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:

Long Lost xx.jpg

And, look at this character work:

Long Lost page x.png

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:

Seuling07 small.jpg

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

Seuling_Fox small.jpg

Seuling seated next to DC writer Gardner Fox.

Dealers02 small.jpg

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

Dealers04 small

Dealers room (2 of 3)

Dealers05 small.jpg

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.

Harvey01 small.jpg

Harvey Kurtzman

Harvey04 small.jpg

Harvey Kurtzman (2 of 2)

Frazetta01 small.jpg

Frank Frazetta

Kane01 small.jpg

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.

Cap annual

Image from Comics.org

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

secret wars 2.jpg

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:

Joe and Brian

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:

full group.jpg

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

Dick and Cindy Swan

Dick and Cindy Swan.

Crowd.jpg

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

the spread.jpg

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.

Flying Colors.jpg

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.

See me this Saturday: An evening with Joe, Joe, Brian, Dick, Mike, Libby and Bud

In a few days, I’ll be going to California for an event honoring of some of the people featured in my book. The hosts are Joe (pictured above) and Libby Field and their store, Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff in Concord, just east of Oakland.

This is free and open to the public. Here is the event listing. If you’re anywhere near, you should come.

I could spend thousands of words on each of the special guests. Heck, I probably could write a treatise on the facial hair stylings of Dick Swan.

But I’m going to limit myself to just a thought or two for each person.

Joe

Joe Ferrara

Joe Ferrara: The longtime owner of Atlantis Fantasyworld in Santa Cruz, he is one of those people who seems to know everyone in comics, making his shop a regular destination for top creators.

Joe and Libby Field: This husband-and-wife team are co-owners of Flying Colors, with him doing the marketing and events, and her handling much of the business side. He is the public face — known for coming up with the idea for Free Comic Book Day among many other things — and he says that she deserves much of the credit for the store’s success.

Lilly and Joe Field

Libby (second from left) and Joe (second from right) Field, along with two of their three daughters, Jenny (left) and Michelle (right).

mike

Mike Friedrich

Mike Friedrich: An accomplished comics writer, a boundary-pushing publisher of Star*Reach, and Marvel Comics’ first manager of sales to comic shops in the early 1980s. He and Joe Field owned and operated WonderCon when it was based in the Bay Area.

Brian Hibbs: A man unshy about expressing his opinion, he owns Comix Experience and Comix Experience Outpost in San Francisco, and writes the long-running “Tilting at Windmills” column which now appears at The Beat. Here is a recent scorching he gave to the Marvel Legacy initiative.

20170831+Comix+Experience+staff+photo+serious+2

Brian Hibbs

Bud Plant: He has done just about everything in the comics business, co-owning his first shop when he was in high school and going on to a succession of groundbreaking businesses, such as co-owning the retail chain Comics & Comix, becoming an independent publisher, and running a mail-order book business that continues to bear his personal stamp. He still edits his monthly catalog and helps decide which titles are worthy of the label, “Our highest recommendation.”

IMG_1341.JPG

Bud Plant behind his desk at Bud’s Art Books in Grass Valley, California.

dickswantoday2

Dick Swan

Dick Swan: He goes way back with Bud Plant, and later would be part of Comics & Comix and have his own shop, The Big Guy’s Comics in Mountain View. Now he is semi-retired near Santa Cruz, giving him more time to admire an epic comics collection.

There are some great storytellers in this group, and they have deep connections with each other. The Bay Area has long been a hub for the country’s comics business, due in large part to these people (plus others who no longer live in the region, and some who died way too young). And, there are a few who are not announced guests, but are still in the area and just might make an appearance.

The photos of Ferrara, the Field family, Friedrich, Hibbs and Swan are all used with permission. The other photos are by me.

How in the world did you do that? Or, Thank you Ryan Claytor!

In writing about the business and culture of comic shops, I went to many shops in many states, and interviewed the owners, managers and even some customers.

My book has 40 brief profiles of notable shops of the US and Canada, from Nova Scotia to Los Angeles.

People have asked me how I had the time and resources to do all that travel. The answer: I didn’t.

I did most of the reporting in three breakneck trips that hit several cities each, and through a few weekend day trips. And that left about a dozen stores that I couldn’t get to.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I could put together a travel schedule, I needed to know which stores to feature. To do that I reached out to many people, and I want to put a spotlight on one of them.

Ryan Claytor is the cartoonist behind Elephant Eater Comics, and a faculty member at Michigan State University where he teaches comics studio art. I met him when he was exhibiting at the Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo, or SPACE, in Columbus (a great show, by the way), and we got to talking about comic shops.

(Here is a recent podcast in which Ryan is interviewed by his college’s dean of arts and letters.)

Ryan loves comic shops, and he has been to more of them in more places than just about anyone I know. He has toured extensively to promote his self-published comics, and he has produced videos as many of his stops.

When I told Ryan about my book, I shared a list of the stores I was planning to visit and profile. My list had a lot of the usual suspects that often show up on “best of” lists, plus a few I had discovered on my own or had been suggested by others.

Ryan’s response was something along the lines of, “That’s a good list, but…” He then suggested many more shops that he said were worth a look.

I ended up including at least five shops that he suggested. Because of timing and location, I couldn’t visit any of these, but was able to write about them by interviewing the owners and getting background notes from Ryan and others.

Here are three of those stores:

Tate’s, 4566 N. University Drive, Lauderhill, Florida

Tate’s is one of the most innovative pop culture stores, with a mix of comics, toys, odds and ends, and an unmistakable vibe. The founder and co-owner, Tate Ottati, started when he was a teenager and has built his business into a destination.

First, take a look at Ryan’s video from his visit six years ago:

Tate was a great interview. He swears a lot, and has strong opinions about how a retailer should work hard to create a space that is fun and inviting.

His company, which he runs with wife Amanda Magnetta-Otatti, and a veteran staff, can serve as a model in many aspects of how it is run.

tates

Tate Ottati behind the counter at his store. Photo used with permission of Tate’s.

 

Southern Fried Comics, 136 E. Front Street, Hattiesburg, Mississippi

The comics business would be much better off if every small city had a shop like Southern Fried Comics in Hattiesburg.

Again, let’s start with a Ryan Claytor video:

This store is co-owned by Barry Herring and Jamye Foster, a husband-and-wife team. Jamye is active in the wider comics business as a board member of ComicsPro, the trade group for comics retailers.

Barry does most of the day-to-day work at the store, which emphasizes comics in book form and art. Jamye teaches full time at the University of Southern Mississippi.

The store looks great, with white walls and fixtures, and an uncluttered feel despite being in a small space.

southern fried

Photo courtesy of Southern Fried Comics.

 

Alternate Reality, 4110 S. Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas, Nevada

One more time, let’s start with a Ryan Claytor video:

Alternate Reality is about three miles from the Las Vegas strip in a strip mall. It is an unlikely spot for a great comic shop with a deep selection.

For the book, Ryan wrote a testimonial about the store, which sums up its many virtues.

Alternate Reality’s store image is immaculately kept. It’s one of the (very few) stores my wife will request we visit. Patrons are greeted with organized areas, constantly curated shelves, and a clean, welcoming aesthetic. Last but not least, Ralph Mathieu is one
of the nicest guys I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. He also supports local artists by designating a section of his store as an art gallery and signing space. Beyond the gallery, which regularly rotates artist exhibitions, the remaining walls of Alternate Reality serve as a more permanent display for Ralph’s extensive personal original art collection, including work by heavy hitters such as Dan Clowes, Tony Harris, and J. H. Williams III, to name but a few.

Thank you, Ryan. I’ll see you at SPACE!

 

‘Please join me in welcoming Gib Bickel’

I had a great night on Saturday talking about comic shops and signing books.

About three dozen people came to my book launch party in Columbus. The location was Rambling House, a bar and music venue in my neighborhood, and its people were great hosts.

I spoke for a few minutes, and then brought Gib Bickel to the stage. Gib is the co-founder and manager of The Laughing Ogre, the comic shop that has a prominent role in the book.

As luck would have it, another Ogre co-founder, Rod Phillips, was in the audience. About 20 minutes into the program, we asked him to come up, and he and Gib told how they met, and how they feel about what the shop has become. Laughing Ogre opened in 1994, co-owned by Bickel, Phillips and Daryn Guarino, three friends who had gotten to know each other about from working at the same Wendy’s store.

In the photo above, that’s Phillips on the left, Bickel in the center and me on the right.

Columbus’ comics community showed up in force, along with my co-workers from the newspaper, neighbors, friends and family.

This was a low-budget affair, but I think we pulled it off. My wife baked four chocolate cakes, which were part of a formidable refreshments table.

cake

While we spoke on stage, a slideshow played in a loop showing some of the people and stores from the book. This photo, by Clay Geerdes, is of a Diana Schutz from her Comics & Comix days. Diana went from that great Bay Area chain of stores to a career as a comics editor.

Diana

After the program and book signing, many of us hung around for Rambling House’s Saturday show. The band was Erika Hughes and the Well Mannered, and they were incredible. If you ever have a chance to see them, do it.

Here is an excerpt from what I said the introduce the evening:

Whenever I’m traveling in a new city, I want to visit the nearest comic shop. The best comic shops are deeply tied to their cities, with work by local artists, and a specific vibe.

But I know from my work writing about businesses that comic shops shouldn’t really exist.

What I mean by that is the shops have a business model that that is damn near impossible. They buy most of their products on a nonreturnable basis from publishers. Other media retailers like Amazon can return unsold goods for a credit.

So, if a shop buys a 100 copies of the hot new comic, and that comic is a utter bust, the store is stuck. Do this enough times, and you’re out of business.

One great retailer told me he has to eat all his mistakes. This gave me the image of a guy actually eating paper and cardboard.

Despite all the hazards, there is a vibrant network of comic shops. They make you feel good about the world.

My goal with this book was twofold, two questions to answer.

1. How did things get to be this way? That’s about the origins of the business in the 1970s, when comics seemed to be fading as a mass medium, and a colorful bunch of characters essentially invented the modern comic shop. Much of today’s comic shop business model can be traced back to those early days.

And 2., how are these entrepreneurs doing today, when all brick-and-mortar retailers feel like their days may be limited?

Comics as a medium, as an art form, are doing spectacularly well. Now this is my highly subjective assessment, so take it for what it’s worth.

Comics are becoming, or have become, a mass medium again. Ask an elementary school kid about comics and they’ll light up and tell you about Zita the Spacegirl, Bone and the work of Raina Telgemeier. These comics are mainly read in book form, and mostly are sold outside of comic shops.

In addition, there is a growing audience for comics as art and literature.

At the same time, the market for superhero comics is flat or even shrinking. The core audience of adult men is increasingly fed up.

The best comic shops – the comic shops that are going to survive – are welcoming to the growing audiences, while trying not to alienate the old ones. They have a deeply stocked kids section and a staff that can sell kids books.

One of those shops is just a mile or two from here. To tell you about it, I’m going to read you a mericfully short excerpt from the book:

On a Saturday, Gib Bickel sees a woman step into the children’s section of his shop. He approaches and gives his usual opener: “Canwehelpyoufindsomething?” The woman, with tattoos down both arms, is shopping for a graphic novel for her daughter. She has no idea what to get, although a book called Hero Cats has caught her eye. He points her toward something else, a favorite of his, Princeless.

“This girl, she’s a princess,” he says. “Her dad puts her there in a tower with all her sisters until a prince will rescue her, and there’s a dragon guarding her. And then she’s like, ‘Why am I going to wait around for some dumb boy?’ So she teams up with her dragon and they have adventures.” Sold.

Bickel has hand-sold more than one hundred copies of Princeless, a small-press graphic novel that has become a cult hit and been followed by several sequels. This is what he does. It is what makes him happy.

Please join me in welcoming Gib Bickel.

One more thing:

Heidi MacDonald interviewed me on the Publishers Weekly comics podcast called More to Come. It was fun. Listen to it here.

 

Jim Hanley: ‘We wanted customers to buy their comics from us, for the rest of their lives’

A young man became co-owner of a comic shop in 1983 in Staten Island. The initial name was The Merchant of Venus, which he soon changed to The Fantastic Store.

But this guy is best known for the business he opened next, two years later, the one with his name on the sign: Jim Hanley’s Universe.

Hanley 1 small

Just a little shop in Staten Island. All photos used with permission of Jim Hanley.

He talks about his early struggles by saying, “I didn’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out.”

He told me this at least a half-dozen times, with only minor variations in the wording. I bet his family has heard it hundreds of times.

He and his new business partner were able to get their footing and expand into a small chain of shops, including two in Manhattan.

Hanley 5 small.jpg

One of the Jim Hanley’s Universe locations in Manhattan.

In the process, he became known as one of the most innovative retailers in the business, making friends with like-minded people such as Rory Root in the Bay Area and Joel Pollack in the Washington, DC area.

Hanley was a counterpoint to the many shop owners who didn’t know how to set up an inviting space or deal with customers.

“We always approached it as merchants, rather than thinking customers were lucky to buy their precious comic books from us,” he said. “We wanted customers to buy their comics from us, for the rest of their lives. When they asked for something, the next time they came in, we wanted to have it for them, so they had no reason to look anywhere else for it.”

Hanley 2 small

Here at Jim Hanley’s Universe is a guy whose name tag says “Jim Hanley”

He will tell you that he often was a difficult boss, a perfectionist with strong opinions.

He had great success and terrible failure, and he told me about all of it in hours of interviews.

“Never confuse brains with a bull market,” he said, something he first heard from a Wall Street guy.

Now he is retired and living in the DC area. His legacy is all over the comics business. If you’re in New York, visit JHU Comic Books, the rebranded two-store chain that is owned by former Jim Hanley’s Universe managers and was started using the assets of the former business.

In Middletown, New York, Peter Dolan owns Main Street Comics. He was a manager at Jim Hanley’s Universe from 1986 to 1994. Dolan is known in the business as the president of ComicsPro, the trade group for comic shop owners.

One of the pleasures of working on my book was getting to know Jim Hanley.

Learn more about Hanley and the comics business in my book, COMIC SHOP: THE RETAIL MAVERICKS WHO GAVE US A NEW GEEK CULTURE, which went on sale Oct. 11 at comics and books retailers.

****** UPDATE 10/16/17: Jim had some comments about this post on Facebook. Here is a sample, in response to someone asking about the “pinolia nut” sign to his left in the top photo:

“That’s the little store next door. They were an electrician’s office, where the wives of the electricians ran a candy & nut business to help wit the rent. Evan used to call them Nuts & Volts. Within six months of this, they hired a receptionist and the wives went back home. Turned out that there wasn’t any money in candy & nuts.”

The comments thread includes fellow retailers Joel Pollack and Joe Field, saying nice things. Both of those guys are in my book, and I’ll be seeing Joe soon at this great event he’s planned.

Incidentally, this post got more views than any other in the (brief) life of this site.