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Superhero Films Bolster Area Comic Shops

A recent surge in comic-book movies has helped sales at two local comic-book shops.

With movies like "X2," "Daredevil" and "Spider-Man" all becoming box office hits along with the forthcoming "Hulk," Hollywood has seen a trend in adapting comic books to the silver screen. But has this emergence of comic films helped those who spawned them in the first place — the comic-book industry itself?

In a word, yes, but not for the simple reason of a boom in sales.

Edwin Gumel, owner and manager of E.G. Comics in Vienna, says that in the 1930s, 70-80 percent of all children and teen-agers read comics.

"Today, that number is around 10 percent," Gumel said. "However, we have seen sales go up ... although not necessarily all that much."

The release of "X-Men" in 2000 marked the start of an avalanche of comic movies, some of which have already been released but even more of which have yet to arrive in theaters.

"It had been so long since a comic movie had been good," said Ian Sattler, manager of Big Planet Comics’ Vienna location. "It wasn’t until 'Spider-Man' that we knew for sure that this was the start of something big."

Both Gumel and Sattler agreed that industry reports stating a 14 percent boom in comic sales in 2002 coincide with spikes in sales at their respective stores. Both shops have already seen a rise in sales for the title "The Incredible Hulk," whose big screen counterpart hits theaters Friday. It isn’t just more kids running into stores to pick up the comics.

"Most of my customers are actually guys in their 20s," Gumel said. "A lot of kids left comics in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s because of things like video games. Now there are more younger kids coming in, thanks to the movies, but some are guys who read the titles 10 years ago and want to see what they’ve missed."

The case is pretty much the same at Big Planet, according to Sattler, who said sales of trade paperbacks, volumes containing reprints of a collection of older comics, are what are really selling now.

"The most consistent growers are trade paperbacks. They allow people who haven’t read comics in years to jump in and get caught up."

The small but growing number of young readers is essential, though, according to Gumel.

"The 20-year-olds that jump back in may not stay hooked for long, but it’s the 8-year-olds that become captivated," Gumel said. And it is these new young customers that are pivotal to the future of the industry and small shops such as E.G. and Big Planet.

THE COMIC INDUSTRY itself is already adapting to its newfound gold mine.

"Marvel Comics screwed up during the release of the first ‘X-Men’ movie because the comic titles were in the middle of a complicated, arching story line," Sattler said, which he says scared off a lot of potential readers. With the recent comic movies, he said, "Marvel did it right by clearing up the story lines so new readers could jump right in."

Some longtime fans have become a little upset when Hollywood uses creative license to modify certain characters or stories from the way they originally appeared in the comics. Vienna comic collector and longtime comic fan Pat Marcantuono isn’t disappointed, however.

"I think most of the recent movies have been great," Marcantuono said. "You can’t do everything exactly how they were in the comics. It’d be too much to pack into one 2-hour movie."

Gumel agreed, saying as long as Hollywood doesn’t stray too far, it’s OK to modify things a little.

"I’ve heard plenty of complaints," Gumel said. "As long as they get the idea kind of right, that’s all right. If they put Spider-Man in a pink costume, then that’s too much."

With a plethora of comic movies rumored or officially going into preproduction, such as the "Fantastic Four," "Iron Man," "Hellboy," "Punisher" and "Elektra," to name a few, the slight boom that stores have seen recently may only be the beginning. According to Sattler, comics books have entered a sort of renaissance in their writing style.

"There’s been more good writing in comics in the past five years than there’s ever been," Sattler stated.

And while the long-term collectible value of comics is down for the time being, Sattler said he really doesn’t care.

"I don’t want a collectors’ market," Sattler said. "I want happy readers."