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May 4, 2015

Comics soar into mainstream success

By Madison Lomas

While Ray Langhurst may not own a Batmobile or live in a mansion with a secret underground cave, his career path has in fact been inspired by the nocturnal crime fighter himself.

Langhurst, a criminology major at Cleveland State University, is on his way to do some crime fighting of his own as he prepares to enroll in the Cleveland Police Academy after graduation this year.

“Batman is a crime fighter, and now I’m going to be a crime fighter,” Langhurst said.

Down to the watch on his wrist, it’s easy to tell that Langhurst is a huge fan of Batman. If Batman has been featured in it — whether it is a comic book, TV show or movie — Langhurst knows all about it.

Since the Batman reboot with “The Dark Knight” trilogy, Batman has become more popular in the movies, and the story Langhurst discovered as a kid is now getting more attention than ever.

“I love how [the Christian Bale Batman movies] are a different take on Batman, but still familiar enough where it goes back to the comics,” Langhurst said.

There has been a growing appeal for comics in entertainment, as they have been the inspiration for more movies and TV shows than ever before. The increase in output for comic book stories in entertainment has brought growth to their fan base as well.

With Marvel Comics seemingly taking Hollywood by storm, the box office has been flooded with people every year who continue to line up for movies like “The Avengers” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which both originated as comic books.

“The Avengers,” which was released back in 2012, grossed more than $200 million in its U.S. box office opening weekend alone, and went on to earn more than $600 million domestically.\

Even though comics seem to be an integral part of mainstream entertainment, there are still many fans like Langhurst with a passion for comics who continue to feel unwelcome.

“I don’t make my nerdy stuff public — I read comic books, I do [Dungeons and Dragons], but I also play rugby,” Langhurst said. “Never should those two things meet.”

Despite continuous thoughts of insecurity from comic book lovers, its rapid mainstreaming is certainly helping remove that negative connotation.

Cleveland native Marc Sumerak is a freelance comic book writer who is well known for his work as an editor for Marvel Comics. His works at Marvel include stories such as “Thor,” “Fantastic Four” and “Ironman.”

“Stereotypes are always unfortunate,” Sumerak said. “While I've met plenty of fans who live up to the classic portrayal of comic book geekdom, the majority of fans are normal people like you and me who are simply passionate about good storytelling, beautiful art and a healthy dose of escapism.”

Sumerak believes that the surge of comic culture is nothing but beneficial for the community. Movies and TV seem to be more open minded than ever, using more and more bizarre content that may not have been accepted in years past.

“With the success of major movies and TV projects, many once-obscure characters have now become household names,” Sumerak said. “It's always rewarding to see something that you enjoy making its way into the hands of a wider audience.”

This wider audience of superhero movies is also affecting the world of comic book conventions, as the size in attendance continues to grow each year. These are events that allow fans to come and get a behind-the-scenes look at their favorite comics, movies, TV shows and even the people behind them.

“What I've found most interesting is that each [comic convention] tends to have its own unique identity,” Sumerak said. “Some focus on classic comics and legendary creators, while others focus more on big name TV and movie guests.”

The big comic-con that takes place in San Diego, Calif. every year, had more than 48,000 people attend the event in 2000. More than 130,000 people attended last year’s convention and these conventions are only continuing to grow.

Despite the increase in fans, one thing that has remained constant in the comic-con community is cos-play, or costume play, which is when comic enthusiasts go to conventions and dress up as their favorite characters.

Roman Macharoni, a communication major at Cleveland State, is the president of the comic book club here on campus, but that is not all he is involved in. He has been to several comic book conventions such as Wizard World that went on this past February in Cleveland, and has created elaborate, detailed costumes of his favorite characters such as Moon Knight, which was his most recent project.

"Cos-play is its own culture within a culture," Macharoni said. "[It's all about] getting dressed up, talking to other people about cos-play and how we made our costumes."

Macharoni is happy with the way comics are blending into popular culture, and thinks that comics in entertainment will be around for a very long time.

"People are willing to try new things," Macharoni said. "Hollywood is always looking for new, original material, and comic books have 75 plus years of original great material."

As more material has been put into more movies and TV shows, comic book stores have seen an effect within their business as well.

John Dudas, of Carol and John Comics in Cleveland, has seen more people looking to go even further with their favorite comic book stories.

"As a business, we're confident that anything that can get people into our shop is a good thing, because we have so many great stories to share with them," Dudas said.

Over the past four years, Carol and John Comics has seen a 60 percent increase in sales.

While he is grateful for his store's success, with the help of the entertainment industry, he isn't very keen on what it's doing to the community as a whole.
"I like to see the movies when they're up, but I wouldn't really like to see some of my favorite comic stories turned into movies," Dudas said.

Although every comic film or show that has been released has received a lot of attention, Dudas believes that like the Westerns, this will only be a phase.

John and Carol Comics are taking advantage of this "phase" as they prepare for the biggest weekend of the year - Free Comic Book Day - starting May 1, where they are expecting more than 3,000 people.

"There are not many small businesses out there that get to tie themselves into a billion dollar movie franchise," Dudas said.