Comic books keep turning pages in history and culture, and on the big screen.
A scene from 1961 in “A Dog’s Purpose” shows Ethan, a youngster portrayed by Bryce Gheisar, delighted to read a “Captain America” graphic novel – but after his bedtime, thanks to a light under his bedsheets – beside his pet, Bailey, the first of several pooches voiced throughout the movie by Josh Gad.
On Feb. 10, “The Lego Batman Movie” opened a new year of movies starring comic book heroes, and a Super Bowl TV spot on Feb. 5 touted the second half of the seventh season of “The Walking Dead,” which AMC resumed at 9 p.m. Sundays as of Feb. 12.
Joe Sinnott began drawing comic book characters at age 23 for Stan Lee in the 1950s at Timely Comics – what later became Marvel Comics – long before superheroes flew to blockbuster heights so regularly in cinema.
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“I would never turn a job down,” said the 90-year-old native of Saugerties, N.Y., who winters with family near Murrells Inlet.
Sinnott (www.joesinnott.com) retired formally from Marvel in 1992, but still inks the Sunday strips for “Spider-Man,” as drawn by Bob Wiacek, which newspapers publish nationwide through King Features.
With his signature that concludes by crossing the two Ts into what could double as a stylish flowing pi-like symbol, Sinnott sat last month, showing a dining room table spread of his artworks that represent a sampling of characters from more than six decades with Marvel. He called The Thing, from The Fantastic Four – which Lee and Jack Kirby started in 1961 – as his favorite to draw, with Dr. Doom earning his gold medal among villains. Thor and Rocket Raccoon rank among his runners-up to bring to life with pencil and pen in hand.
Working at home through the decades in his own studio, Sinnott said he has delighted in drawing “all the Marvel characters” for comic books. They include the Fantastic Four and Thor stories “for 20 years,” and the Hulk, Silver Surfer, and Captain America – whose roots Sinnott remembers from his own service with the U.S. Navy Seabees in Okinawa, Japan, during World War II.
Sinnott said through superheroes chronicled in comics, Marvel receives fan mail from far away as Japan.
“We get to make friends with people around the world, really,” he said.
When drawing Marvel characters, a cast that also includes the Avengers, Black Panther, and Iron Man, Sinnott said he always he enjoyed framing the surroundings. In the space- and landscapes, look for his intricate details conveying their motion and power through his drawn lines, flashes, stars, rocks and other elements among superheroes’ footing.
Speaking to groups of youth and sharing insight into drawing, Sinnott said they love Spider-Man the most.
“It makes me feel great” he said, “to know that I make someone else feel good, especially the kids.”
Standing in his Western theme studio here with daughter Kathy Kiniry and husband Rex Kiniry, Sinnott showed some other passions he puts into art as a hobby, including American Indians, cowboys and George Armstrong Custer. He also has been honored to illustrate chronicles about such luminaries as Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, Mother Teresa, and Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, and favorite sports stars as New York Yankee legends Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle.
Thinking back to growing in a family headed by Sinnott and her late mother – his bride for 56 years – Kathy Kiniry said her father kept a “very regimented” daily schedule occupationally for Marvel Comics, such as hitting the drawing board by 8 a.m., breaking for a half-hour lunch, then back to work till past 4 p.m.
Always in touch with Lee, four years his senior, Sinnott said they saw each other in November to the Rhode Island Comic Con. Sinnott said Lee making cameos in so many movies with Marvel stars through the years has amused him, as does Lee’s stamina to sign hundreds of autographs at a show.
Meeting up with fans at an occasional comic book convention, Sinnott said people cherish the opportunity to take home an autographed sketch of a favorite character made on the spot, even after waiting “in aisles packed with people.”
“I work harder at a show,” Sinnott said, “than I do at home, drawing.”
‘Gold rush’ continues on silver screen
Robin Roberts, business partner with Steve Haines at The Palmetto Group’s Corsair Comics, in downtown Myrtle Beach, said the wave of comic book character movies “has been going for a while, and it’s not going to let up anytime soon.”
“American pop culture has always loved these stories and characters,” Roberts said, explaining how their presentation in cinema has changed and improved, especially since release of “X-Men” in 2000 and “Spider-Man” in 2002.
“That was the beginning of this genre of movies being taken seriously by Hollywood,” Roberts said.
Roberts also cited the “Batman” movie franchise, which begun in 1989 and carried over to multiple titles such as “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” in the next two decades, which all helped “turn another page” for Hollywood with heroes from graphic novels, and the silver screen outlet “has been in a gold rush since then.”
Comic book characters have been staples in people’s lives for decades, Roberts said, so “it should be a no-brainer” for production studios such as Disney’s Marvel Comics and Warner Bros.’ DC Comics to continue presenting their stories in cinema.
Asked what movie he awaits most eagerly among releases this year, Roberts named “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” out May 5 across the continent, on the heels of the tidal wave the flagship made in 2014. Roberts said the director of, and co-writer for, both the movies, James Gunn, has stayed “very accessible in social media,” and Roberts has appreciated conversing “with him a few times through Facebook.”
Roberts also remembers a time when “you’d wait six months for a movie” with comic book roots, but now, with so many story lines, fans can “pick and choose now.”
These movies and stories reach around the world. Roberts brought up how “Wanted,” a film from 2008 based on a comic book series by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones, was directed by Timur Bekmambetov, a native of Kazakhstan.
Roberts and Raines also continue planning the Palmetto Studios Arts Alliance’s 10th annual “XCon World,” May 19-21 at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center (www.xconworld.com). Roberts said with the rising popularity of comic book movies and the slew of TV series, the competition among conventions only stiffens for booking stars to visit.
“The nerd world has become mainstream pop culture,” he said. “Now the guests we try to book are in demand everywhere.”
Movies’ success fuels comic book circulation
Drew Johnson, a Thor and Hulk fan who co-owns Coastal Comics in Surfside Beach with his wife, Lindsay Johnson, said for this year, he’s most excited to see “Thor: Ragnarok,” opening Oct. 27.
Calling “Captain America: Civil War” the best movie of 2016, Johnson said with the parade of titles on the big screen, and many TV series based on comic book characters, such as “The Flash,” “Marvel’s Daredevil,” and “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” Coastal Comics’ book sales have increased in the past few years. Blockbusters, including “Star Wars” movies every year, help “drive this industry in general,” he said.
Praising “Independence Day,” an Oscar winner in 1997 for Best Effects, Visual Effects, Johnson remembered it being “highly touted as cutting edge.” He also sees the movies’ upsurge in presence benefiting from technology that has “come a long way” since the 1990s ... and caught up with stories” today, and they’re “so mainstream now, compared with just 10-12 years ago.”
Johnson said the sequels continuing from characters such as Batman result from opportunities “to really tell some of these stories” and that technology “gives these stories what they deserve to look like on screen.”
Impressed by “The Lego Movie” in 2014, Johnson said looked forward to “a lot of cameos” in the sequel headlined by Batman, and that studios making more of these kind of movies family friendly matters as well.
“They know the parents are bringing their kids,” Johnson said, calling that outreach as “bridging both worlds, so to speak.”
The Johnsons have staged two Myrtle Beach Comic Cons, and Drew Johnson said that with their “leaning toward next spring,” the date for a third event will be announced.
Encountering customers in the store, especially in a tourist market with guests “from other parts of the country,” Johnson said his horizons also widen with folks “asking me for books I’m not familiar with.”
He knows for sure, though, his wife’s favorite superhero.
“She’s always loved Wonder Woman,” he said.
Hollywood “on a kick’ with superhero movies
Duane Farmer, general manager of the Grand 14 Cinema, at The Market Common in Myrtle Beach, said Hollywood has gotten “on a kick” with superhero movies.
Speaking last Friday, on opening day for “The Lego Batman Movie,” Farmer said although Oscar-nominated movies command much attention at this time every winter, comic book character-driven movies remain “the No. 1 popcorn” attractions during summertime.
Farmer foresees “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” as “the big hit” for 2017, and that if “Wonder Woman” – out June 2 – does well, that success looks likely to extend to “Justice League” (Nov. 17).
He voiced his marveling at how producers craft story lines also in setting up forthcoming movies, “so we kind of keep watching” to see what develops.
Contact Steve Palisin at 843-444-1764.
If you go
▪ In theaters, confirmed for 2017 – “The Lego Batman Movie,” opened Feb. 10; “Logan,” March 3; “Wilson,” March 24; “Ghost In the Shell,” March 31; “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” May 5; “Wonder Woman,” June 2; “Fantastic Four 2,” June 9; “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” July 7; “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” July 21; “The Coldest City,” July 28; “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” Oct. 6; “Thor: Ragnarok,” Oct. 27; “Justice League,” Nov. 17; and “Gambit,” Dec. 31.
▪ 15th annual KidzTime Festival, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Feb. 25, including appearance by Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man till 3:30 p.m. (with occasional breaks), at Broadway at the Beach in Myrtle Beach. Free. 843-444-3200, 800-386-4662 or www.broadwayatthebeach.com.
▪ 10th annual “XCon World” – by Palmetto Studios Arts Alliance, based at 807 Main St., Myrtle Beach – May 19-21 at Myrtle Beach Convention Center, at Oak Street and 21st Avenue North. Advance: three-day badge $20, VIP package $90. 843-839-4840 or www.xconworld.com.