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Film director Smith gets ‘Comic’ for TV

Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

Writer-director Kevin Smith (pictured at the Television Critics Association winter press tour) stars in “Comic Book Men,’’ which premieres Sunday night on AMC.

PASADENA, Calif. - If Kevin Smith is ever at a loss for words, it certainly wasn’t evident when the writer-director-actor-stoner-orator (“Clerks,’’ “Chasing Amy,’’ “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back’’) attended the Television Critics Association press tour last month to chat with reporters about his new reality series, “Comic Book Men.’’

Premiering Sunday on AMC at 10 p.m., the six-episode series will chronicle the happenings at Smith’s comics shop, Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash in Red Bank, N.J. Some of the show’s faces - including manager Walter Flanagan and former employee/longtime customer Bryan Johnson - will be familiar to fans of Smith’s films.

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Q. What is it about comics that is unique as an art form that is not true of animation or live action or novels?

A. What I’ve always liked about them is [they’re] one of the only pure American art forms. We invented the comic book in our country. I mean, we didn’t invent the illustration, but we invented all in color for a dime. So it’s one of the things like jazz that Americans can actually claim for their own. I just dig it, though, because it’s escape. It’s like reading, but it’s reading lite. It’s reading with pictures, and we all like that. It’s like going to Denny’s. You don’t just read a menu, you look at the [food]. Same thing here, read the stories, look at the pictures, graphics, it takes you back to our beginning as storytellers. They found those scrawlings, pictographs on cave walls. So apparently we were telling stories with pictures even before we formed words.

Q. How are you finding the TV industry?

A. The experience with AMC has been religious. I don’t watch the [expletive] that’s on TV. I watch two channels: AMC, because I [expletive] love “Mad Men,’’ “The Walking Dead,’’ “Breaking Bad.’’ My wife loved “Rubicon.’’ I couldn’t understand it. And I watch Oxygen because I love “Snapped.’’ I love to see women who kill their husbands.

[Smith then launches into an epic tale of how he got connected to AMC through Charlie Corwin of Original Media who told him that the network was interested in cultivating a “geek’’ audience that enjoyed shows like “Comic’’ lead-in “The Walking Dead.’’]

So Charlie’s like, “You got any ideas?’’ And I said, “Dude, honestly, no, because I didn’t have a good time in TV last time [with the short-lived animated adaptation of “Clerks’’ in 2000]. But if you were going to do anything, you should do a reality show set in a comic book store because everybody knows comic book culture now. ‘The Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy is a well-known figure, the stereotype has traveled [so] that you don’t have to explain it to people anymore.’’

Q. Are there people who come into the store just hoping to meet you or the employees?

A. Yeah. They’ve had this podcast (“Tell ’em Steve Dave’’) which, while it’s not mainstream, in the world of podcasting, it’s pretty big. So they’re used to a little bit of attention. The beautiful thing about Walter and Bryan, they have no interest in this. I called up Walter, and I was like, “Dude, you’re never going to believe this, but we might have a reality show on AMC.’’ And he goes, “I don’t want to do it.’’ I said, “Why?’’ And he goes, “Because I don’t want to be [expletive] Snooki.’’ I said, “You’re out of your mind. Everyone wants to be Snooki, at least for five minutes.’’ He goes, “Not me.’’ And I said, “Well, this could work as a really cool commercial for the store.’’ And Walter always likes to see people coming through the door because he knows [that means] he still has his dream job working at the store.

Q. A lot of people think the Superman Action comic, the first one, is the most valuable comic, the Holy Grail. What in your mind is the most valuable comic on Earth, and do you own it?

A. I would imagine the most valuable comic on Earth would be the comic that was made from whatever tunic Jesus wore to the grave. I don’t think it exists yet. And when it exists, I’m going to go after it.

Interview has been condensed and edited. Sarah Rodman can be reached at srodman@globe.com.
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