of graduate studies, explains why the Superman theory has ties to fascism.

-“In the 1930s, we liked to think that fascism didn’t appeal to us. But now there is uncertainty in our politics and economy, so our fascinations in Batman and the Hulk appeal to our values of protection.”

It’s not just protection that makes these superheroes so appealing.

“The reason why comics are typically so successful is because people find parts of what they want to be in their superheroes,” said Jim Yeager, a communication graduate assistant and avid comic reader.

Yeager explained why comic books appeal to a diverse audience.

“Kids will want to see it because it has a lot of action and cool superheroes. Adults recognize the intricacy of the plots and have read the comics in the past,” Yeager said.

Instead of saving the world, the comic movies now focus on more realistic issues such as discrimination, faith and acceptance of self, Yeager said.

But no matter what comic Hollywood decides to produce next, Berg said he only has one request.

“I just want to them to be good. They increase sales when they’re good,” Berg said.