An update: What’s good, what’s weird and what I’ve learned

My book has been out for almost exactly two months. I’ve heard from many readers and had some great fun doing events. While I expect that there still are reviews and reaction to come, I have a pretty good idea of how my work is being received. Below is a far-from-complete list of things on my mind during this eventful stretch.

Here’s what good:

• The book’s initial printing has sold out, and a reprinting is on its way. I was anticipating that the initial printing would be enough for the calendar year, but sales started strong and have remained steady. This is great news, not only because it shows support for this project, but it demonstrates that there is an audience for this kind of story.

• My family and I drove to Muncie, Indiana last weekend for an event at Aw Yeah Comics. Christina Blanch was a great host, and turnout was solid. I can see why her store has become a frequent destination for comics creators doing signings. See the end of this post for more.

Here’s what’s weird:

• The parts of the book that I expected to be controversial have not been, at least not yet. I’ll leave it to others to guess what those are.

• I am realizing the extent to which there is a regional element (I’m avoiding using the word “bias” here) when talking about the history of the comics retail business. Broadly, this is separated into two main camps: East Coast and West Coast. People from each side tend to talk about the early days from the perspective that their region was on the leading edge, and its people were the pioneers. Here’s why I find this weird: I’m from Iowa, where we often feel like everything happened somewhere else. And, the pioneers of the business were from all over, not just one or two metro areas.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

• Let’s call this the “Tintin Rule.” If I’m walking into a comic shop for the first time, I look for whether there is a children’s section and whether Tintin books are on display. The presence of the Tintin series by Hergé is a strong indicator that I’m in a good store. I realize this may sound random, but I found it to be true over and over.

And that brings me back to Aw Yeah Comics. The store covers two floors, and the upstairs is packed with old books and comics, many of which are at bargain prices. I found a nearly complete run of Tintin paperbacks for $5 each. I bought four of them. Sometime soon, I’m going to write about another book I picked up, the black-and-white reprints of Alex Toth’s Zorro from Eclipse Books.

Thank you to Christy and everyone who attended. Here are some photos:

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After my signing, Christina Blanch and I held a discussion on the store’s cozy second floor. This photo was taken by someone seated on an extremely comfy couch.

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Aw Yeah Muncie has one of the best children’s sections I’ve seen, and it’s located right inside the back door, which faces the parking lot. Not pictured are the shelves of kids books and the couch. Christy seems to have a thing for couches.

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The second floor has shelves of books and many long boxes of back issues. My one regret from this visit is that I didn’t not have much time to scan these shelves.

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Just to give a sense of the treasures to be found on Aw Yeah’s second floor, I found these Terry and the Pirates reprint paperbacks from NBM for $5 each.

 

Upcoming events: Meet me in Muncie, and Des Moines, and Bexley

This Saturday, I’ll be in Muncie, Indiana at Aw Yeah Comics, talking to owner Christina Blanch and signing books.

More on Aw Yeah in a minute. First, I want to give a rundown of public events over the next two months. I will update if things get added or otherwise change.

• Saturday, Dec. 2 at Aw Yeah Comics in Muncie, Indiana. Signing from 4 to 6 p.m., immediately followed by a discussion with Christy Blanch.

• Wednesday Dec. 27 at Beaverdale Books in Des Moines, Iowa. Meet the author event and signing starts at 4 p.m. I grew up in Norwalk, which is just south of Des Moines, so this is a hometown event for me.

• Wednesday, Dec. 27 at 515 Brewing Co. in Clive, Iowa. Happy hour gathering from 7 to 9 p.m. No program planned for this, just hanging out, with books available for sale. The taproom is managed by Matt Johnson, a high school classmate of mine who later was co-founder of Cup O’ Kryptonite, a comics-coffee combo store that was way ahead of its time.

• Thursday, Jan. 18 at Gramercy Books in Bexley, Ohio. Author night with Dan Gearino starting at 7 p.m. Gramercy is a relatively new independent bookstore in the Columbus area, and has been a great supporter of local writers. This will be my second Columbus event after the book launch in October.

Now, about Aw Yeah Comics. When I started writing my book, Aw Yeah was one of the first stores I visited. Christy and her crew went out of their way to accommodate me at a time when my project was barely formed.

Aw Yeah is part of a loosely connected three-store chain, with other stores in Skokie, Illinois and Harrison, New York. The Muncie store is in the city’s downtown. It has an inviting children’s section, and an enticing mix of back issues. While I was there, I saw how the location attracts foot traffic from lots of people who are new to comics. The staff has a knack for making recommendations and turning one-time visitors into regulars.

In addition to owning the store, Christy just completed her doctorate in education at Ball State University, and she is a writer and teacher.

If you’re in or near Muncie this Saturday, you should stop by.

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The Aw Yeah Muncie crew, photographed at a recent convention. Christy is notably not wearing her logo gear, probably because she was spending half of the day moderating panels.

Watch this: Green Brain Comics’ weekly video

One of my favorite comic shops is Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. Co-owners Katie and Dan Merritt (pictured above) have a fun, deeply stocked store that is an important part of the Dearborn and Detroit-area community.

If I was starting a comic shop, I would spend some time at Green Brain and copy just about everything they do.

Today, I’ll mention just one of those things. Each Tuesday, Katie and other staff members do a live video in which they run through most of the new stuff coming out that week.

In addition to promoting new books, the whole vibe is priceless, showing that this place is fun and welcoming. Other stores do videos like this, but Green Brain does it the best that I’ve seen.

Take a look:

I got this from the store’s Facebook page. I will update this post with the names of the other two employees.

Take my money, please: Someone publish new editions of Charlier and Moebius’ Blueberry stories

My introduction to Eurocomics came from The Comics Journal, a magazine that was readily available in my Iowa hometown while many of those comics were not.

This led to a odd experience, repeated time and again, of reading about a comic years before reading the comic itself.

I thought of this over the weekend when I made a find at Half Price Books. Get a load of this:

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That, my friend, is Jean-Michel Charlier and Jean “Moebius” Giraud’s cowboy classic, Blueberry. Marvel’s Epic Comics imprint did this run in a series of paperbacks in the late-1980s and early-1990s.

Unfortunately for me, the books were at close to market prices, which are steep considering this stuff is long out of print. I ended up buying just one.

I suppose I am holding out for a high-quality hardcover series that must be just around the corner. Right? Anyone?

As has been noted elsewhere, “We are at peak reprint,” and that certainly applies to European comics translated into English. I can get a great editions of Valerian and Laureline. Moebius’ sci-fi material is being collected by Dark Horse and it looks outstanding. Dean Mullaney is doing yeoman’s work with his EuroComics imprint at IDW. And, I must mention Fantagraphics, for many titles, including lots of Tardi.

In this embarrassment of riches, I still need to search for Blueberry, the pulpy genre work of two European guys telling the story of an American. The character, Mike S. Blueberry, is familiar: He is good with a gun, doesn’t play by the rules, and operates with a sense of personal honor. The wonder of these comics is how much the creators do within this framework.

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Until the next reprint series of Blueberry, here is some of what’s out there:

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• The Blueberry Saga: Confederate Gold, 1996, MoJo Press. This undersized, black-and-white paperback contains five stories and runs 288 pages. It can be had online for about $40. The print quality is hit or miss. I like being able to see the art in black and white, but the fact that it is being presented at less than its intended size is a problem, especially on highly detailed pages. By the way, this was the first Blueberry book I owned, and it seemed great to me at the time. The black-and-white illustration above appears in the introduction to this edition. (This book contains five full-length stories: Chihuahua Pearl, The Half-a-Million Dollar Man, Ballad for a Coffin, The Outlaw and Angel Face; plus a short story, Three Black Birds.)

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• Epic Graphic Novel series, 1989-91, Marvel Comics. This color, paperback series has 10.8-inch by 8.1-inch pages, which is larger than a typical American comic book. I count nine volumes, most of which have two-full length stories, putting them at about 100 pages each. The exceptions are the The Iron Horse and Steelfingers, which are 46 pages each. These are all out of print. If you see one for less than $30, buy it.

• Graphitti Designs’ Moebius series, 1989-91, Graphitti Designs. I have never seen any of these color, hardcover books in the wild, but they are evidently still available from the publisher for about $40 to $50, depending on the volume. There are four books of Blueberry stories, plus others that contain Moebius sci-fi stories. The first Blueberry book, MOEBIUS 4, has four stories, starting with Chihuahua Pearl; the second book, MOEBIUS 5, has six stories, starting with Angel Face; the third book, MOEBIUS 6,  has four stories, starting with The Iron Horse; the fifth book, MOEBIUS 9 has two stories, starting with The Lost Dutchman’s Mine.

I would suggest starting with Chihuahua Pearl, which is the beginning of fun and gripping serial, and also seems to be one of the easiest stories to find.

There are other English-language Blueberry editions floating around, including some from Egmont/Methuen that were initially published in the United Kingdom in the late-1970s, and one from Dark Horse 1990. (Thanks to Eurocomics.info, which I used, among other sources, to put this together.)

The cover images above are from Comics.org. All artwork, including cover images, is copyright Charlier and Giraud.

One more thing:

When searching Comics.org for Blueberry titles, I found one that clearly didn’t belong with the rest. See if you can find it.

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I for one would read a Blueberry/Cathy crossover.

Coming this Wednesday: Long Lost #1

So here’s my first-ever new comic recommendation on this site. This week marks the debut of Long Lost, a new series from Scout Comics by writer Matthew Erman and artist Lisa Sterle. They are a husband-and-wife team in Columbus, Ohio and there is good reason that the book has gotten some enviable advance publicity.

This is a domestic horror story about two sisters. Weird stuff happens. Funny stuff happens. It’s worth your time.

Just look at this page:

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And, look at this character work:

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I should note that I am not an objective observer when it comes to this book. I too live in Columbus, and I’ve crossed paths with Matt a few times and have met Lisa. He wrote a very nice review of my book for the features section of The Columbus Dispatch, which is the newspaper where I am a business reporter, and I’ve seen his writing in other local publications.

It would be great if Long Lost finds an audience, and I think it will.

 

1971: Mike Zeck, photographer

One of the challenges writing about the history of selling comics is that many of the people involved did not realize they were living through events that should be documented.

There is no trove of photos and original documents for many of the people and places.

Today, I want to focus on one of the great exceptions. I have a vivid sense of the look and feel of the 1971 Comic Art Convention in New York — Phil Seuling’s annual show — thanks to a young man who shot several rolls of film and held onto the negatives.

His name was Mike Zeck, a comics fan from Florida who had dreams of getting a job in the industry as an artist. He competed in the show’s costume contest as Marvel’s Black Bolt (pictured above), and won first prize.

(Mike tells a more detailed version of the story in the book.)

The 1971 Comic Art Convention was held July 2 to 4 at the Statler Hilton in Manhattan.

I saw a few of Mike’s photos online, and reached out to him for permission to use some of them in print. He was gracious, and took the time to prepare high-resolution versions for me.

Here are a few of them:

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Phil Seuling, the main organizer of the show, auctioning off the splash page of DC’s Showcase #29, “Last Dive of the Sea Devils.”

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Seuling seated next to DC writer Gardner Fox.

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The dealers’ room, where comics and original art were sold for prices so low that you would weep today.

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Dealers room (2 of 3)

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Dealers room (3 of 3)

Some of Zeck’s best photos are of comics creators speaking at panels. I am particularly struck by Harvey Kurtzman, with a wiseass grin and his first few buttons undone.

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Harvey Kurtzman

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Harvey Kurtzman (2 of 2)

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Frank Frazetta

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Gil Kane

As we now know, Zeck’s professional dreams came true. He was one of Marvel Comics’ star artists, known for his cover work in the 1980s and for being the artist on Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars and the Spider-Man story Kraven’s Last Hunt.

Here is one cover. I could list a hundred.

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Image from Comics.org

OK, one more cover. Seriously, I could go all day.

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Image from Comics.org

The cover artwork and characters, and Black Bolt, are copyright Marvel Comics.

Mike is doing well and is a regular at comics shows. Here is his website, and he does frequent updates on Facebook.

 

Gathering the old gang (updated)

On Saturday, I got to spend time with some of the people who were key interviews for my book. Flying Colors Comics hosted a panel discussion, and co-owners Joe and Libby Field were great hosts.

The Geek Speak Show was there and has put together this video:

In the video, the panel, from left to right was: me; Joe Field; Jim Friel, who has done just about everything in comics; Mike Friedrich, the writer, publisher and former Marvel Comics staff member; Dick Swan, onetime co-owner or owner of several comic shops including The Big Guy’s Comics in Mountain View; Bud Plant, another guy who has done just about everything and still runs Bud’s Art Books, a mail order retailer; and Brian Hibbs, owner of Comix Experience in San Francisco.

Here are some highlights:

(5:05) Dick Swan and Bud Plant talk about becoming comic shop owners while still in high school in San Jose. The store was called Comic World and each co-owner put in $21.25 per month for rent.

“It was all about trying to get more comics,” Swan said.

(9:03) Mike Friedrich remembers visiting Bob Sidebottom’s comic shop in San Jose, which was a competitor of Comic World, and how the experience helped steer him toward publishing comics.

“Those of us who were having fun had a good life,” Friedrich said. “People who were trying to make money at this had a miserable life, and they left.”

(12:33) Jim Friel tells how he got into the comics business, including time as the cartoonist behind Land Grant Man, published by an underground newspaper in East Lansing, Michigan.

(20:28) Stan Lee played a role in Joe Field beginning on the path toward the comics business.

(27:14) Brian Hibbs had the good fortune of opening his store right before the 1989 Batman movie.

“That totally changed the culture at the time,” Hibbs said. “Literally anything with the Batman symbol sold. It didn’t matter what it was. It could be used toilet paper and people would say, ‘I’ll give you $20 for that! It’s got the bat logo on it.”

(34:40) Bud Plant, and then others, give a brief history of the direct market for mainstream comics.

(40:41) Finally, we talk about Phil Seuling. Dick and Bud team up to tell the story of when they were teenagers driving across the country to stay with Seuling and his family in Brooklyn.

(51:45) Begin questions from the audience.

(1:02:40) An audience member asks about how Amazon is affecting comic shops. Field and Hibbs answer.

At 1:04:33, Hibbs turns this whole thing into a tent revival, which was a fitting way to end.

Some more photos:

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Joe and Brian before the panel. All photos are either courtesy of Flying Colors Comics, or taken by me or my wife.

It was a pleasant surprise to see Jim Friel, who was a last-minute addition. Jim lives in Oakland and is semi-retired, working Wednesdays at Escapist Comics in Berkeley, a store that will be the focus of a post here in the near future.

Joe Ferrara, owner of Atlantis Fantasyworld in Santa Cruz, was scheduled to be there but had to cancel.

Although I had interviewed everyone before, this was the first time I met Friedrich and Swan in person, and it was a pleasure.

Here is a group shot:

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Left to right: Jim Friel, Joe Field, Mike Friedrich, Dan Gearino, Dick Swan, Brian Hibbs, Bud Plant and Libby Field.

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Dick and Cindy Swan.

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We had a nice crowd, including a few people who traveled to be there.

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Joe and Libby Field put together a great spread for us, including sandwiches, meatballs and sweets that are not in frame. The guy behind the counter is Michael Eriksson of Flying Colors.

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Here is wider look at the store. I couldn’t find the time to rummage through the back-issue bins, which is a shame.

A few other notes:

• Check out Bud Plant’s listing for the book. Here is what he had to say:

I was tempted to lead off this week with this—I think it’s a fascinating book. But then I’m biased because I play a somewhat major part in the story. So in all humility, I’m listing it here. With the first 15 copies we sell we will include a slick 6×9 full color promotional card that we handed out at Comic-Con in July. I am signing and dating all copies. Full disclosure: I have two pictures, one contemporary and one from the early seventies in the book, and 21 entries in the index. Nuff said.

• I’m going to be in Muncie, Indiana on Dec. 2 for an event at one of my favorite shops, Aw Yeah Comics. Come out to see me and the store’s owner, Christy Blanch. Here is the event listing.

****** UPDATE 11/9/17: This post has been updated to add more photos, links and other elements.

****** UPDATE 11/12/17: I corrected the URL for The Geek Speak Show.