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From “date challenged” to creating blockbusters: “Batman” movie producer to speak on campus tonight

Brandy Cerne | Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Michael Uslan, the originator of the “Batman” movie series, which started in 1989, and the executive producer of “The Dark Knight,” is speaking about his career and the power of following dreams tonight in the Hesburgh Center auditorium at 8 p.m. Uslan talked to The Observer about his work with comic book movies and his advice for today’s college students.

What inspired you to pursue your dream of bringing Batman to the big screen?
I think it’s all about having a passion in life and taking your passion and incorporating it into your work. My passion has always been about comics and movies and taking those two things and making it work. I take my favorite comic book superheroes and make those into movies. It’s a sweet job.

You created the first comic book course at Indiana University in the 1970s. How do you feel comic books have influenced pop culture?
In a huge way. When I was growing up, we were commonly referred to as comic book geeks. We showed up at comic book stores every Wednesday for new comics, and attended the very first comic book convention with only 200 people. When I was 16 or 17, and girls found out I was still reading comic books, I became “date challenged.” Years later, comic books are now the biggest basis for blockbuster movies, videogames and TV shows. They are influencing pop culture on a worldwide basis. To fellow comic book geeks, I say, “We win.”

“The Dark Knight” was the fourth-highest grossing film worldwide. How do you feel about the success of these movies, and what do you think it means for movies today and what audiences want from a film?
I first bought rights to “Batman” in 1979 and set out to make the first dark and serious comic book film and was turned down by every studio in Hollywood. They said I was crazy, and it was the worst idea they ever heard. Now, studios are looking for brand names that can be built into franchises. Comic books do that. They are great stories that are character driven by colorful characters. What’s wonderful is that multiple generations have grown up with these characters. They appeal to parents and kids. For the older generation, they are nostalgic, and for young people, they are exciting and new. Comic books transcend cultures, geographic borders, demographics and have worldwide appeal.

Where do you see the “Batman” series going in the future? Are you planning another movie?
I’m actually not allowed to talk about that. But, there’s a brand new animated direct-to-DVD movie, “Superman/Batman: Public Enemies.” Batman is one of the great iconic characters. His origin story is so primal. Everyone can relate because he has no superpowers. His greatest power is humanity. He also has the greatest gallery of villains.

You just wrote the storyline in the Archie Comics that Archie got engaged. What made you have one of the world’s oldest bachelors get hitched?
Archie marries Veronica. This created a firestorm of international media attention. Sales compared to three years ago are up almost 2000 percent. It’s a worldwide soap opera, and everyone seems to care. According to my mom, I learned to read from Archie comics, so the fact that I’m now writing this historic storyline is a real kick.

Is there any advice you would like to pass on to college students today?
I would say, first, figure out your passion in life and try to make it your work. Have high threshold for frustration. There were 10 years of studios passing on Batman. Next, take calculated risks sometimes and roll the dice. Have a plan B and plan C. Life twists and turns all the time. This is actually what I’m going to be talking about tonight. I’m going to tell the story about my journey as a kid in Indiana with no money or contacts or relatives in Hollywood, and how I was able to make it.