omic books are very much a part of writer-director Kevin Smith's world. Comic themes dominate Smith's films "Mallrats" (in which Marvel honcho Stan Lee plays himself) and "Chasing Amy" (which concerns the lives and loves of comic professionals). Smith owns and operates Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash, a Red Bank comic shop named for characters in his fiirst three films. And Smith's office at View Askew, his production company is filled with superhero toys, shelves of graphic novels and framed comic art from his films. So - will Smith continue the comic-book thing in "Dogma," his next film?

"'Dogma' won't have as much," Smith said during a conversation at his store (which took place when "Chasing Amy" was still in release).

"'Mallrats' was all about fans," Smith continued. "'Chasing Amy' is more about the guys who actually create. 'Dogma' has a comic-book~feel to it.

"'Dogma' is very influenced by (comic-book writer) Neil Gaiman's early 'Sandman' end, to a large degree, books like that. Like, pre-Vertigo Vertigo books. Like, darker DC titles."

Which means Smith will try his hand at fantasy - something he hasn't touched on in his other films.

"Very much," Smith said. "It's got angels in it. Devils. It's the movie that's most like comic book - and like a modern comic book. It's dark. It's very psychological. But it's basically a fantasy, though. You don't have real archetypal characters.

"The three flicks we've done so far - even 'Mallrats,' to some degree - are kind of reality based. This one is not at all. It's about the end of the world."

(Miramax Films' theological comedy will boast Smith's most recognizable cast yet: Linda Fiorentino is the female lead; red-hot comic Chris Rock is Rufus, the "forgotten 13th apostle"; Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Alan Rickman are angels. Emma Thompson's spokeswoman confirmed that Smith sought Thompson to play God.)

Thus far, Smith has resisted big budgets. But with "Dogma" being in the fantasy realm, doesn't that automatically inflate the budget?

"It lifts us up, but it's still less than 'Mallrats,"' Smith said. " 'Mallrats' was $6 million. 'Dogma,' we'll do for between four and five. The special effects are going to be charmingly low-budget. Kind of like in the Sam Raimi realm.

"In other words, if you walk out of the movie going, 'Those were fantastic special effects!,' then you've missed the point of the movie.

"Rather than subject an audience to that, I just want to make it a you-can-see-the-strings kind of thing. The effects aren't going to be mind-boggling. They're going to be more like, 'I could do that.'"

Is there an idea bubbling in Smith's subconscious to one day make an all-out superhero flick?

''Definitely,'' Smith said. "There's an original one that I really want tp do. It's sitting there; it's been germinating for a couple of years now. It'll, be an anthology-type movie. I want to do that dow n the road some time."

It's not even out of the question for Smith to write specifically for the medium of comics.

"I was talking to (DC editor) Mike Carlin," Smith said. "They said they really want me to come in and write something. So I've been thinking - I would love to take over Green Arrow and bring back (alter-ego) Oliver Queen. I'd love to bring back Ollie. I would like to write Green Arrow for the comics, but I would like to do him for the screen as well.

"I was a big fan of the (Mike) Grell stuff, from 'Longbow Hunters' on, where he reinvents him and gets rid of the trick arrows."

Considering Smith's love for the medium, owning his own comic shop seemed like a natural (today, marks the one-year anniversary of the opening of Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash).

"It was something that I figured, once I'm done making movies, I'll kick back and do this for the rest of my life," Smith said.

Smith was once a customer at the store, back when it was known as Comicology. But after the previous owner moved to Taiwan, Smith took it over. One of the perks of operating a comic shop: "Just the idea of getting 50 percent of our books," Smith said with a laugh. "We used to get 15 percent off when he owned the store, but now we get 50 percent off because we own the store.

"But also the idea of making it Jay and Silent Bob's - it's not just selling Comicbooks, but also stuff from the movies."

Smith's most important lesson as a retailer: "What you learn is that sooner or later, everything goes. No matter how long something sits on the shelf - there's always somebody who'll come along and buy it."

-Mark Voger

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