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The Lowly Comic Book Movie

By Bert Ehrmann

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Fort Wayne Reader


Earlier this Summer, the movie Spider-Man 3 opened to huge business, raking in an estimated $300 million in ticket sales in the month of May alone. But the real surprise hit of the year (so far) was the "swords and sandals" epic 300. Released in March, this "little movie that could" cost an estimated $60 million to produce yet managed to take in over $200 million at the box office with a DVD release set for later this Summer.

Other than lots of action and little in terms of plot intricacies, these two movies seem to share very little; one takes place in modern day New York while the other takes place in the time of ancient Greece. But each movie shares a parent: the lowly comic book. Though many know of Spider-Man's relation to the comic book, he first appeared in the pages of Amazing Fantasy in 1962, I suspect few realize that the movie 300 also began life as a comic book mini-series of the same name. In fact, there are a lot of movies that owe their origins to the pages of comic books.

As influential to generations of Goth kids as it was to comic book geeks, the late 1980s comic mini-series The Crow was turned into a movie of the same name in 1994. Now mostly remembered for being actor Brandon Lee's final movie (he was killed during filming in an on-set accident), The Crow is actually a very good movie about a murdered man (Lee) returning from the grave via the help of a mystical crow in order to avenge the death of his fiancé. Three forgettable sequels and a television series would follow.

Most people think of the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (TMNT) movies being spun out of the highly successful television cartoon of late 1980s when, in fact, the whole TMNT franchise rests squarely on the pages of the original TMNT comic book. This first issue of TMNT appeared in 1984 and quickly became one of the most highly collectible comic books of the 1980s. Currently, TMNT #1 lists on ComicsPriceGuide.com at $1,000. I can't tell you how many flea markets and garage sales I visited in the 1990s in the hopes that this time might be THE time that I stumbled across this issue forgotten in a box of quarter comics. Apparently, this dream wasn't meant to be.

One of my all-time favorite comic book mini-series is V for Vendetta (1982). Gritty, believable and scary, this original "future-noir" 1984-esque comic story was everything that the 2005 movie was not. Also gritty in both the comic and movie versions was the early 1990s comic Sin City that would be translated almost exactly (too exactly if you ask me) into the Sin City (2005) movie.

And what about the ultra-violent A History of Violence (2005) and the Tom Hanks as bad guy gangster Michael Sullivan in Road to Perdition (2002)? Yep, both started as comic books. Even the Will Smith Tommy Lee Jones sci-fi comedy Men in Black (1997) was based on a comic book from the early 1990s.

This Fall yet another comic book makes its journey from the pulpy pages to the big screen. From all appearances, the film version of 30 Days of Night closely follows the story in the comic book. In this movie, a family of vampires wanders into the town of Barrow, Alaska during Winter when there's 30 straight days of night before Spring – perfect for Sun-phobic vampires.

What I find most humorous is that though movie producers have no qualms about developing movies based on comic books, they don't like to refer to the source material as "comic books," instead relying on the more scholarly sounding "graphic novels." Though both 30 Days of Night and 300 began as comic books, 30 Days is called a "Graphic Novel" and 300 as being inspired by the "Graphic Novelist" Frank Miller in trailers promoting these movies.

I hate to break it to these producers, but the only difference between a comic book and graphic novel is one is a bit thicker than the other, that’s it. 300 the DVD is set to hit store shelves July 31. E-mail me at words@dangerousuniverse.com.

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