Movie industry experiencing comic relief

Movies are helping comic books gain more mainstream acceptance, even if the mainstream does not quite realize it. Over the last 10 years, comic books have been shrugging off the stigma of being geared toward children and are moving into a more grown-up market.

Sin City, released in 2005, was based on a series of noir comic books written by Frank Miller. The books contain violence and profanity as well as more extreme subjects, such as pedophilia, cannibalism and slave trading. The film grossed more than $74 million in the United States alone.

Road to Perdition and A History of Violence are two more violent, realistic films based on comic books. Both films were critical and financial successes, and both carried R ratings.

These movies not only brought the fantastic into a more realistic setting – although Sin City was highly stylized – but they also highlighted comics that have nothing to do with traditional superheroes.

Listings on the Web sites of Marvel and DC – the “Big Two” of comic books – show Western, horror, science fiction, fantasy and crime titles.

“Comics can be used to tell all manner of tales, both serious and silly,” said Brian Showers, a comic book collector and former editor. “And that’s beginning to happen more and more. But there have always been comics alternative to superheroes, though they may not always have been as visible or commercially viable as they are today.”

Comics are certainly commercially viable. Marvel stock has gone up $20 per share since 2002.

Part of this increase is due to greater exposure of non-superhero and mature books.

Sin City … made me interested in exploring its original format,” USF alumnus Bryce Page said.

However, mass communications student Ashley Smith expressed a disinterest in comic books.

“(I’m) just not interested in them,” Smith said. “The whole cartoon thing doesn’t appeal to me.”

Similarly, senior Charles Trippy said he used to read comics when he was younger but has since lost interest.

However, both Smith and Trippy said they enjoyed some of the recent comic book movies, such as X-Men and Spider-Man.

With such success and interest also comes recognition. Recently, Spike TV honored comic book writers – including Miller – at its Scream Awards show. G4TV spent four days in July covering the Comic-Con 2006 in San Diego, one of the largest comic book conventions in the world.

Celebrities are jumping on the comic book bandwagon, too. Musician Rob Zombie has started writing comic books, as have actors Thomas Jane, Rosario Dawson and Patton Oswalt.

The upswing in comics does not seem to be slowing. More movies based on comics are due out in the coming years, which means the books will get a higher profile in the public eye, which may lead to additional films.

“I don’t know if the (comic book) influenced film, or vice versa,” Showers said. “It’s probably not that simple. It’s probably more of a feedback loop.”