Before he was a big-screen actor in “The Dark Knight” and “Ant-Man,” David Dastmalchian was your ordinary average Kansas City comic book geek.
When he was a kid, he’d hop on his bike and trek from his house at 101st and Quivira to Clint’s Comics’ satellite store in Metcalf South Shopping Center.
“Clint’s is where a lot of this started for me,” he said. “It’s a surreal situation to be in as a grown adult to have a large part of my work be based around comic books that I have spent my entire life geeking out over. Sometimes I can’t believe I get to do this for a living.”
In addition to the aforementioned films, the Shawnee Mission South grad has appeared in the CW’s “The Flash” and Fox’s “Gotham.” He’s in the upcoming “Twin Peaks” revival and the “Blade Runner” sequel. He doesn’t do a lot of comic conventions. He’s making an exception for this weekend’s Planet Comicon at Bartle Hall.
This is the 19th go-round for the annual event. Thousands of fans are expected to venture downtown to dress as their favorite villains and heroes, flip through boxes of comics, purchase toys they’ll never unwrap and thrust sweaty palms forward to shake the hands of their geek gods.
The guest list includes non-comics-related stars, such as Jason Isaacs from the “Harry Potter” movies, Billie Piper from “Doctor Who” and wrestling superstar Ric Flair.
Oh, there are plenty of comics-related guests. From “Arrow” star Stephen Amell to local creators you may have never heard of (yet).
In recent years, however, comic book movies and TV shows have become so successful, it’s difficult to distinguish where comic books end and the entertainment industry begins.
“I think we’re in a place where comic books are a garden that Hollywood sees a lot of fertile ideas in,” says Shawnee-based comic creator B. Clay Moore, who also is scheduled to appear at Planet Comicon.
And the increasing demand for comic book content is the proverbial tide lifting all boats. Below, several of this weekend’s Planet Comicon guests discuss how the surge in popularity is changing their craft.
If you work in comics, you generally are on one of two tracks: You own the stuff you create, or you are hired to write or draw characters someone else created.
The creators of “The Walking Dead” comic book, for example, are involved in the making of the TV show because they own the characters and story. People who write or draw Superman for DC Comics or Captain America for Marvel Comics are hired to do so and generally claim no ownership.
Moore’s “Hawaiian Dick,” about a detective in a supernatural noir version of 1950s Hawaii, has been kicked around as a possible movie for several years. At one point, Johnny Knoxville of “Jackass” was attached to star. Some studio heads wanted to set it in the present day. And more than one were worried about the title.
And so, “Hawaiian Dick: The Movie” has gone nowhere. In a way, Moore thinks that’s fortunate.
“I never thought this was a concept that was particularly marketable in other media, but for whatever reason there’s always been interest in it,” he said. “But now I think the environment is kind of perfect for it with cable television.”
Moore has a production team in place to create a cable TV series, and, rather than losing the period details as some wanted to do, they’re leaning into the old school feel of it.
“Twelve years down the road it’s exactly where I want it to be,” he said. “It’s in a really good place.”
KC’s Dennis Hopeless, who went to K-State with the intention of becoming a screenwriter, started out with some creator-owned comics, which led to a regular gig with Marvel Comics.
He is finishing up his run on “Spider-Woman” and “All New X-Men” and soon will be taking over “Doctor Strange” from his friend and fellow KC-area comic writer, Jason Aaron. (Hopeless also is writing a WWE comic, which he says is a blast.)
Hopeless said the movie and publishing arms of Marvel work in concert, but one doesn’t influence the other too much. A few times a year, he joins artists and editors at Marvel Comics for publishing retreats, where they pitch their stories for the next year or so.
“Upper management will sometimes throw out, ‘Well, this is going to happen in the movie’ or mention some TV show stuff, but it’s always very vague, non-spoilery, implied stuff,” Hopeless said. “They’ll sprinkle just enough of it down to point us in directions.”
The biggest influence the movies have on the comics is popularizing even obscure characters. It’s hard to understand now how few people knew who Iron Man or Thor were before their respective movies. And Star-Lord from “Guardians of the Galaxy”? A lot of hardcore comic book fans didn’t know who he was.
Same goes for Marvel’s Doctor Strange, recently portrayed on screen by Benedict Cumberbatch.
“Comic book movies put superheroes in the public consciousness in a way they weren’t before,” he said. “Comic book fans have known for years that superhero stories aren’t just kids stories. The movies legitimize that.”
When Harley Quinn became the standout character from last year’s “Suicide Squad” movie, artist and writer Amanda Conner said, books featuring the character enjoyed a sales bump.
“We’ve been really, really lucky with the character,” said Conner, who works on the “Harley Quinn” comic with her husband, Jimmy Palmiotti. “Every once in a while we get red flags because we want to push the envelope and get away with stuff, but they’re really good about letting us tell our stories.”
Before she was a comic creative, she owned a comic store. Back then, it was difficult to find female customers.
“Sometimes they would come in thinking it was a bookstore and not a comic book store and they’d be like, ‘Uh, this isn’t what I was looking for’ and they’d just walk out,” she said. “The only girls I used to see (at conventions) were moms and sisters, and they were usually being burros for the guys getting their comics — ‘I’m just helping him carry stuff.’ ”
She also remembers that it wasn’t that long ago that films and TV shows based on comics were garbage.
“I don’t know if people making the movies then cared that much,” she said. “ ‘Ah, it’s for kids.’ And as kids, we were like, ‘This isn’t what we wanted.’ It’s kind of a fantasy-come-true to see comic book movies done really well.”
In the last few years, as those films based on comic books have improved, Conner has seen a diversification of the fan base.
“The upside is there were so many comic book fans who had babies, baby girls, and they said, ‘I’m going to get my daughter into comics when they can read,’ ” she said. “And I think all of those baby girls are in their 20s now and making up a huge part of the audience.”
Joplin, Mo., fantasy writer Ellie Ann had a New York Times best-seller only a few years back, when she was in her 20s. Today, she’s writing fantasy “easy readers” for kids in kindergarten through second grade.
“As a mom, teaching my kids to read, none of the easy readers were page-turners,” she said.
In one of her books, a vampire and a werewolf have to find a way to get along. In another, a thief learns to use her skills for good, thanks to the influence of a witch.
Comics are a big part of her life, and the movies have made them even more so. She’s a fan of the CW’s “Supergirl” series, and she can’t wait for this summer’s “Wonder Woman” movie. She said the movies help streamline the comic book experience for everyone.
“Comics are a very overwhelming hobby to get into,” she said. “If you walk into a store and say you want a Superman comic, there are like three different Superman comics. And there are seven different Batman stories going on. It’s overwhelming to start. Movies have brought the stories down so that everyone’s on the same level and told that one ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ story or that one ‘Supergirl’ story.”
Chris Claremont is a bona fide comic book legend. He worked for Marvel’s Stan Lee. He didn’t create Wolverine, but he made him who he is.
You could even argue that if it weren’t for his X-Men comics, there would have been no X-Men movies. To take it a step further, without the success of the X-Men movies, there’d be no Avengers movies.
Yeah, he’s kind of a big deal.
For Claremont, the appeal of both comics and comic book movies comes down to character.
“On a fundamental level, the movies are good for comics because they expand the character to a significantly broader audience spectrum,” he said. “They allow for a focused presentation of character and event that, when done right, can be breathtaking in its power.”
His most recent enthusiasm is the FX series “Legion,” which recently ended its first season.
“It really pisses me off that I have to wait a few months to see what happens next,” he said. “But I really want to see what happens next.”
Which is saying something. Claremont created the character of Legion with artist Bill Sienkiewicz nearly three decades ago. But he was impressed with what FX did with his baby.
“I think ‘Legion’ kicks up the bar immeasurably, in my humble and parochial and utterly prejudiced opinion,” he said. “Because it took what was a great character and just did him right and did him in a way that if I were doing it I would want to see it done. As a creator, I couldn’t ask for more.”
Claremont said there are good comic book movies (“Captain America: Civil War”) and bad (“Batman v Superman”). But if it were up to him, he’d just keep the comics separate from the movies and let each do what it does best.
“The job of the series writer and the series artist is to create characters and events and conflicts that the reading audience will find utterly irresistible and will make them count the days between issues with desperate enthusiasm,” he said. “Studios will get the word that, ‘Hey there’s an interesting storyline, let’s see what’s going on here.’ Or 20 years from now, a director will come in and say, ‘When I was a kid I read this, it was sooo cool. Let’s do the movie.’ ”
Planet Comicon is Friday through Sunday at Bartle Hall. Admission and passes range from $8 to $199 through planetcomicon.com.
Guests include: John Barrowman (Star of “Arrow,” “Doctor Who” and “Torchwood”), Shannon Elizabeth (“American Pie,” “Scary Movie” and “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back”), Ron Perlman (“Hellboy” and “Sons of Anarchy”) and Wil Wheaton (“Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Big Bang Theory”).