Can Comics Grab Respect? Superheroes on the Big Screen Are Cool, but Comic-Books Fans Fight a Nerdy Stereotype. Maybe Hollywood Can Jump to the Rescue

By Lissau, Russell | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), August 7, 2003 | Go to article overview

Can Comics Grab Respect? Superheroes on the Big Screen Are Cool, but Comic-Books Fans Fight a Nerdy Stereotype. Maybe Hollywood Can Jump to the Rescue


Lissau, Russell, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Russell Lissau Daily Herald Staff Writer

Let's get right to it: I am a grown-up comic-book collector.

Unfortunately, there are no 12-step programs to help me deal with this often-embarrassing condition, no detox programs to break me of my passion for vividly illustrated superhero adventures.

If you're an adult who collects stamps, bar coasters, commemorative chess sets or virtually any other manner of memorabilia, you've got a hobby. Collect comics, and in mainstream society's eyes you're an oddball, a geek, a social misfit who might as well be living with your parents.

This despite the fact that some of the world's most beloved icons are superheroes. Who can't recount the tale of the Kryptonian baby rocketed to Earth from a dying planet, an infant who grows up to fight for truth, justice and the American way? What about the nerdy high-schooler who gains super powers when he's bitten by a radioactive spider?

You know these stories. Everybody knows these stories. Yet for some reason, few adults admit enjoying the comic books from which they came.

But I have hope. Comic-book heroes are red-hot in Hollywood right now, with Spider-Man, the X-Men and other costumed champions starring in blockbuster film franchises. Many more heroes - with monikers like the Punisher, Hellboy, Ghost Rider and Iron Fist - are headed to your local multiplex, too.

If millions of moviegoers will shell out 10 bucks apiece to watch Spider-Man duke it out with the Green Goblin or the Hulk smash everything in sight, people must think superheroes are cool.

"Comic books are sexy now," says veteran screenwriter and producer Jeph Loeb ("Teen Wolf," TV's "Smallville"), who's also a popular comic-book writer. "Those of us who have read more than a few comics through the years can no longer be portrayed as geeks who sit in their mom's basement with a computer."

Fans eat it up

Further evidence of comicdom's popularity invades Rosemont this weekend when the annual Wizard World Chicago convention hits town. Running Friday through Sunday at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, the show - featuring comic-book publishers, retailers, artists, writers and quasi-celebrities - is expected to attract more than 40,000 fans.

Aside from the few extremists who will attend dressed as their favorite caped heroes or heroines - and please believe me, I am not one of those guys - comics collectors are pretty normal. Predominantly grown men in their 20s or 30s, we're usually well- read and well-educated, according to industry surveys.

We're police officers and lawyers, investment bankers and business owners, county board members and (ahem) journalists.

Comic-book buffs also tend to be regular moviegoers. Most of the fans at Wizard World likely have seen at least one of the recent superhero flicks, and for the most part we have welcomed Tinseltown into our club.

"They're taking the characters seriously," comics enthusiast Jeff Wagner, a 45-year-old information-technology manager from Vernon Hills, said of the new crop of movies. "They're putting them into more realistic situations and treating them as if they're really real."

Hollywood likes superhero comics, Loeb says, because they come with action-packed stories, unique characters and built-in audiences.

"And best of all they are told in picture form, showing what the movie or television show could look like," Loeb adds. "It can be enormously helpful."

Films about superheroes work best when the spirits of the particular characters are preserved, says Paul Dini, an Emmy Award- winning television producer and writer ("Batman: The Animated Series," "Batman Beyond") who also writes comic books. It doesn't matter that Wolverine isn't wearing his traditional yellow-and-blue costume in "X2: X-Men United" because the movie reflects the hero's gritty attitude and motivation. …

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