There’s a new store in my neighborhood that sells comic books and all that comes with them these days: graphic novels, character action figures, overly-clever t-shirts, trading cards and supplies for fantasy games.
In my day, there weren’t any stores like this. We bought our comics at the corner drug store (there was a spinning rack right by the front door) and didn’t have any of the associated gift items that make up a lot of the comic market value now.
Today, comics are a huge industry. There are international conventions. There are spin-off graphic novels clearly intended for adults. Comic book characters are the basis, not just for fabulously successful stand-alone movies, but for mega-million dollar franchises of high-grossing movie series and international merchandising. Witness this year’s The Avengers, taken from the long-running Marvel Comic series, the new Batman movie, from the DC Comics’ hero, and Marvel’s SpiderMan film remake.
Part of the difference over time, of course, is that the intended comic audience has changed so substantially since the days when I first read them, during the so-called Silver Age of comics (mid-1950s to 1970). A look at comic conventions, like San Diego’s ComicCon, shows that these days, comics draw late-teens and young adults more than kids running weekly to their local drugstores.
In the end, I couldn’t resist walking into my new local comic store for a quick look. I found it filled with customers, all glasses-wearing, iPhone or iPad toting men in their early 20s. And the way they leafed through the books and stole oblique looks at the two comely young ladies working there reminded me less of my early days flipping through comics at the drug store than guys sneaking looks at the wares of the many adult stores in the Tenderloin.
Then it dawned on me, comics aren’t comics anymore; they’re nerd porn.