Guest column by Joseph Byrd
There was a time when comic books and graphic novels seemed like old-fashioned forms of fiction and entertainment. However, thanks in large part to a modern film industry that’s become obsessed with adapting these comics and novels, a whole new generation has become attached to them. Really, it’s been a gradual but fascinating development in popular fiction.
It begins with the films themselves. Since Iron Man debuted in 2008, the movie industry has been utterly dominated by superhero cinema. The Marvel Cinematic Universe now consists of over 10 films and will only grow larger in the years to come. This article reveals that the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War (due out in 2018) will include a whopping 67 characters from Marvel Comics. And it’s not just Marvel bringing comics to life on the big screen. DC Comics adaptations provide regular competition, and there have even been other prominent examples not related to the two publishing giants. For instance, popular 2010 superhero comedy Kick-Ass was based on a comic published by Icon (which to be fair is a Marvel affiliate), and movies like Sin City and 300 were based on Frank Miller works published by Dark Horse Comics. All of these films have helped to spark a renewed interest in source material among modern fans.
It’s also become particularly helpful that a number of the most prominent superhero movies have been based on very specific comics or graphic novels. For example, while a given Spider-Man movie might pull elements from several different comics and origin stories, some projects have essentially adapted screenplays from individual editions. This list ranked Frank Miller’s 1986 novel The Dark Knight Rises as the single best graphic novel out there, and millions of fans have now come to know it nearly 30 years later through the film of the same name. Likewise, Marvel has seemingly made a clearer effort to connect its own movies to specific projects. The aforementioned Infinity War movie will be based on a six-issue series of comics published in the ’90s, and this spring’s Captain America: Civil War actually pulls its story from one of the more modern chapters of Marvel lore, published in 2006-07. As long as movies remain so deeply rooted in comics, they’ll continue to spark new interest for younger generations.
But it’s not solely the movies that are helping to spread the word about some of the great comics and graphic novels out there. The gaming industry has also played a major role, largely through famous console-based titles like those in the Arkham Asylum series (which took its inspiration from a Grant Morrison graphic novel). But other areas in gaming have embraced the popularity of comic book characters, and in doing so helped to reach out to alternative audiences. This site is best known for catering to fans of casual casino games through offering a range of bingo, roulette and poker options to suit the genre. However, it’s also expanded to include slot and arcade games that invoke images and character names from popular comics and graphic novels. Iron Man and Batman are directly used, an “Amazon Queen” game implies a Wonder Woman connection, and even the Spartan 300 are used as thematic material for a game.
And then of course there’s the outreach to young kids, which is done differently now than in decades past. When comics and graphic novels originally rose to relevance, it was at least in part because there just wasn’t as much visual entertainment available. There was no regular television or film content, let alone any fit for children. Now kids have all kinds of other ways to entertain themselves, which means comics and graphic novels have lost what once may have been their greatest advantage. Still, there are a number of ways in which these characters and stories have been made available and appealing to kids.
Perhaps the most noteworthy development is LEGO’s partnerships with Marvel and DC to create gaming content that brings characters and storylines to life in a cartoonish manner. But on a more straightforward note, we’ve also seen comics and graphic novels made available electronically through app developers who recognize their new audience. Kids as young as two or three these days are learning to use smartphones and tablets, and parents now have the ability to load those devices with age-appropriate comic book material over time. It’s essentially modernizing the concept of a comic book.
Through all these developments, we’ve seen comics and graphic novels make a pretty remarkable transition into modern entertainment. And their popularity is only growing greater.