Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Escape From Reality –

Erick Munson goes through old records on a recent visit to the Astro-Zombies comic book store in Nob Hill. (Roberto E. Rosales / )

Copyright © 2021

Fernando Cuevas already has a sack full of comics and is still browsing Age of Comics, a store in 3700 Osuna NE.

Rare Spider-Man comics are on display in the Danger Room of the Age of Comics Store at 3700 Osuna NE. (Roberto E. Rosales / )

He’s into Batman and Batman-related comics.

“I like the dark,” he says of his predilection for the Caped Crusader, who first appeared in DC Comics in 1939.

Cuevas, who wears a mask with the Batman logo on it that day, is not a kid. He is 43, works in a medical laboratory company, is married and has two sons aged 12 and 3.

He says he spends $ 80 to $ 120 a week on comics.

“But I don’t smoke or drink,” he says. “I give these guys (Age of Comics) my money.”

Cuevas said his sons are also comic book fans.

“My 12 year old likes (Marvel Comics superhero) Iron Man,” he says. “We always go back and forth about what’s best – Batman or Iron Man. My 3 year old is in (Marvel’s) the Hulk. He loves to smash things. “

Look at the screen

Comic books have been a factor in American popular culture since the 1930s, but perhaps never before has their reach and influence been so great.

It goes beyond the comics into toys, movies, and television. A current listing of the top-grossing American films of this year shows that four of the top 5 – “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”, “Venom: Let There Be Carnage”, “Black Widow” and “The Eternals” “- are based on comics. This list was compiled before Spider-Man: No Way Home released on December 17 (the film grossed $ 260 million domestically on the opening weekend).

Mark Van-Martin shows off his Joker tattoo while standing in the Danger Room at the Age of Comics Store, 3700 Osuna NE. (Roberto E. Rosales / )

Matt Trujillo, 38, co-owner of Age of Comics, said the power of comic films cannot be underestimated. He said the buzz is that the just-released Spider-Man movie could be the movie that will save cinemas that struggled to survive the pandemic.

“When we opened in 2013, the Marvel movies that were just released (Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) helped us get started,” he said. “The films created a wider audience for comics. You have people coming in for the comics ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Captain Marvel’. “

Greg Trujillo, 52, Matt’s brother and co-owner of Age of Comics, said not only the movies but also comic TV series are a driving force in the business.

“Hawkeye,” a series with the Marvel Comics master archer of the same name, debuted on the Disney + streaming service in November. Other comic-inspired TV series include “The Boys,” “The Umbrella Academy,” “Invincible,” “Locke & Key,” and “Loki,” the latter about the adoptive brother of Marvel superhero Thor, the Norse god of mischief. Comic book readers and / or collectors range from 5 or 6 years old to senior citizens.

“Our largest population is in their mid-30s,” said Matt Trujillo. “Seventy-five percent are male. People collect for different reasons. Some people just collect for cover. It’s the art. Some people collect for the stories. Who is Batman fighting now? “

He said the average customer will spend $ 40 to $ 60 during one visit to the store, but there are some who spend $ 200 a week. “He just spent $ 300,” Matt said, gesturing toward a middle-aged man, a shopkeeper, who is walking out with a collection of Batman and Catwoman comics.

The Age of Comics store at 3700 Osuna NE is filled from floor to ceiling with comics and other popular items. (Roberto E. Rosales / )

Good boys

Scott Micheel, in his 50s, started reading comics when he was 8 or 9 years old. DC’s Superboy and The Legion of Super-Heroes were favorites.

He is now a longtime employee of Comic Warehouse, 9617 Menaul NE, one of New Mexico’s premier comic book stores.

“You’ve always published comics,” he said. Action Comics # 1 (which introduced Superman from DC) came out in 1938. This is the 60th anniversary of (Marvels) Fantastic Four. But the films have only had an impact in recent years. “

He said sometimes films take people to cartoon characters and sometimes the films are reminiscent of comic book heroes they loved reading about in their youth.

“You go to the cinema and say, ‘Oh yeah. It’s so cool and they come in looking for things they grew up with. “

Michel said that there are some people today who are more collectors and investors than comic book readers. Fans who love the books for the art and the stories refer to this other breed as speculators.

“If you know a character is featured in a movie, buy early comics with that character,” Michel said of speculators. “Comics are there to be read, but there are people who just want that perfect copy.”

And for a good reason. Comic books that originally sold for 10, 12, or 15 cents can cost a hell of a lot if they are in perfect condition. That year alone, an issue of Amazing Fantasy # 15 that debuted Spider-Man sold for $ 3.6 million, and an issue of Action Comics # 1 went for $ 3.25 million .

But to people like Michel, comics are valuable for another reason. “Comic book stories have gotten more nuanced in the last few years, but there’s still a good-bad-guy theme and that helps,” he said. Especially in today’s complex and challenging times.

“It gives a clear overview of what is right and what is wrong,” said Michel. “And usually the good guy wins.”

“People still love it when the good guy beats the bad guy,” says Mia Sanchez, manager of Lobo Comic & Toys. (Roberto E. Rosales / )

Strong women

Mia Sanchez agrees with Michel.

“People still love it when the good guy beats the bad guy,” she said. “It’s still very popular.”

Even so, Sanchez said her forte was DC Comics’ villains. Her favorites are Harley Quinn, a twisted former psychiatrist and once lovesick to Batman arch-rival Joker, and Scarecrow, another of Batman’s main enemies.

“Harley is going from villain to hero,” she said. “Personally, I like her more as a villain. But she’s also a good heroine. “

Sanchez, 23, is a manager at Lobo Comics & Toys, 1016 Juan Tabo NE. She said comic book fans are still mostly male, and she has found that when people at the store need help, they usually go to their male counterparts.

But she’s also noticed that more girls are coming to the store. She believes this could be due to the role women play in contemporary comics.

“I think female characters are definitely stronger today,” she said. “Batgirl has become a more powerful character.”

Sanchez began reading “a lot of DC Comics” at the age of 9, drawn to the artwork in books starring Harley Quinn as well as the animated Batman TV series.

She said DC Comics sells better than Marvel on Lobo.

“DC actually sticks to its storylines better,” she said.

“Marvel tends to start a lot more storylines. DC is easier. “

Red Planet Books & Comics, 1002 Park Ave SW, stocks a large number of titles by and about Native Americans. (Roberto E. Rosales / )

Take a step

Red Planet Books & Comics, 1002 Park SW, sells books, poetry, and a range of comic books, but is best known for its comics featuring Native American characters.

Store founder and owner Lee Francis IV, a Laguna Pueblo parent, publishes, distributes, writes and even designs Indian-themed comics.

At Red Planet you might find X-Men and Wonder Woman comics, but also titles like “Deer Woman”, “Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers”, “Ghost River” and “Native Entrepreneurs”, the latter two by Francis.

“Our best-selling comics are our Native American-style comics,” says Adrian Pilgrim, a 32-year-old store clerk. Pilgrim isn’t a Native American, but he’s black. So he has some opinions on how minorities are portrayed in comics.

“Under-represented,” he said, “but tends to be more representation.”

As a child, Pilgrim read Marvel’s comics X-Men and Avengers. “And I was definitely a Black Panther fan,” he said. “I was looking for someone who looks like me.”

Known as the first superhero of African descent in mainstream American comics, Black Panther was created by Marvel in 1966 but exploded in the 2018 film, which was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won three, known worldwide.

Pilgrim finds more encouragement in Marvel’s new series of Voices, which also includes Indigenous Voices, Native American writers and artists who band together to tell stories about indigenous characters; Marvel’s Voices: Legacy, which features black heroes; “Marvel’s Voices: Pride” with LGBTQ characters like Mystique, Iceman and Karma; and “Marvel’s Voices: Identity” with Asian heroes like Shang-Chi.

In addition, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is slated to hit theaters on November 11th.

Red Planet Books & Comics sells books, poetry, and a range of comic books, but is best known for its comics featuring Native American characters. (Roberto E. Rosales / )

“It’s in comics”

Chris Losack, 45, manager of Astro-Zombies, 3100 Central SE in Nob Hill, said comic book movies are not new.

Movies based on cartoon characters are nothing new, says Astro-Zombies owner Chris Losack. (Roberto E. Rosales / )

He’s right. “The Batman,” a 15-chapter film series, was released in 1943, and “Batman and Robin,” also a 15-part series, came out in 1949. “Superman and the Mole Men,” the first feature film to feature a DC Comics character, made its debut in 1951.

But these efforts were pretty crude.

“The difference now is that the films are finally able to make Fantastic Four (characters) look like they can reach out of their hands or send fire and Wolverine look like claws out of his hands come, ”said Losack. “Now films can make these things look realistic.”

Losack, who wears a Darth Vader mask, said Astro-Zombies has been in business for 22 years. He’s worked in the store for four years and claims to have been the Astro-Zombies’ first customer. Marvel’s Wolverine is his favorite cartoon character.

He said there is no doubt that comic books and TV series have boosted comics’ popularity, but he said the pandemic recently helped too.

“At the beginning of the year we were super busy because people weren’t working and had incentive money to spend,” said Losack. “People got stuck in their homes thinking, ‘What was I before life sucked it away? I liked action figures. I loved making models. I loved reading comics. ‘”

Around this time, a tall man in his 60s comes into the store looking for action figures, especially one depicting the human torch of the Fantastic Four.

And then a young woman in her late teens or early twenties asks Losack if he has any “Walking Dead” things. He shows her both toys and books.

The popular TV show began as a comic series published by Image Comics.

“Comics have it all – superheroes, horror, science fiction,” said Losack. “It’s fiction, escapism. You want to escape reality, read about dangers without experiencing danger. “

A collector’s gem, the Astro Zombies comic book store is located at 3100 Central SE in the heart of Nob Hill. (Roberto E. Rosales / )

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