By Lee Hester, owner of Lee's Comics of California.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Dealin' in the Years

My friend Oscar Benjamin is the official photographer for the Wonder Con. Most every year he has stopped by the booth and taken a picture. If you like Oscar’s work, you can contact him to cover your own special events. So here, then, is a look at yours truly over the years. Sorry about the repetitious subject matter. Hopefully Grandma will like it.

Here’s the Lee’s Booth from 1994. You can see Rita to the left. She was our manager for a while. I forgot the name of the guy on the right, but he was a good worker.

1995. Here’s my friend James Hudnall, an excellent writer. He visited the store around this time along with a trio of folks that were practically unknown at the time: Brian Bendis, David Mack, and Greg Horn.

1996. With Mark Crane.

1997. With Alberta Severino from Bud Plant. You can see Clayton Ikler in the booth.

1998. With Joltin’ Joe Field of Flying Colors fame.

1998. With famous comics editor Bob Schreck.

With my buddy Dave Hawksworth at the Diamond booth. I heard that Dave recently fell ill. I hope he's getting better.

1998. With Art Adams. The sands of time have obscured exactly what we were doing in this picture.

2007. Skipping Ahead a decade or so.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Wonder of it all.

I just got finished with the WonderCon. It was a lot of fun, but it was also exhausting. It’s four ten-hour days of hard work in a massive underground bunker without windows or natural light. Yesterday I slept in and went for a nice run on the Almaden Lake trail in San Jose. It was warm and the sun was shining. What a nice way for me to get my body and mind back in tune.

Mark and I loaded up the van on Tuesday. We and headed to the Moscone on Wednesday morning. We were quite pleased and surprised to be able to drive in right away. The way the Mocone center works, is that you go down on a ramp under the road in your vehicle. They have roads leading all around the convention center. When we got down to the loading area, the teamsters immediately started to help us unload. We put all the boxes on flatbed electric cars, and they whisked them to our booth. Mark and I then spent the rest of the day moving things around and setting up. It’s a big job when you have a variety of items, not just comic boxes.

A couple of years ago I decided to diversify my convention stock. Now I bring a bunch of different items to try to capitalize on all the crowds of non-comics collectors that these cons attract. We brought all our wall comics, and vintage bin comics. We brought a bunch of long boxes full of bargain graphic novels (5 for $20) mostly manga, but with some other stuff mixed in. We brought the vintage “Hey Kid’s Comics” spinner, and loaded it up with vintage 1960s and 1970s comics that we had on sale for $2 each. We had a clothing rack to display the line of Pure Hero Shirts. We had the Duck and Cover funny bumper stickers, the Corgi Batman cars, and DC comics Attaboy Wristbands. We were well armed with stuff for people who liked comics, and also people who liked super heroes, but maybe didn’t read comics.

Right before the convention began, I decided to do an impromptu fundraiser for Fantagraphics Books, one of my favorite publishers, which is being sued by writer Harlan Ellison. The plan was to raise money selling the line of famous artist Lee’s Comics prints, and also take cash donations in a jar. For more information on the fundraiser, see the article on the Publisher’s Weekly Beat.

Now for some pictures. They are all presented in sequential order, taken over the course of 3 days.

Raphael Navarro making the fist donation to the Fantagraphics Legal Defense Fund.

Me on the Friday morning, the first day of the Con. Finally set up! (But I wasn’t quite happy with the set up, so on Saturday morning we moved it all around again!

Two very happy winners of the 300 passes that we gave away on last week’s newsletter. I will be joining them tonight for the screening. I am fully prepared for glory!

Here’s Jason Brand. You’ll find him at our San Mateo location.

Here’s Mark Arnold with Creature Features Horror Host John Stanley. Each of them is holding the other’s book. Mark’s book is the Best of the Havveyville Fun Times. You can get it from Lee’s Comics, or Amazon.
John Stanley’s new book is “I Was a TV Horror Host. (I couldn’t find any links to buy it.)

Here’s another view of the booth. You can see Mark Crane in his Pure Hero Spider-man bike shirt. On the podium you can see the Fantagraphics fundraiser donation jar.

Here’s Michael V. Bennett who I call “Wild Kirby Blacklight Guy.” When I went past his booth for the first time I thought he was selling some third eye posters from the early seventies. When I looked closer, I realized that these were not prints, but a whole bunch of originals! There were stacks of these things, and no two were alike. He had somehow managed to channel the spirit and energy of Kirby into these paintings. He was selling them for just twenty dollars each. A steal! I just had to get a few for myself. They are really wild, and crackling with Kirby style energy!

I got a chance to meet one of my favorite artists, Nick Cardy. I got into comics in the early 1970s. At the time, much of their line was adorned with his beautiful covers. I especially loved his covers on Action Comics and Superman. They were beautiful, graceful and elegant. Later on, I discovered his superb art on Aquaman. My favorite Nick Cardy art was on Bat Lash, which only lasted a few issues in the 1960s. It was written by Sergio Aragones, who you can see to the left. Nick could not have been nicer. He’s as classy a guy as his art is beautiful.

Here’s my friend Ritchie Muchen (Sp?) relaxing at his booth. Getting back to my point about diversifying. It seems to me that if we are just selling back issues, then we are not fully taking advantage of the twenty thousand or so people that come to these shows. We are paying a high premium for tables, the fancy facility and the great marquee guest stars. Those amenities will not help us sell any more old comics. The fact is that twenty thousand people may have attended the show, but perhaps 200 of them collect vintage back issues. That’s why I decided to, but to put the back issues at the back of my booth. The front of the booth contains items that may be of interest to the crowds. That way, I have a bunch of people shopping at the booth at all times. I don’t have to sit around and wait for the occasional back issue buyer. Now I’m actually making a profit at this!

Another back issue booth to further illustrate my point.

Now here’s the most successful booth at the show, I would venture to guess. I call it the “T-Shirt Monolith” it’s like that thing in the movie 2001.
People flock to it from all around and gather in awe. There are 2 rows of people around it at all times. You can walk inside through a door on either side. It’s full of customers on the inside too and they are buzzing around like bees in a hive. There’s 2 cash registers inside, both with long lines of customers behind them. The cashers are super-efficient, one of them is the owner of the company. They are making so much money that they probably have to cram it in garbage bags. They have a number of assistants rushing around helping customers, keeping an eye on possible shoplifting, and lading and straitening the merchandise. For a retailer, it’s a remarkable sight to behold. It’s the ultimate example of tapping into the civilian crowds at the con. The owners go to shows all around the country and I’m sure they live very comfortably from the profits. They don’t have to worry about shifts in the vintage comic collector’s market, that’s for sure.

Let’s contrast this again with the stand across from me, Harley Yee’s Comics. Harley is one of the best in the business, but again, few people collect vintage comics, so he is waiting for the occasional big purchase. Over the course of the convention, I noticed that most of the business that the big dealers in vintage comics do is between other dealers. There are usually more dealers behind the tables making deals and trades with each other then customers in front of them.

Here’s our bargain section. It’s 5 books for $20. It was busy like this the whole time while the back issues went begging. We sold about 10 long boxes worth. I like to generate crowds!

Here I am with some of my favorite people. It’s Joe and Libby Field. They are two of the nicest people that you will ever meet. To the left is Mark Arnold. Joe Field is one of the founders of WonderCon. He also created Free Comic book day. (Fist week in May). When you are in Concord, make sure to stop by his excellent comic book store, Flying Colors, I know I always do!

I met all kinds of interesting people there. I didn’t photograph all of it. I was too busy living it, and having fun. Brian Copeland stopped by the booth. He has a show on KGO am 810 on Sunday from 9 to 10am. He also collects comics and runs. I’m looking forward to “The R and B Joke Hour”, a very entertaining regular event that he does with Ronn Owens. It will be on this Friday at 11 am. Brian is a first rate stand up Comedian, and he has gone on to even greater fame with his one-man show, “Not a Genuine Black Man”. I was telling Brian that I would be running Bay to Breakers this year. We got to joking about San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsome who runs the race too. I was going to try to beat Newsome’s time. He finished one minute ahead of me last year at around 1 hour. I said that I would really have to train hard because Gavin would be running hard this year. He would be running from his campaign manager. Brian said that someone should have slapped the gel right out of Gavin’s hair! It really cracked me up the way he said it, and he left me laughing.

Anyway, I had better sign off now, and get back to work. I had a great time at Wonder Con. Next up is the Ape. We’ll be set up there too. I hope to see some of you there. I’ll try to make the booth a fun place to stop by. Having fun is always a top priority. Squeezing in a little business is good too, now and then. Sometimes it’s a bit of work, but I can’t complain. I get to sell comic books for a living!

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Imagine a World with no comic books. Not worth living.

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