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Movies put big profits in comics' books


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    A fan attends the Comic-Con International at the San Diego Convention Center on July 24, 2008 in San Diego, Calif.

    - Michael Buckner/Getty Images

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    Fans attend the Comic-Con International at the San Diego Convention Center on July 24, 2008, in San Diego, Calif.

    - Michael Buckner/Getty Images

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    Jeremy Harris attends the Comc-Con International Day One at the San Diego Convention Center on July 24, 2008 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

    - Michael Buckner/Getty Images

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

KAI RYSSDAL: It's a Friday in the middle of the summertime. So let's take a detour for a minute into something a little less weighty than energy prices and home foreclosures, shall we? How about comic books. If you've ever watched the Simpsons on TV, you know the neighborhood comic book store there is a dingy, low-rent place run by a pasty-looking guy who sounds like this.

SIMPSONS CHARACTER: I've spent my entire life doing nothing but collecting comic books. . . . Life well spent!

Easy talk coming from a cartoon character, I know. But there's an element of revenge of the nerds here. Because comic book stores are hot. Unlike a lot of book retailers, comic stores have actually managed to increase their business the past couple of years. One of the ways they've done it is to become more than just stores. Meltdown Comics here in Los Angeles has a gallery space for art. It hosts special events to draw customers in, too. Like an open mic night this past Wednesday with stand-up comics talking about comics.

ASTERIOS KOKKINOS: Batman, he doesn't really find much funny. And I don't blame him. He's been through a lot. I think the one thing that Batman would find funny, though, would be Superman jokes. . . .

Comic Fan: I think a lot of the reason that people like performing here is, "Oh my god, I never thought I was going to be able to do this joke, and I can."

MATT TODD: My name's Matt Todd. I was looking for "War Heroes #1" by Mark Millar and Tony Harris. I dropped $40. Yeah, this is the second trip of the day.

LINDA PINE: My name's Linda Pine and I actually . . . I started buying comic books at places like head shops. And those are creepy places, if you're a little girl. This place is like Nirvana if you're a little girl.

CHRIS ROSA: Chris Rosa. The stores back, maybe 15-20 years ago, had more of a secret clubhouse quality to them which now is more of an open feel. You don't need to know every member of the Avengers to be able to walk into a store.

PINE: Meltdown's main customer base has disposable income now. The people who come to a store like this would rather have these things than a Lexus.

RYSSDAL: There are going to be 150,000 of that kind of people in San Diego this weekend. The big annual comic conference -- Comic-Con, it's called -- is completely sold out. And among the crowd is going to be Joe Field. He's president of the comic retailer's trade group ComicsPro. I asked him whether all the blockbuster movies this summer -- there's Hulk, Iron Man, and, of course, the new Batman flick "Dark Knight." I asked him whether they're going to affect sales.

JOE FIELD: The movies are a great commercial for what comic-book retailers have to sell. And, so, anytime there's a $100 million commercial that's up on the big screen, it does help comic-book retailers.

RYSSDAL: I'm wondering how your business is doing compared to, say, independent bookstores versus the big chains. I mean, do you have those kinds of problems?

FIELD: There is encroachment into our business from mass-market retailers and sales online and that sort of thing. However, there's also a knowledge base among comic-book retailers that is so far ahead of anything that any of the large chains could put together that we still feel we're well ahead of the curve in that respect.

RYSSDAL: We've reached you down in San Diego. You're at the Comic-Con International festival down there, which is better known -- I have to say -- for people dressing up in weird costumes than anything substantive coming out of it. Does that give you pause, at all?

FIELD: Oh, well, I would disagree with that statement, Kai. I'd say there are a lot of substantial things that come out of Comic-Con. There's a lot of business that gets done behind the scenes. And really what I'd like to relay to your listeners is that comics are the creative genesis of all visual entertainment.

RYSSDAL: That's a pretty broad statement, Joe.

FIELD: But it's a completely accurate statement. The panel-to-panel storyboards that begin any of those other ideas in other media -- like video games and TV and movies -- all begin with comics.

RYSSDAL: Joe Field runs Flying Color Comics up in Concord, Calif. He's also the president of ComicsPro -- that's a trade group for comic-book store owners. We got to him down in San Diego at the Comic-Con conference. Joe, thanks a lot for your time.

FIELD: Pleasure, Kai.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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