'Geeks Get to Play Forever': Kevin Smith Goes From Clerks to Comic Book Men
For most viewers, Comic Book Men, AMC's first foray into the reality television genre (airing Sundays at 10 PM ET, beginning February 12) will be an entertaining, or at least diverting, variation on the hugely successful Pawn Stars format, as each week prospective sellers bring in old comics, posters, toys and other pop-culture collectibles to be appraised by the staff of Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash in Red Bank, New Jersey. For the millions of longtime and devoted fans of geek auteur Kevin Smith, the owner of the Stash and co-executive producer of the show, Comic Book Men will be the Clerks threequel and Mallrats sequel that were never made -- without all of the romantic subplots and extraneous drama to get in the way of the insanely knowledgeable, self-deprecatingly witty, razor-sharp fanboy banter (in his words: all Randal, no Dante). But for Smith himself, Comic Book Men is merely the latest extension of an 18-year-old (and counting) multimedia empire that has encompassed indie films, major studio features, TV animation, original comic books, live tours, merchandising and, most recently, an impressive network of podcasts under the SModcast Internet Radio umbrella.
While his contemporaries from the great '90s indie film boom have followed more traditional Hollywood trajectories to either great heights or great obscurity, Smith has channeled his passions and personal vision into projects beyond the big screen by taking full advantage of technologies such as web video and social media (he was an early adopter of both) to market to his loyal followers with a zeal and savvy that no major studio could hope to match, recycling talent, concepts and characters to maximum effect. Comic Book Men's stars -- store manager Walt Flanagan, hanger-on Bryan "Steve-Dave" Johnson, assistant manager Michael Zapcic and website producer Ming Chen -- honed their on-mic quips and chemistry on various SModcasts, such as "Tell 'Em Steve-Dave!" The S.I.R. network is an outgrowth of sold-out, on-stage Q&A's that Smith has hosted for years (some available on DVD), whose audiences were largely comprised of fans of films set in the View Askewniverse -- which included cameo appearances by Flanagan and Johnson, who in turn had helped inspire the movies in the first place. The continuity is dense enough to be a, you guessed it, comic book.