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.

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.

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

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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.

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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.”

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

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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.

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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.

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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!