It wasn’t long ago that picking up a comic book or playing a computer game resulted in ridicule for many individuals who were subsequently given the title “geek.” But now, the tide is turning across the country as shows like “The Big Bang Theory” and video games like “Call of Duty” seep into the mainstream. Last year, Marvel’s “The Avengers” made more than $1.5 billion in global box office, according to www.boxofficemojo.com . What was once a term to shy away from has now become cool. Hip 2 Be Geek is a weekly series that explores aspects of geek culture seen right here in the Wiregrass.
Artez Jiles spends most of his time working three jobs to support his two children.
But nearly every Wednesday for the majority of his life, he’s made time for his favorite hobby: reading comic books.
“I’ve been reading them since high school,” said Jiles, 41, who lives in Ozark and buys his books at Empire Comics in Enterprise. “It’s a relaxer. It takes you away from what goes on in real life.”
Jiles is far from alone.
According to www.comicbookresources.com , retailers ordered more than 6.7 million comics in April.
From their inception in the early part of the 20th century, comics were geared toward a young audience.
Beginning in the 1970s, however, the medium’s reach began to grow, and works such as “Watchmen,” “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Sandman” gained critical respect throughout the 1980s, extending the field’s popularity into academic circles.
The massive success of recent comic book-inspired movies such as “The Dark Knight” and “The Avengers” has led to another surge in popularity, and now comics are enjoyed by children, teenagers, college students and older people alike.
“I started last year around August,” said Dylan Buehler, 17, of Enterprise. “I just watched a lot of TV and got into it, the whole mystery and ‘continuing next week’ aspect of it. Plus I like meeting people (at the comic book shop).”
George Martin, another Enterprise resident, has seen the industry’s maturation firsthand.
“I just grew up reading them since I was 10 or 12 and just went through high school,” said Martin, 49. “I quit for probably 10 years and then started back just steadily getting into it, and it’s stayed with me since. It’s just to get away from the real world sometimes, I guess. Comics have changed a lot over the years. They’ve kind of grown up with us.”
Robert Ball, 40, has been a faithful comic book reader since his youth, when his Army father would bring home comics for him to read during the family’s relocations.
The hobby has only grown since then.
“I think the stories are what (make people interested),” said Ball, an Enterprise resident. “They actually do a good job with the stories now. Back in the ‘70s, when I started reading, the stories were not nearly as developed as they are now.”
For younger readers, other media such as television and film initially sparked their interest in comics.
“I collected them as a kid a little bit, then I got out of it. When the movies started coming out in 2000 and 2001, that piqued my interest and I dove back into it,” said Jon Smith, 30, of Dothan.
Now Smith regularly picks up his favorite titles, particularly X-Men books, and is gradually introducing his son to superheroes.
“I think a lot of (the appeal) is recapturing youth,” he said. “I’ve got a 3-year-old and I’m excited every time he gets excited about comic characters. In a couple more years, we’re going to be able to really share something.”
Enterprise native Blake Marler began reading comics thanks to a new marketing initiative from DC Comics, “The New 52,” after years of watching cartoons such as “Justice League” and “Batman: The Animated Series.”
“I collected every single book of ‘Flashpoint’ and I collect most of the books in the ‘New 52,’” said Marler, 20. “I would say everybody can relate to (superheroes). Even though people say you can’t relate to Superman, everybody can, because Clark Kent, while he is this great super being, he’s still very human and down to earth.”
Smith’s influence actually led his friend, Dothan resident Tyson McDaniel, to give comics a shot just a few months ago.
“Growing up, we didn’t have the resources to do anything like that, so I never considered it as a form of entertainment,” said McDaniel, who now buys new issues of “Batman,” “Detective Comics” and other titles each month. “I like it. It’s got an old school feel to it, something tactile you can put your hands on. It’s pretty cool. You have that whole month of anticipation waiting on the next part of the story.”
For those who haven’t read comics before, one book pops up most often as a recommendation: Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ “Watchmen,” first collected in 1987.
“One of my friends, he hated comics. I could never get him to try anything,” Marler said. “I gave him my copy of ‘Watchmen’ to read, and now he’s hooked. He comes in here regularly and picks up (trade paperback collections).”
For more information on Empire Comics, visit www.facebook.com/EmpireComics.AL.