As 2008 comic book inspired movies topped the $1 billion domestic box office mark this past weekend, it comes as no surprise that Hollywood current fascination with comics is showing no signs of abating.And while superheroes like DC's Batman and Marvel's Iron Man are currently driving box office receipts to new record levels, the reach of the comics industry is going beyond crime-fighters and capes. With more than 40 comic book movies in production and dozens more optioned, Hollywood's recent attraction toward even non-superhero comics is becoming more and more obvious to industry insiders. "Every book I put out at least gets looked at now," said Steve Niles, the writer whose 30 Days of Night comic was adapted into last year's horror film of the same name. "It used to be that, if you had five books out, there might be one that got attention. Now, Hollywood just looks at anything coming out of comics that has movie potential." "I think what's happened is they sense that there's this garden of fresh ideas in comic books," said writer Hawaiian Dick writer B. Clay Moore, who currently has three properties optioned as films. "All these guys who are making comics are really just trying to make cool comic books. But to do that, you want something unique and different. And that's what Hollywood is seeing. I think they're reacting to that." Moore experienced Hollywood's excitement for comics first-hand at last month's San Diego Comic-Con when he met Lost actor Matthew Fox, who is slated to star in a Warner Bros. adaptation of Moore's upcoming comic Billy Smoke. Although the comic about a hit man-turned-hero hasn't even been written yet, Fox was enamored enough with the concept to visit publisher Oni Press' booth during the convention to promote the series. "Fox wanted to know if there was anything he could do to help promote Billy Smoke. So he came down to San Diego and we signed posters at the booth," Moore said. "And while he was in San Diego, he dropped into the middle of the Lost panel. And I've actually seen some people say, 'He didn't even answer any questions on the panel. Why'd they have him there?' The reality is, he was there as much for Billy Smoke as anything." Hollywood's interest in comics isn't necessarily new. It's been growing since the success of adaptations like The Crow and Men in Black in the 1990's, said Ross Richie, whose publishing company Boom! Studios has seen seven comics optioned for film since the company began in 2005. Those "heroic" stories resonated with movie-goers, and much of the attention on comics since those movies, Richie said, stems from advances in special effects technology. "It really all started in 1976 with Star Wars, which had a comic book sensibility," Richie said. "It just took Hollywood 20 years to catch on, and try to deliver a Star Wars sense of heroes and special effects and storytelling on a regular basis." "New ideas are key, and the fact that effects and green screen tech have opened up many doors," said writer/artist Jimmy Palmiotti, who has 19 of his comic book properties in development for other media. "It's now much easier to film a Watchmen because of it. You will see a lot of things coming up that we never dreamed could be shot." Of course, the growing interest from Hollywood doesn't necessarily mean all these optioned comics will suddenly become movies. As Palmiotti pointed out, only two of his 19 optioned properties have been made. But the success of movies like Wanted and Hellboy -- as well as the growing slate of films based on DC and Marvel superheroes -- indicates to many creators that there's hope for more comics to make it to film. "This is the summer that comic book material has dominated the box office -- including comics-inspired stuff like Hancock -- so you can be sure that it signals the studios will increase production in that area," Richie predicted. "They'll glut the market with product in a few years, but at the same time the good stuff will survive and it will continue to be a source of blockbuster movies." Moore said he'd love to see a Billy Smoke movie, but he mostly hopes to generate enough publicity for his comic book story to reach a wider audience. "I didn't conceive of Billy Smoke as a movie pitch. I conceived of it as a cool comic that [artist] Eric [Kim] and I could work on together. And if that's all it ends up being, that's fine," Moore said. "But quite often, these books struggle. The fact that we have this publicity in hand before the book comes out -- I'm hopeful that we'll move some issues. And not just to comics fans. Most of the people who came by the Oni booth to get posters signed weren't even, I don't think, great comics fans. They saw Matthew Fox there. "If we could make in-roads with Lost fans as well as comics fans, that would be great," Moore said. "And then actually get a film made, which, the reason I'm excited about Fox's enthusiasm is that it gets us one step closer to actually making it happen. Generally, you don't expect it to happen. 'Cause they'll throw a lot of money at a project and you'll never see a film version of it. But it's always nice to think it might."
Tomorrow, we look at what effect Hollywood's attention is having on comics book, and what the state of the industry might mean to the future of adaptations on the big screen.Related Stories: "Lost" is Found the Comic-Con 2008