Saratoga County

Comics focus on collectors now

Nine-year-old Nick Abbott roughly doubled the size of his comic book collection Saturday, thanks in

Nine-year-old Nick Abbott roughly doubled the size of his comic book collection Saturday, thanks in part to national Free Comic Book Day.

Abbott, who lives near Syracuse, went with his uncle Gary Shaheen to check out Free Comic Book Day at comics store Excellent Adventures in Ballston Spa. He took home three free comics: a Simpsons themed comic, a comic linked to the Toy Story franchise and a comic about the movie character Shrek. He purchased some of the latest issues of Iron Man.

“I own like five comics at home,” he said.

Shaheen, who lives in Schenectady, said Free Comic Book Day was a way for him to help jump-start his nephew’s comics collection, while avoiding the sometimes steep cover prices for new comic book issues. Some new comics can cost about $3.99.

Shaheen said he’s been collecting comics since he was 10 years old. He often trades vintage comics with the owner of Excellent Adventures, John Belskis. He said he’s close to making a trade for some 1940s era Captain America comics for some hard-to-find science fiction pulp magazines in Belskis’ extensive collection.

“We used to able to buy them for a dime or 12 cents,” Shaheen said. “I think an event like Free Comic Book Day is wonderful because my nephew can get a few free books, he goes back home and enjoys them and builds his own collection.”

Saturday was the 9th Annual National Free Comic Book Day, an event organized by comic book publishers including Dark Horse Comics, DC Comics, IDW Publishing, Image Comics, and Marvel Comics. Special free comics were created by the publishers for the event, approximately 2 million were expected to be given away.

Belskis said comic book retailers like his store purchase the “free comics” as part of a bundle of titles at a less than wholesale rate, costing retailers just enough to cover most of the publishers production costs. He said the event usually coincides with the opening of the major summer comic book movies and can help generate traffic for his store, which actually gets most of its revenues from the sale of collectibles, not new comics.

“We try to use it to promote awareness of new comics. We’ve participated every year that they’ve done this,” Belskis said. “This kind of helps us start the summer season, you need something to kind of let people know comics are viable and get people in the door. I think the impact is pretty nominal because it’s only once a year. I wish it were quarterly.”

Alan Ekblaw, an employee at Electric City Comics in Schenectady which is owned by Daily Gazette writer Bill Townsend, said Free Comic Book Day has been a good way to introduce new readers to the medium.

“We certainly see fresh faces every year. It serves at the comics industry’s open house,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity for families to come in and see what’s being published. It probably has gotten some kids interested in reading.”

As part of the event Belskis hosted a couple of professional comic book artists, Joe St. Pierre, who lives in Wilton, and his brother Christian St. Pierre.

Joe St. Pierre said he’s been working in the comics industry for 20 years. He’s worked with popular characters like Batman, Superman and the X-men. He said after soaring through a speculative boom in the 1990s, and suffering afterward, the comics industry may be on the verge of a new golden age.

“Back in the ‘90s I could make five-figure royalty checks every month, but then you’d talk to a fan and you would ask them who the main character of a book was and they wouldn’t be able to tell you because nobody was reading the stuff. They were buying it as a investment, basically as a junk bond,” Joe St. Pierre said. “Things today are undergoing a complete transformation. It used to be that you could go into a local grocery store or 711 and there would be spinner racks of comics, easily available [and] cheap. Then collecting became kind of sequestered into comic book retailers and you had to seek them out to find comics. Now the distribution is becoming more easily accessible again at larger book stores like Barnes & Noble or Borders. You can also go online.”

St. Pierre said he used to hear that the approximately $4 entry price for new comics was slowing youth readership, but he now believes kids who routinely pay $300 or more for new video game consoles are again finding comics affordable. He said he thinks the audience for comics may have shrunk, but the audience that remains are more dedicated fans who buy comics for the right reasons.

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