AMERICAN COMIC BOOKS ON FILM – Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film

The relationship between comics and film has been
explored further by filmmakers inspired not by newspaper strips but by comic books. Since the end of
World War II, American comic books have been dominated by the superhero genre, and the last decades of the
twentieth century saw an explosion of superhero-related
movies as major summer releases, beginning in 1978
with the version of Superman by Richard Donner
(b. 1930), starring Christoper Reeve, and its assorted
sequels. The superhero blockbuster was elevated to
another level in 1989 with the version of Batman by Tim
Burton and its three sequels in the 1990s and a fourth in
2005. Both film series were financed by Warner Bros., a
division of TimeWarner, and based on characters published
by DC Comics, another division of TimeWarner. These
synergistic films set the standards for future superhero
movies and were followed by a host of imitators, many of
which were inspired by lesser-known characters published
by smaller comic book companies. These included The
Crow (1994), Tank Girl (1995), Judge Dredd (1995),
Barb Wire (1996), Men in Black (1997), Spawn (1997),
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), and Hellboy
During the superhero film explosion of the 1990s,
the rights to many popular characters published by
Marvel Comics were tied up with small, independent
film companies that were unable to bring the characters
to the screen. By the end of the decade, however, Marvel
had regained these rights and began to license its characters in a wide array of films. The most popular of these
were X-Men (Bryan Singer, 2000 and 2003) and SpiderMan (Sam Raimi, 2002 and 2004). Less successful were
Daredevil (2003), The Punisher (2004), and the adaptation of Hulk (2003) directed by Ang Lee (b. 1954).
Despite the centrality of the superhero in postwar
American comic book production, a number of other
genres have been fruitfully explored, and many nonsuperhero comic books have been adapted to film.
Children’s comics, for example, have been the basis of
several works, often nostalgically reviving classic comic
book characters long after they had ceased to be published. Harvey Comics published the long-running Richie
Rich, which was the source for a 1994 film by the same
name, and in 2001 Archie Comics’s Josie and the
Pussycats was adapted to the screen.
In a very different tradition, the underground comics
revolution of the 1960s resulted in a spate of adultthemed films rooted in their subversive style. Among
the best-known of these works is Fritz the Cat (1972)
and its sequel, The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat (1974), by
Ralph Bakshi (b. 1938). These were based on the character created by the cartoonist Robert Crumb (b. 1943),
who was so appalled by Bakshi’s films that he killed off
the comic book form of the character in an attempt to
distance himself from Bakshi’s version. Post-underground
comics were also the source material for films, including
Altman’s O. C. and Stiggs (1987), based on the National
Lampoon–published comic strip, and American Splendor
(2003), based on Harvey Pekar’s autobiographical comic book series. Other adult-targeted works based on comics
in nontraditional genres include the Jack the Ripper story,
From Hell (Hughes Brothers, 2001), based on the comic
book by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, and Ghost
World (2000), adapted for the screen by Daniel Clowes
(b. 1961) from his own graphic novel.