When most people think of comic books, the first thing that comes to their mind is that comic books are for kids. Human nature is to stereotype things that they don’t really don’t understand. A kid with baggy pants and piercings is surely a troublemaker. Music with horns that doesn’t sound like jazz is definitely goofy. If you don’t live in a big city then you’re not as sophisticated and cultured. All stereotypes.
I’ve been reading comic books for about twenty years. I collect action figures, statues, posters, movies, cartoons…just about anything related to the world of comic books. I have been for years and will continue to do so most likely until the day that I die. In fact, my wife encourages it. If it weren’t for comic books, I would not be in the field that I am in. I love to go to work every day and do what I do. At times, I can’t believe that I get paid to do what I do.
Back when I was about eight years old, I remember going to the local grocery store and picking up some Spider-Man and Captain America comics. I used to watch the old Spider-man, Hulk and Captain America cartoons that my brother used to own. I would watch the Batman television show wide-eyed with wonder. I can’t count how many times I dressed up as Batman and Spider-Man for Halloween. I would create my own comic book characters as young as nine years old. As the early 90’s came around, I began to discover that a lot of my friends in school were also into comic books. I was not alone in these self-contained adventures anymore. There were others just like me. But then high school hit. While everyone else was all about getting drunk, having sex and being your usual high school pricks, I dove deeper and deeper into the glossy covered newsprint of the X-Men, Daredevil, Batman and Thor. Not only did comics provide me with an escape from the outside world, but also they provided me with admiration, ideals and inspiration. I wanted to create my own stories, my own characters and my own universe. I drew and wrote. I inked and colored. I would do it at family gatherings, in study hall, late at night on the weekends…at just about any opportunity that I got. I became what I am simply because I lost myself in the fantasy universes of Marvel, DC and Image Comics to name a few.
The one thing that always baffled me during my discovery of comic books was that most people never seemed to understand why I liked them. I became ashamed of liking comic books just because other people didn’t. People would laugh and joke and make snide comments as kids would. It inspired me to push harder…to prove everyone wrong. I never understood why people would discount comic books as a great source of entertainment. You got everything in one package, wonderful art, great storytelling and colorful characters all wrapped up in a $1.00 package. For those that don’t consider comic art a serious form of art, think of this: a painter can paint a portrait or landscape and it could take days if not weeks and usually a painter focuses and perfects one form or another…now take into consideration that a comic book artist has to illustrate everything from a persons’ facial expressions to their fluid motions as well as create everything from an imaginary fantasy planet to the New York City cityscape…all in the course of a couple of weeks. I deeply wished that something would open the eyes of those that were ignorant to the wonders of comic books. In 1992, the Death of Superman story caught national attention. Major newspapers like the New York Times printed articles and editorials…about a comic book character. Everyone in the world knows who Superman is, if not just by recognition alone. The Death of Superman caught the attention of the country…the world…and slightly opened the eyes of millions to the power of comic books. Shortly after that in 1998, a movie came out starring Wesley Snipes by the name of Blade. It became a huge hit. The one thing that most people didn’t know was that Blade was a comic book character. People seemed to be shocked by that fact. The Blade character was a badass vampire hunter that could have easily been mistaken for someone in a Dirty Harry movie or from the Terminator franchise. But here he was, an unknown underground comic book character in a feature length film that was successful. Sure, comic book movies were successful in the past. The Superman and Batman franchises were blockbusters. There was a Captain America and Punisher movie. Swamp Thing was a surprising hit. There were live action television series for the Flash, Superman and some second rate Batman characters but the only people that seemed to notice were the hardcore comic freaks like my friends and I.
In the year 2000, one of Marvel Comics biggest titles finally hit the big screen when the first X-Men movie was released. The X-Men were the black sheep of the Marvel Universe…the outcasts, the losers, the freaks. Naturally, I could relate to those characters the most. Much like Blade, most casual moviegoers had no clue that the X-Men even existed outside of the movie world. They had never read an X-Men comic and couldn’t tell you the difference between a mutant and a militant, but the movie had some big stars with draw power and the movie blew all expectations of it out of the water. More and more people wound up in comic book stores and at comic conventions. The plague was growing and I couldn’t help but revel in the disease. There was one more movie that was set to be released that I knew would destroy the boundaries between childish and entertainment for everyone…that would finally open the foggy eyes and clouded minds of everyone who thought that comic books were “just for kids”. The year, 2002; the movie: Spider-Man.
Arguably, the single most recognized character in the entire Marvel Universe is Spider-Man. His popularity goes toe to toe with that of Superman and Batman’s; his story more tragic and human than either of those characters. When the Spider-Man movie was announced, I breathed a sigh of relief. In my mind, I just had a feeling that this would be the movie that would finally show what comic books were all about. The context of “with great power comes great responsibility” and the consequences of ignoring that notion is one of the greatest ideals in the history of comic books, period. The story of Peter Parker was just too great for the world to ignore. Lo and behold, Spider-Man shattered box office records nationally and globally. GLOBALLY! A story that was written forty odd years ago, finally got the respect and credit that it deserved. People that I knew admitted that they had cried in theaters when Uncle Ben died. Those same people said that they cheered during the final battle between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin and then cried again when Spider-Man took his dead body home. The second time that I seen the movie in theaters, after the word about it had spread like a Southern California wildfire, people in the audience gave it a standing ovation during the end credits. Not bad for a stupid funny book character, huh?
With that trio of comic book movies (Blade, X-Men and Spider-Man), the floodgates were open for an assault into the funny book archives. Comic book movies have become their own genre. Just about everyone has seen a comic book movie by now whether it’s an obvious one like Hellboy, Sin City, Fantastic Four or the Hulk or the not so obvious underground hits like Ghost World, V For Vendetta or Art School Confidential or have watched a television show like Heroes.
Comics have seeped into our culture much like a spider-symbiote would seek a Peter Parker-hating host. The San Diego Comic-con has become another Cannes with all the big movie news being announced there nowadays. There are dozens of TV shows and even more big budget movies being announced every week with even more being planned as I type this out. So the next time that you chuckle because a zit-faced kid is reading an Avengers comic on the subway, think to yourself that you’re not as different as you think. In the subway across town, a business mogul, a computer tech assistant, the guy that designed the t-shirt that you are wearing or even that hot supermodel on the lingerie billboard could be reading that exact same book. The next time that you think to yourself that comic books are “just for kids”, remember that no matter where you turn, no matter what’s on television…you just can’t escape the influence that comic books have on our culture today. We were all kids once…and those of us who never really grew up are better off that way. To quote one of the greatest comic book writers of all time, Alan Moore. “To paint comic books as childish and illiterate is lazy. A lot of comic books are very literate – unlike most films.” And how many times do you watch a movie?