LET'S LEVEL WITH LEE!

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

Saturday, May 21, 2011

RAPTURE!

View this video and you will experience the Rapture!



The END is Nigh!



Sunday, May 15, 2011

BAY TO BREAKERS

Connie and I traveled to San Francisco for the Bay To Breakers weekend. This time we took our daughters, Hannah and Sophie. We rented a hotel room on the Great Highway, very near the finish line. We arrived on Saturday at around 3 pm, so we had some extra time to kill. We hiked up the beach to the Cliffhouse. We went into the Camera Obscura, a reflective projection system dating back hundreds of years. They capture live images of the surrounding area up close and project them onto a large convex surface that people gather around. This particular one has been in use since 1945. I've visited it before, and it's very pleasing way to see the majesty of the surrounding area from a unique vantage point. We could see the beach, the crashing waves and the surfers in the water up close. A unique, vantage point, that gave one an awesome feeling.

After that, we hiked down to the ruins of the Sutro Baths. This used to be a massive building, right by the raging sea. It's ruins are enormous. I was surprised that you could walk all around, unencumbered by fences or rules. There is plenty to see here, and even a little adventure if you wanted it. We walked around for a while on some narrow remains of walls that were sticking out of the water. They didn't have anyone there blowing a whistle, telling you not to. That was nice, and unexpected.

After three hours of waling by the ocean, we turned in. I was awoken at midnight by the whistling of gale force winds, and rain hitting the windows. That worried me a bit. Weather like that could make running miserable.

Connie and I got up at 4:30 to prepare for the race. Happily, it had stopped raining. It was still a bit cold. We had to get across town. Our hotel was at the finish line, now we had to get to the start line. We were planning on looking for the shuttle, but as we were walking down the stairs of the hotel, there was a man in running clothes walking down right in front of us. I asked him how he was getting to the start line. He told me that he called a cab. I asked him if we could share a ride with him, and he said it would be fine. That was a nice break for us, as we got to the start in a hurry, plus we got to split the fare. Our half, with tip was just fifteen dollars.

We arrived near the start line. We sequestered in the coffee houses, for a while to avoid the cold. The race started at 7 am. Connie and I were in corral A, right by the start line. They gave us chips for our shoes, which later showed that we passed the start line 45 seconds after 7 am. The race is seven and a half miles, and includes a steep San Francisco hill; Hays Street. It was my hope to finish the race in under an hour, as I've done three times in previous years. I started pretty strong, but I realized that I was getting tired fast. I couldn't keep up that fast pace of a seven minute mile. I settled into a good rhythm, but I knew I didn't have the speed to quite pull off my goal. I finished in 1 hour and 46 seconds. I guess I did okay, considering I only run 3 times a week these days, and weigh 10 more pounds than I did when I got those better times. Also, I'm over 50 now. I'll try again next year!

Here's my stats:
1 hour 46 seconds
1,884 overall of 43,398
660th Male Masters of 10,244

Connie had an enjoyable run and finished at 1:12:28

Because of the placement of our hotel room, we both got to take a shower and change before heading off to "Footstock" the after-race gathering place. This is the first year that we've been able to have that luxury. Normally we just head off in our running garb. That can get uncomfortable, because you will be in shorts, and you will be covered in sweat. If the weather gets cold, and in San Francisco it usually does, you'll get cold very quickly. Footstock took place at the speedway meadows, about a mile or two away. After running Bay to Breakers, this seemed like a long way to travel! There was a lot of free packaged food samples and drinks being given out along the way, and this was a boon for us, as we were quite hungry and thirsty.

We brought the camera, but the battery doesn't hold a charge very well, so we only got a few shots.


Hannah at the Sutro Baths




Connie and Sophie at Cave to the Ocean at Sutro Baths.


Costume contest at "Footstock" after the race.


Hannah at "Footstock" main stage.


Me, Hannah, Sophie, enjoying the live bands.


Connie dives for the dough at the KGO money pit!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

MORE BIRTHDAY PHOTOS

Several people commented that they liked the photos from my birthday party at the San Jose Historical Society. My son has a really nice camera, and he's a great artist. Both those things make a huge difference in the quality of the photos, as you can plainly see here.


Chillin' on the trolley.


Left to right, the Trolley Driver, Mother Emi, Sister Julietta, Me, Wife Connie, Daughter Hannah, Friend Emily, Daughter Sophie, Son Lee, Son's girlfriend Christina.


With Connie. Across from me: Julietta, and Emi. Behind them: Connie's sister, Lorna. Behind her: Christina.


Christina in front of the Hotel.

Monday, May 09, 2011

BAY TO BREAKERS

This Sunday, Connie and I will be running in the 100th annual Bay To Breakers. If you are running it this year, make sure to say hi. I'll be wearing my Pure-Hero Spider-man crew shirt, so I won't be hard to spot.

We ran our first BTB 10 years ago and it took us an hour and a seventeen minutes to meander to the finish line. We ran most of the way together, giving each other moral support. We told jokes, and had a jolly time the whole way. At the home stretch, I still had some energy left, so I sprinted to the finish, finishing about 12 seconds ahead of Connie. We finished in place #5162 and #5234 respectively. We felt like Olympians, and were thrilled to find our names the next day in the Examiner Bay to Breakers souvenir edition.

It was only the third time I had run any kind of distance, so I didn't even know if I was capable of finishing the whole thing. I was pleasantly surprised to find out I could. I think I had some reasonable training under my belt from running on the treadmill, walking the stair-master, and riding the stationary bike at the gym. Over the years, training has ebbed and flowed, but we've always gotten back to trail running when health permitted.

Connie and I usually run BTB together every year. We do it to celebrate her birthday, and our wedding anniversary. Non-runners think it's nutty how some people celebrate special occasions by doing something so challenging and exhausting. Connie's running group celebrates Thanksgiving day by running up a mountain early in the morning. You'll find many female runners in particular spend a fortune on matching running outfits and shoes. They have closets full of them. Nike and the others are well aware of this phenomenon, as it adds considerably to their great fortune.

In 2004, our training intensified. We were running every day. Connie was getting up early and running in the Los Gatos hills with her runner's club. I was running solo a little later. I avoid rising early unless it's absolutely necessary. I've never been in a running club, but I ran with Connie's group on weekends sometimes.

In 2004 I posted my best finishing time of 57:41. Nothing spectacular, but a personal best, placing me at finisher #582 out of fifty thousand people, some of whom were actually running. Connie finished at 1:04:45, placing her at 1,485 overall.

In 2005 I dropped down slightly to 58:39 (#762), and Connie Had her personal best of 1:01:19 (#1023). That year San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom ran the race and finished at around an hour. Gorgeous Gavin no doubt quickened his pace to escape the throngs of love-starved women, and angry husbands perusing him. Another year that we were there, during one of her fitness kicks, Oprah Winfrey ran the race. She probably hired two runners to push her from behind, and two more at her sides to pick up, and throw down her legs.

In 2006 I must have been coming off a sprained ankle, because my time dropped down to 1:02:07 (#862), Connie hung in there, doing her 2nd best time of 1:03:26 (#1010) I think I ran with her most of the way, but sprinted a bit at the end. I'm a real competitive stinker!


Hannah, Me, Sophie, Connie, Humphrey, and just a bit of Molly's tail.
From the cover of the Palo Alto Weekly, 2007.


We ran in a bunch of races including Bridge to Bridge, and The Palo Alto Moonlight Run. The Palo Alto Weekly, which sponsors the Moonlight Run, did a story about our family's running habit, complete with a picture of Connie, Me the Girls and the Dogs on the cover running around Hellyer Park Lake.

In 2007 I sat our the race do to a back injury. Connie was out of the game too.

In 2008 I returned, and finished under an hour; 59:28 (#1027) Connie took it easy and finished 1:10:51

We skipped 2009 and 2010. We always have run it together, so if one of us can't make it, the other one bows out too.

This year we are going to do it again. Neither of us is training as much as in years past, so we can't expect to get our best times. We only run three days a week. When we were really in great running shape, we ran six days a week. We also did more long distance runs (twenty miles or more) and more speed training. I also weigh more. When I was training a lot, my weight was down to 170 pounds. I weigh 190 at the moment. They say that each pound difference adds or subtracts a second per mile on a race, all things being equal. For me, that's 20 seconds added per mile for 8 miles. 160 seconds or nearly 3 minutes. That's if my training were the same, which it is not.

For the first time, Connie and I will be running in the master's category, which is the over 50 category. That makes it easier to finish higher, since you are no longer competing with the young bucks.

My goal for this year is to finish under an hour. I'm a little apprehensive as I'm aware that given my age, weight, and level of training, that goal will almost be impossible to achieve. Three miles into the race, you face the Hays street hill. Those San Francisco hills don't kid around. I might kill myself, trying. Or I might make the goal. You really never know what your capable of until you try. Connie, ever the sensible one, is planning on taking it easy. She figures that she'll finish in around an hour and 15 minutes. After that, we have booked a hotel right near the finish line. We'll pop in for a quick shower, gather the children, and then have a nice leisurely breakfast at the Beach Chalet that overlooks the finish line. There we can recount battle tales and observe all the wacky runners in their zany costumes, and all the naked runners who drop their shorts to expose their shortcomings.

Stay tuned for a report next week to see if we survived.


In case you want proof, here it is.
Connie and I at the finish of the BTBs.

MARVEL HEROES BUILDIBLE 2


For years we've been selling cool Gacha style 2-inch vending machine toys. One of the hottest series we ever carried has been the Marvel Heroes buildables. Series 2 just arrived, and we have them at both locations. They cost just $1 each. These are hot! Everybody wants them, especially the staff!

STERANKO IN DARK HORSE PRESENTS


Dark Horse presents #3 will feature a 13-page preview of Jim Steranko's long awaited Red Tide graphic novel, along with an interview. This special 100-page issue is scheduled for August 24th. Make sure to reserve your copy!

Sunday, May 08, 2011

AMAZING FREE COMIC BOOK DAY!

Free Comic Book Day was amazing this year! It was one of our busiest days ever at both stores. I set up and worked at the Mountain View store handing out the new comics, and chatting with many of the customers. This year we had a signing with the creators of the Geronimo Stilton graphic novels. This was our first kid oriented signing at Lee's Comics, and it turned out to be an absolute smash!

There were around 50 people lined up before our 10:00 am opening. The store was full to capacity until the early evening. There was a long line of people making purchases for most of the day. The signing started at Noon. Soon, there was an even longer line for the signing than for the register. The artists, Michele Foschini, Leonardo Favia and Ennio Bufi, all direct from their homes in Italy, started a few minutes early, and stayed an hour and a half past their scheduled finishing time of 2:00 pm. Even more people still wanted to see them, but we eventually had to cut off the line, as the artists were expected at my buddy Joe Ferrara's excellent store, Atlantis Fantasyworld later that day. When you are in Santa Cruz, make sure to stop by and see Joe, his lovely and charming wife Dottie, and his super-cool comic book store.

I make a point of giving out the free comics in front of the store. For one thing the event takes place in May, and the weather is usually quite nice. Also, doing things outside creates a buzz. We are in the largest and busiest regional centers within a 7-mile radius, with popular attractions such as Costco, Verizon, Pet Club, Office Max, Krispy Kreme, and McDonalds, that generate thousands of visitors per day. In the morning I put up flags and a free comic book day banner. Those things coupled with the big crowds, attracts yet more waves of people that come over to see what all the fuss and hoopla is about. I try to take that opportunity to turn these new folks on to comics. By giving the comics away outdoors, it also lets people know that there is absolutely no purchase necessary, and no strings attached. You don't have to buy a thing to get a free comic. You don't have to sign anything or join a mailing list. You don't even have to come in to the store if you don't want to. It was interesting to note that almost everyone did go into the store, even though the comics were being given away outdoors. About half the people were so interested in what was going on in the store that they went inside first, and only when they were done did they come back outside to select their free comics.

Our most popular sale items inside the store was our bargain books. Normally we price them at 50 cents each, but for the sale, we marked them down to the price we used to charge a few years back, namely 25 cents. We put a lot of new stuff out throughout the day as well. We had plenty of cool books from the 1980s and 1990s from collections that we recently purchased that we kept stashed away in the back room just for the occasion. New stuff going into the bargain bins really whips the bargain hunters into a frenzy! There were a few hours where we had several people waiting on each of our 15 bins of quarter books. Many people also enjoyed our half price sale on back issues and sets. We had a storewide discount of 10% off, and many people took the opportunity to sock up on new comics, and to expand their personal graphic novel library, and to buy gifts for friends and family.

I appreciate all the support in the way of purchases that people make from me on FCBD. The fact is that comic book dealers such as myself have to pay for the free comics that we give out. They cost around 25¢ each. Since my stores are busy, and well known, and have been around for such a long time, between the two stores we gave out over six thousand free comics. That's an expense of over fifteen hundred dollars right there. Add to that the printing and mailing of postcards, and the ads in the Metro, the Mercury News and the Daily post, and you have another fifteen hundred dollars. Add to that the staffing, and the discount given on the graphic novels that we have to replace, and you actually have a break-even proposition on one of our busiest days ever! I'm not complaining though. I think the event is wonderful for the future of comics. It really creates a buzz in the media. Free Comic Book day is in it's 10th year now, and everybody seems to know about it. It's all over the media. My friend Joe Field, owner of Flying Colors in Concord, the creator of the event, was all over the place. I saw him on TV and in the papers. Joe is a real class act, and makes the ideal spokesman for the comic book industry. New comic book movies are opening up all the time. Thor is the #1 movie in the universe. Everyone wants to go to comic conventions, and the big ones are selling out in an instant. Comics have arrived in the mainstream in a big way!

It turns out that Geronimo Stilton is fantastically popular with kids. Word spread all around the Bay Area for the signing. We ran ads (along with other retailers in the Bay Area) in the Metro and the Mercury News. In addition, I ran ads in the Daily Post. I also sent out, and gave away thousands of postcards. All these ads featured news of the signing, and a delightful cartoon of the artists. Well, the news got around. Lots of families with kids stopped by. They brought Geronimo Stilton graphic novels in many different languages. I saw French, Spanish, Chinese, German and other editions. Lots of people asked me if I had any foreign editions for sale. Alas, I did not. The creators, Michele Foschini, Leonardo Favia and Ennio Bufi could not have been nicer. Michele spoke the most English of the three, and he was absolutely delightful. He was one of the friendliest, nicest, most charming guys I've ever met. He and the other artists made sure to make each person that came to see them feel special. Each one signed the books, and the artist, Ennio Bufi did wonderful free sketches for each person! Everyone who attended the event left with a huge grin on their face. These guys were like rock stars for the kids!

I wanted to note that several librarians approached me during the event. They had promoted the event to their children. One librarian had even made her own flier about the event to hand out to the kids. She's a terrific person, and a big comic book fan. She's helping to get great Graphic Novels into her library. She told me she could not keep the Gerinomo Stilton Graphic Novels in stock. I hope to collaborate with her more in the future. I also heard from a bunch of people who told me that said they enjoyed the newsletter. Lots of people approached me and wished me a belated 50th birthday, and I really appreciate the good wishes.

As soon as the singing was over, I was approached by Tom Rollinger, a trained animation artist, who is just starting out as a published comic book artist. He asked if he could do a signing on FCBD. I figured, why wait a year?, so I immediately set up a table for him outside, right next to the counter where we were giving out the free comics. Soon he was sketching away for free for anyone who asked, and charming the fans. I saw him doing delightful sketches of Iron Man, Flash and Superman. He was hard at work when I finally had to tear myself away and go home after an exciting, but exhausting 12 hour day. (Setting up the day before had been a 14-hour day.) Next year, we are going to try to make it even better. It's going to be tough, because the bar has been raised. I'm still buzzing with a head full of ideas on how to make it even better. I'm going to write them down, and put them in a file to consult a few months before next year's FCBD.

I noticed that a lot of people take the opportunity to make a tour of Bay Area stores during FCBD. Many of the stores host events and sales along with the free comics. This helps to create a very special day for comic book fans. One store, Black Cat comics in Milpitas was giving out a sticker that said "I got my free comics". The sticker looked like the "I voted" sticker you get when you cast your ballot. Even though Milpitas is quite a distance from Mountain View, I saw people wearing those stickers throughout the day. I thought that was a great idea. Me and my friend and helper for the day, Mark Arnold came up with some ideas for our own sticker for next year.

I hoped that this event would take on that kind of fraternal order among comics retailers, and I believe that this has happened in a big way. Years ago I tried to promote that notion by conceiving and organizing full page color gang ads in the leading Silicon Valley Newspapers, the Mercury News, and the Metro. They are open to any dealer who wanted to participate, and most of the dealers take advantage of this as a way to get maximum coverage for FCBD for a very modest investment. Generally the newspapers get in on the act and do articles and features on FCBD, and comics in general. I like to think that this annual promotion has helped raise the profile of the event in the area, and even perhaps comics themselves. Everyone is pulling together for a common purpose. It's a rising tide that lifts all boats. This is a very good thing, especially if your boat is sound.

In addition to the regular free comic books, Dan Vado publisher of Slave Labor donated a truck load of graphic novels and comic books. That very generous act allowed us to present an additional huge buffet table of free stuff for the huge crowds. On this table there was no limit whatsoever that people were allowed to take. We had just as many free comic books from Slave Labor as all the other free books combined! This brought the excitement level up a notch. Hats off to Dan Vado and Slave Labor.

Finally I wanted to make mention of Justin Giampaoli's award-winning Thirteen Minutes blog. He ran a piece on FCBD that I read with great interest. He said some very nice things about me, and I was tremendously moved by what he had to say. I have to admit that he might have been overly generous in his assessment. Perhaps his absence form the Bay Area has added a glow of nostalgia for the comic book stores of his past, but I will try to live up to what he says, and hopefully I'll succeed now and then.

Here are some excerpts, but be sure to read the whole post. This is a great blog, by the way, so you'll want to bookmark it for future reading.

Tomorrow will mark the very first year that I will not be attending Free Comic Book Day. Since Joe Field dreamed it up in 2001 (leave it to the Bay Area to be innovative, we’ll hit that topic again soon) and the first official event was held in 2002, I’ve attended every single one in one form or another for the last 9 years.

Now, of course, the day isn’t solely about the free books. It’s about cultivating no risk interest and an LCS (local comic book store) potentially capitalizing on that interest to generate long term readership and the corresponding spike in the revenue stream. In theory. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some varieties of LCS which do this and do it well, Lee’s Comics in Mountain View, CA comes to mind. It’s one of the flagship retail establishments (a chain, no less!) in the San Francisco Bay Area that I used to frequent. Lee will typically entertain all sorts of deep discount opportunities, line up creator signings, spike the free books with bin after bin after bin of quarter comics, achieve market penetration with radio stations on site, be quoted in the local paper, coordinate with other non-comic retail establishments (ie: free doughnuts or discounted menu items at the restaurants next door), etc, etc. He schmoozes with the kids, the moms, and the entire clientele base. You can literally see him converting new readers. He just gets it. His actions, the continued existence of his stores for decades, and the emotional high you get when you enter one of his stores are the proof.


Now, let's look at a whole mess of pictures, posted in order.


Crowds line up for the event.


Almost ready to start handing out the swag.


The feeding frenzy begins.


At the back of the store we find the bargain hunters. A hearty breed. Firm of foot, and quick of grasp.


A line of shoppers going all the way down the middle of the store.


Outside again. Wave after wave of customers, families, and kids arrive.


Noon, the Gerinomo Stilton artists arrive.


A line of parents and kids line up to see the artists.


Arnold gets "Happy Feet."


Everyone wants a photo with the friendly comic book artists.


Free sketches for all!


Who says kids don't read comic books anymore?




I take a picture with the guys before they have to go. Thanks for a great signing!


A family shows up as as Green Lantern/Green Arrow! How cool is that!


Taio, Mark, and Richard show off their nifty FCBD shirts.


Tom Rollinger starts sketching gratis for the fans.


Everybody loves Tom's great art.


Thanks Tom! Great Job!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

CAPTAIN AMERICA



If you enjoyed that variant cover of Savage Dragon, you may be familiar with Captain America #1, which I believe served as the inspiration. This was drawn and created by Jack Kirby, and Joe Simon. It was issued in December 1940, a full year before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and the USA subsequently declaring war on Japan and Germany. I believe that this was the first time that a super-hero fought Hitler. At the time, Jack Kirby got a lot of flack for it, but he abhorred what Hitler was doing and Kirby was a scrappy guy. He didn't back down from a fight. Soon many of the Super-Heroes would join the battle along with the rest of America, and eventually freedom prevailed.

Note the plasma TV. Kirby, as always, was on the cutting edge.

Monday, May 02, 2011

MY BIRTHDAY

On Friday I celebrated my 50th birthday at San Jose's History park. This is a small town filled with historical buildings located next to Happy Hollow in San Jose. My sister-in-law Barbara was kind enough to secure the site for a friends and family celebration. We had the whole town to ourselves. We started with a trolley ride though the town. It's very picturesque. It looks a lot like main street USA in Disneyland, except for the fact that the buildings are really of antique vintage. The trolley was a genuine one from the 1920s, and was driven by a engineer in authentic garb. You could tell that he loved it. He kept having to stop the trolley as more and more guests arrived, but he never lost his patience. We had around 35 people in all attend.

After the trolley ride, we gathered in the ice cream parlor for drinks and ice cream. The drinkers in the group were able to take a nip or two, which raised the level of jollity even further. We then met for a buffet style dinner of delicious Mexican food. After that we had cake, and I opened cards and presents.

After that, we repaired to the bank building where we watched a cartoon (What's Opera Doc, starring Bugs Bunny) and a feature (Mel Brooks' "Silent Movie") A great time was had by all. What a wonderful, memorable place for a party! I took lots of photos, but the ones on the trolley came out best! Ding! Ding! Ding!




Left to right, Emily, Hannah Hester, Helen, Sarah Crane, Mark Crane (General Manager, Lee's Comics), Victoria Crane, Michelle Crane, Mike and Barbara Hanley, Christina (Lee4's Girlfriend)


Everyone from before but now Shannon Hanley 4th from left, Lee4 to my right, Alex and Julie Bargas to my left. Kevin has joined Helen.


Same as before, but Connie is now in the picture, obscured by the post!

SAVAGE OBAMA!

Here's a variant comic book cover that turned out to be quite prescient!

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