The comic book boom

This started as an article to figure out why comic book movies have become such big business, and ended up morphing into the comic book culture itself. The change turned this Features Editor into a bearded Alice in a magical world full of powerful creatures, mutants and strange men in brightly colored tights.

Hollywood is full of comic book heroes and villains, some better than others. In recent years, one can’t throw a stone in the valley without hitting a multimillion-dollar blockbuster based on a comic book series or graphic novel, again some better than others. With the summer releases of comic book films such as “Thor,” “Green Lantern” and “Captain America,” comic book movies are at an all-time high with more to come – “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises” hit theaters spring/summer 2012.

But why have film studios become so focused on comic books in recent years? It could be that an original idea is hard to come by nowadays. Or maybe it’s because the comic book culture is becoming a more accepted and respected medium.

“‘Nerd’ culture is being more accepted,” said Northern Kentucky University communication professor John Gibson. “Comics have always been, I think, fairly accepted. I think it is interesting that it is now becoming so much more at the forefront.”

Comics have been around for decades, but the books and the people who read them have flown under the radar up until recently. In one way, the culture itself is still laying low. In another, the culture is out in the open for everyone to gawk at.

“It’s no longer shameful to like comic books, Star Wars, anime or video games. ‘Nerd’ has become cool,” said senior English major Cheyenne Hamburg. “This subculture is now so cool and accepted that people are aspiring to be a part of it. It’s a good time to be a geek.”

While elements of comics have been in the pop culture lexicon for years, it has been the success of comic-based movies, like “The Dark Knight” in 2008, that have brought this once-fairly unknown culture to the surface. “The Dark Knight” was arguably the most successful comic book movie, grossing approximately $1.1 billion worldwide and earning eight nominations and one win at the 2009 Oscars.

“‘Iron Man’ and ‘The Dark Knight.’ The summer those two movies came out, I remember looking at those movies, and like, this is how you make a comic book film,” Gibson said.

Hollywood studios know films about comics equal outrageous ticket and merchandise sales because of the already entrenched fan base — the fan boys and girls. To be a comic book fan is to be obsessive.

Early production photos of a film cause uproars on blogs and message boards, on websites like Topless Robot and IGN. Fans love the characters within the glossy pages; so much that anything that isn’t exactly correct to the source material is a disgrace to the genre. But despite all of the ranting and raving that is done online, those fans still go and see the films.

“It is easier to connect to nerd communities … if you can’t find a community to be a part of online, you don’t deserve to call yourself a nerd or a geek,” said NKU English professor Andrew Miller.

So much of what made a nerd, well, a nerd has become mainstream. What does that mean for nerds? According to English professor John Alberti, it means nerds are going to rule the world because of computers.

No one knows how long the comic movie craze will last, but as long as there is an audience comic book films will be made. The success of “The Dark Knight” will be hard to duplicate but where there is money to be made, studios will continue to make adaptations of comics and graphic novels.

“There is a lot of concern about when the wave will suddenly break,” Alberti said. “There is a lot of nervousness about how long this will continue, as well.”
Where there are comic book movies there will be fans picking apart every aspect of the films, loving or hating it as they do so. The “enduring” subculture will make sure comics stay alive.