Local Comics Store Spotlight: Ultimate Comics

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 27, 2017.

The foundation of ComicBook.Com is comics. While we love to cover all aspects of pop and geek culture, our roots lie in the comics community and the plethora of characters and stories that have sprung from it. If you speak with anyone in the comics community about what has made the medium successful in North America, you’ll quickly discover one answer that stands far above the rest: local comics stores. They are the bedrock of comics in the United States and Canada, supporting fans, communities, and conventions with open doors and a dedicated staff.

This year on ComicBook.Com we are highlighting this important aspect of comics and culture by taking a look at one local comic store each week. These are stores that embody what it means to support culture and community. We hope you can visit some of them throughout 2017.

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We love to discuss local comic book stores for their passion and creativity; it’s the fun stuff that makes us love these special places. However, it cannot be forgotten that every store is a business. They only exist so long as they manage to succeed. All of the passion in the world can’t pay bills, so there’s a necessary balance between a love of comics and business knowhow when it comes to creating a successful local comics store. It’s a balance that is shown off perfectly by Ultimate Comics, a shop able to share what it loves and make ends meet with plenty of creativity on display in both endeavors.

The business side of Ultimate Comics is something manager Jeremy Tarney isn’t shy about discussing. He’s proud of the accomplishments the store has made as a business. “Today, we’ve grown to the point that we our store are a viable business for Alan [the owner], dozens of employees, and myself,” Tarney says. In addition to supplying comics and a second home for many fans, they are able to take care of their staff and continue to build the Ultimate Comics brand. It’s a brand that has and continues to grow with a total of 3 stores in North Carolina today.

Ultimate Comics started much smaller though. Alan Gill, the owner, owned several other businesses as well when he opened his first comics store. It was his passion project and the success of other endeavors helped to fund the beginning. Yet the comics store was always meant to flourish on its own and that’s exactly what it did due to Gill and his employee’s passion. Even before opening the first store, Gill was building a customer base and getting to know the product. He would drive door to door in a van taking orders for new releases. That’s the gumption on which Ultimate Comics was built. “If that’s not an interesting way to get into comic retail, I couldn’t tell what one is” says Tarney.

Click ahead to learn more about what makes Ultimate Comics unique, like its unique cast of characters (a.k.a. the staff).

All you need to do is take a quick glance at the staff page of the Ultimate Comics’ website in order to get an idea of the store’s philosophy. Each person listed is given their own unique portrait or photograph along with alter-egos, superpowers, and descriptions that allude to jokes and funs at the shop. There’s a genuine sense that these people love going to work and that comes across when talking to Tarney as well. He is proud of the customer service experience provided by all 3 Ultimate Comics locations. “Our staff is always ready to help with anyone who walks in the door” Tarney says.

It’s not only about keeping a well stocked store (which they do) or being knowledgeable about comics (which they are), it’s also about caring for the people who make your business a success. Tarney says that the staff “remember to ask them about their brother’s birthday party that they mentioned, remember that their favorite villain is Batroc the Leaper, and hold a Tales 75 when we get one in a collection.” Each customer is a person and those who come back are remembered. It’s not just about comics either. They love to cheer on their readers other fandoms, congratulating someone on a Stanley Cup win when they walk through the door wearing a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey.

That devotion to the individual and positive attitude has helped to encourage a shift in readership over the past decade. Tarney shouts “Diverse!” when asked how the readership has changed. He attributes a lot of the new readers to the television adaptation of The Walking Dead. While the recent flurry of superhero films have helped, Tarney thinks The Walking Dead “opened up people’s ideas of what comic books could be, and that opened up the medium as a whole to a lot of different people.” Initial interest has been transformed into weekly readers, the Wednesday warriors of comics, thanks to the passion and pride of employees like those at Ultimate Comics welcoming everyone.

Sharing a love for comics is about more than offering the best possible experience to everyone who comes through the door. Gill, Tarney, and the rest of their crew also seek out opportunities to share their brand and what comics are all about. They aggressively target events hosted inside their store and elsewhere, including two team ups with NCComicCon each year. Tarney acknowledges a stigma surrounding comics, albeit a fading one, and by going out into the community the store helps encourage the curious to become customers. Once people walk through the doors of Ultimate Comics for the first time they stick around. When asked what’s important to the store, Tarney responds “establishing a real relationship with our customers.”

There’s an important lesson to be found within the walls of Ultimate Comics. Local comics stores can be successful and that success can be found through a passion for the medium combined with good business sense. It’s not a matter of one or the other; it’s a fusion of both. Success leads to new stores, more employees, and more comics readers. So when Tarney says the future goal of Ultimate Comics is “comically large burlap sacks full of money, with a dollar sign painted on the front” that sounds like a very good goal for comics.

Click ahead to see full details and photos of Ultimate Comics.

Store Info

Name: Ultimate Comics

Address: 6120 Farrington Road

Chapel Hill, NC 67517

Phone: (919) 806-8282

Website: Ultimate Comics

Twitter: @UltimateComics

Facebook: Ultimate Comics

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Why It Matters That Young Animal Is in The DCU

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 26, 2017.

During the initial announcement of the Young Animal line last year, DC Comics was very careful to not use words like “Elseworlds” or “multiverse”. The line’s curator Gerard Way actually opened up about how he was excited to bring new voices and a different tone to the DC Universe. While none of the Young Animal titles are set to crossover with Batman or Green Arrow, they have also never distinguished themselves as being separate from the DC Universe proper.

That may seem like a minor distinction, but it’s much more important than that. Looking at the current lineup of Young Animal characters and upcoming miniseries from the “pop up imprint”, it’s clear that this choice could have repercussions for years or decades to come. That doesn’t just apply to the characters or continuity involved either, it could be important for DC Comics as a company devoted to storytelling.

Looking Back

In order to understand the potential impact of Young Animal now, it’s important to look back about three decades at the founding of the Vertigo Comics line by editor Karen Berger. Many titles like Saga of the Swamp Thing, Animal Man, and Hellblazer are all viewed today as Vertigo titles. But they began as parts of the DC Universe. It was their uniqueness and unique success that led to the foundation of a separate imprint for Berger to continue working her magic.

These series and others, including the likes of Sandman, showed what could be done within the DC Universe and superhero comics. They took on new tones, different types of stories, and experimented with form and genre. Yet the character of Morpheus still interacted with the JSA member Sandman and provided the Martian Manhunter with sweet dreams. Their differences didn’t weaken DC Comics, but expanded it to become a bigger tent. With the strength and diversity of these pre-Vertigo superhero comics, the DC Universe became a place where more readers could find stories that interested and engaged them.

Looking Ahead

That’s especially important today because of how it contrasts against the strengths of DC Comics’ Rebirth initiative. There is no doubt that Rebirth has been a success, both commercially and critically. It has tapped into a variety of things the brand has been missing in recent years in order to hook new fans and regain old ones. That includes the concepts of continuity and legacy. It also features a strong refocusing on DC Comics’ core strength: having one of the two most defined and dedicated superhero universes in existence. Looking at the rejuvenated Superman line, the improvement of supporting comics like Green Arrow and Aquaman, and the increased focus on supporting characters like Batwoman and Spoiler, it’s clear that superheroes are what is making this DC Comics initiative a success.

This success also introduces a risk though. Too much of a good thing might push away those who don’t connect with it or rely too heavily on a single market that could be diminished by no fault of the publisher. Diversity is a strength for long-term success and that is something Young Animal brings to the table. This diversity comes in two forms. First, it emphasizes characters and heroes outside of the current genre norm. Each of the four ongoing titles features a woman either as its sole protagonist or a core part of a team dynamic. They also reflect a diversity of experience in sexual orientation and age, although race ought to be a major concern of the line moving forward. Furthermore, these four series reflect a diversity of story. Their artwork, tone, and thematic focus are wildly different from one another and anything found within the Rebirth line. They are exciting new takes on DC Comics properties reminiscent of Vertigo Comics’ predecessors in the best possible way.

Crossovers So Far

Doom Patrol and Shade the Changing Girl have primarily established their DC continuity bona fides by reflecting the history of both series within their own pages. Shade the Changing Girl features Loma, a brand new character, who has stolen a variation of the original Rac Shade’s M-Vest. She studies and honors the character like a rock star, one that takes on shades of Jim Morrison as the series progresses. Quotes and other references firmly embed this comic both in the Vertigo series Shade, the Changing Man and within Steve Ditko’s original creation albeit to a lesser extent. Doom Patrol has done the same, heavily relying on Grant Morrison’s run, but referencing almost every other incarnation of the team as well. Flex Mentallo and Danny the Street have made welcome returns whose lore is being expanded by the current creative team.

Mother Panic has the most obvious crossover with the current DC Universe. It is set in Gotham City and the its titular anti-hero is in indirect conflict with the Batman. Her goals and methods are a contrast to those of the Dark Knight and the story relies on that distinction for much of its thematic strength. While Batman has remained at a distance, he and the mythology of Gotham City remain an integral part of the story. Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye has featured the most direct crossover in its most recent issue when Cave remembers his initial meeting with Superman. The comic never tries to portray this encounter as an elseworlds tale. It truly feels like Superman and embraces the notion that Cave and his adventures take place within the same universe as every other Rebirth comic.

Why It’s Special

That final example from Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #7 is perhaps the best example as to why Young Animal being a part of the DC Universe matters. It’s not just that it provides readers alternatives to more standard superhero fare or broadens DC Comics’ potential readership and demographics. This connection allows the publisher to tell better stories. The crossover between Superman and Cave Carson is brief, but it illustrates a great deal about both characters. Superman is given a moment of moral clarity akin to those in the character defining work All-Star Superman. At the same time he is defined through the eyes of everyman and struggling father Cave Carson, which in turn offers readers a better understanding of this leading man. It’s an opportunity for excellent storytelling that helps make both an icon and a D-lister really matter.

That’s why series like Animal Man and Saga of the Swamp Thing remain so valued after 30 years. While lifting up minor characters to become legends, they also boosted the profile of existing icons. They were the tide that raises all ships at DC Comics. By linking Young Animal to the current DC Universe, it’s possible that the success of this new wave could help make a better array of superhero comics for all readers tomorrow.

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Local Comics Store Spotlight: MaximuM Comics

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 19, 2017.

The foundation of ComicBook.Com is comics. While we love to cover all aspects of pop and geek culture, our roots lie in the comics community and the plethora of characters and stories that have sprung from it. If you speak with anyone in the comics community about what has made the medium successful in North America, you’ll quickly discover one answer that stands far above the rest: local comics stores. They are the bedrock of comics in the United States and Canada, supporting fans, communities, and conventions with open doors and a dedicated staff.

This year on ComicBook.Com we are highlighting this important aspect of comics and culture by taking a look at one local comic store each week. These are stores that embody what it means to support culture and community. We hope you can visit some of them throughout 2017.

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When you come to Las Vegas you expect one thing wherever you go: excellent presentation. It’s a town defined by its glitz and glamor. People from across the United States and beyond travel to the city in order to be astounded by shows, lights, and shops. That rule doesn’t just apply to the casino floor or high-level attractions; it’s a philosophy that encompasses most public-facing aspects of the town. That includes comics and MaximuM Comics is a set of Las Vegas based stores that set an example for how to make this medium look good.

The stores are spacious, organized, and clean. A vast array of comics line the shelves ranging from current superhero hits to some deep cuts. It’s a storefront designed to welcome customers no matter their expectations. Someone who walked in by accident could be expected to stick around if a giant statue of The Hulk didn’t happen to scare them off.

“The 5 Senses Rule is our foundation to building a successful day each day we are open” says Jay Bosworth, the owner of all four MaximuM Comics locations. That rule refers to the idea that each of the sense should be pleasantly engaged, including smell and taste. Each store offers a wide array of snacks and there’s not a single note of stereotypical must to be detected in the air. Bosworth goes even further when examining how he approaches the customer experience, a phrase he likes to capitalize as “The Experience”. It’s not just making things clean and well-lit, temperature, music, and many other elements are all carefully considered.

All of this focus on presentation is part of the store’s core objective: “To provide the best comic shop experience on every visit to every person.” They were fans of the phrase “comics are for everyone” before it was popularized by comics artists Jordie Bellaire and Declan Shalvey on t-shirts. When speaking about the MaximuM Comics reader base, Bosworth is particularly enthusiastic about one group: children.

Many articles in the mainstream media tout that comics aren’t just for kids, but Bosworth worries that kids might be left behind as the medium focuses more on mature readers. Bosworth says, “Comic shops haven’t always been welcoming havens for younger readers, yet this is our future readership!” That’s what led MaximuM Comics to partner with the Clark County School District. They offer hour long classes to visiting students in which they cover a variety of topics including the history of comics, the teamwork involved in making comics, and the skills needed to work in a comics store. It’s an educational opportunity that encourages reading and artistic expression all through the medium of comics.

MaximuM Comics has seen a very enthusiastic response to their educational programs. Students and teachers both enjoy the presentations and their are free comics for everyone as well, which isn’t a bad deal. While many shops rely on regulars who have read comics for years already, MaximuM is actively discovering theirs. “We see so many kids and parents coming in to the shops that mention the presentation and it creates so many new readers and hopefully future comic shop owners!” says Bosworth.

That sense of excitement, presentation, and fun doesn’t end with classes either. MaximuM hosts regular events that have given the store a party-minded persona. They often theme their events around decades with recents 80s and 90s shindigs complete with costumes, music, food, and prizes. The parties have been a big hit with the local community and also do some good work. “We love to have big events that gather the community together, always with a charitable organization as a recipient of the party’s proceeds” says Bosworth. Each effort to find new comics readers is also an opportunity to support the communities in which each of the 4 MaximuM Comics locations exists.

The stores have noticed this approach changing the demographics of comics readers in Las Vegas. Over the past decade the stores have noticed a significant increase in the number of women visiting them to buy comics, meet with friends, and attend special events. The cleanly presentation, community efforts, and family-friendly attitude have made it clear these stores are open for everyone and their audience has responded. “Creating a space where everyone from all walks of life feel welcome and comfortable has been essential in growing this new segment of readership” says Bosworth. He also notes that this same philosophy has helped them to welcome back lapsed readers seeking out old favorites and new reads.

Bosworth and his team have built MaximuM Comics into a successful Vegas brand that sprawls across 4 stores in just over a decade. It’s a place where all people can come to enjoy comics and one that actively seeks out new readers with a smile. MaximuM is spreading the good word of comics in one of the most traveled cities in the world. When Bosworth is asked if there are plans for expansion in the future, he answers with a wink.

“Well, we didn’t name it Minimum Comics, now did we?”

Click ahead to see full details and photos of MaximuM Comics.

Store Info

Name: MaximuM Comics

Address: Centennial Centre, Suite 120

7950 W Tropical Parkway

Las Vegas, NV 89149

Phone: 702-722-6642

Website: MaximuM Comics

Twitter: @MaximuMComics

Facebook: MaximuM Comics

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Advance Review: Aliens: Dead Orbit

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 19, 2017.

Created by James Stokoe

In even the best licensed comics there is typically a gap between “the thing” and “the thing, itself”. The comics attempt to recapture the experience of a film, television show, video game, or some other form of media, but fall short simply because they are not the actual thing. That does not leave them without merit, but the gap remains and at least a slight sense of disappointment lingers. This is not the case of Aliens: Dead Orbit #1. It is its own thing and it succeeds entirely on its own merits — as both a wonderfully well crafted comic and a thrilling horror story set in space.

This will not be entirely surprising for readers familiar with creator James Stokoe’s previous licensed work: Godzilla: The Half-Century War. Stokoe is a consummate cartoonist who controls every aspect of his pages – art, writing, and lettering. He is the master of his storytelling and no compromise can be sensed in these pages. In Godzilla Stokoe imagined a kaiju epic that completed the life of one soldier. Here he shows a similar focus – this time on a single engineer – but it is in a much more claustrophobic setting. Wascylewski is an engineer and his story comprises a much shorter time frame of present and past only weeks apart at most. They are the beginning and ending of this story and weave together in this debut issue to establish an Aliens narrative that exists without the need to reference films or other outside work.

 

Stokoe does not take the reader’s knowledge for granted. He has told the first chapter of this story without assuming those looking at it have seen Alien. Each panel is packed with information about its world. Cramped and cluttered corridors provide a sense of the blue-collar space class that forms the tone of this world and background of its characters. A reference to Weyland-Yutani is simple worldbuilding, not a knowing wink. Each important element is introduced as economically as possible, whether they’re hibernation tanks or the acidic saliva of the monster.

Exposition exists in the form of panels rather than dialogue. When the crew of the Sphacteria Station speak with one another it is natural and minimal in nature. They banter and give shit, sometimes exposing elements of their existence, but never assuming something needs to be explained. There is no outsider character or new person – readers are left in a world well-conceived and lived in. It is Stokoe’s attention to detail and unwillingness to spoon feed his readers that immerses them in it, and the experience is stunning.

That immersion makes the mystery and horrors of this story far more effective than other comics iterations of the franchise that take the tone associated with Alien as a given. Stokoe hides the threats and keeps things quiet until they become loud. When something goes wrong, his lettering lights up the page, screaming as loudly as letters on paper are capable of doing. Darkness drips over the panels and allusions to threats are often far more effective than the actual revelation. For readers who are longtime fans of the franchise, they will recognize much more of Ridley Scott’s vision here than James Cameron’s. It is a comic that understands how horror stories work and effectively builds tension using those tools.

Stokoe is a cartoonist who both adores genre and studies his craft. This is what makes him the perfect artist to tackle an adaptation like Aliens: Dead Orbit. The chills and style of films are captured through Stokoe’s own eyes. The gap between the thing and the thing itself is closed because Aliens: Dead Orbit #1 is not an imitation, it is its own work of art — and a thrilling piece of comics storytelling.

Grade: A-

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Why Genre TV Fans Need to Tune In to Fargo

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 27, 2017.

Fargo returns to television in just one week for its 3rd season. The series has been established as a pillar of the seemingly never-ending “Golden Age of Television”. If you’re unfamiliar with Fargo, it’s an anthology series loosely based on the film of the same name from 1996. Every new season takes place in the same general setting – the northern Midwest – across a wide span of decades. They are connected by loose references and a handful of characters, but every set of 10 episodes is a self-contained story blending crime with black comedy. It is an outstanding example of television and one of the most unique features to be found today.

However, there seems to have been something lost in defining Fargo as “elite TV”. Its comparisons to Breaking Bad or The Sopranos are well deserved, but this status also seems to diminish or undersell its quirkier elements. The truth about Fargo is that while it is artful television, it is also very entertaining television. The concepts of elite and genre TV may be discussed like they are parts of two different worlds with different audiences, but that’s a lie. Fargo spans that gap with ease.

So while the focus of Fargo may rest on its awards and critical praise, that shouldn’t discourage viewers looking for a good hour every week that will help them rest, laugh, and offer a few thrills. So if you’re someone who comes to ComicBook.Com looking for updates on superhero TV and other great genre-focused series, this is why we would encourage you to check out Fargo as well.

Roots With The Coen Brothers

The crossover between artful execution and mass entertainment is something found in the origins of the series. Throughout their career the Coen Brothers have created a wide array of films that span genres and consistently surprise. Hail, Caesar, their most recent outing, is an excellent example of how many different tricks they have up their sleeves. It leapt from historical narrative to song-and-dance routines, and then to old school comedy routines. The variety on display was stunning and it shows just how wide a swath the directors have cut in their storytelling.

The original Fargo was a regional crime story with strong overtones of black comedy. That is something the show has captured very well, but it is not devoted solely to this one film. It regularly references and pulls from the entire Coens catalog. That means it can be more funny, wild, and weird than its nominal source material. The second season delved into an alien conspiracy that went in a direction almost no viewers expected. This level of freedom has allowed Fargo to use the Coens and all of their great films as a springboard into new territory. If you’re a fan of the movies, then you’ll appreciate the many connections. However, if you’re not familiar, then there’s no reason you won’t enjoy the series and you’ll likely find yourself seeking out some films after the newest season concludes.

Crafted By The Best

We’ve made the case that modern TV can be every bit as good as film on a regular basis. The talent attracted by Fargo goes a long way in making that case. Each new season of the show has attracted immense acting talents, and the third season is no exception. Ewan McGregor, who most recently starred in Trainspotting 2, is coming to the small screen playing 2 unique roles as a set of twins. He’ll be accompanied by the likes of Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and 10 Cloverfield Lane), David Thewlis (The Harry Potter films and MacBeth), and Jim Gaffigan of standup fame.

In this universe of stars, the shining center of Fargo must be Noah Hawley. Fans of FX’s most recent hit series Legion likely know his name already. He is the showrunner of that fascinating dive into X-Men lore and was given control based on his outstanding work on Fargo. If you love Legion, then you’ll recognize a lot of similar elements in his other FX work. It is a visually stunning work that is crafted to function perfectly both as individual episodes and entire seasons. Actors give surprising performances and directors bring A-game that is recognizable for its intricacies. Hawley is 2 for 2 on television and the most important element in making Fargo the knockout series we should all be watching next week.

Action, Horror, Comedy, and More

Of course, there is the question of what you’re looking for in a television series. A great premise and incredible talent isn’t enough if something just isn’t your bag. That’s part of what makes Fargo great though; it’s flexible. At its heart Fargo is a crime story and a story of the Midwest. It presents is setting with stunning accuracy (coming from someone who’s spent most of his life there) and makes the crime genre work for it as well as anything else currently airing. Yet these are just its two most obvious pillars. There’s a whole lot more going on.

When it comes to comedy, Fargo is hard to beat on a weekly basis. Nick Offerman’s performance as a drunken, libertarian lawyer last season is still one of the funniest things you can search on YouTube. The action beats of the series are real knockouts. Season two ended in a shootout that was better shot than most Hollywood blockbusters. When the series gets dark, it reaches realms of realistic horror that are hard to find almost anywhere. Martin Freeman’s descent from mundane husband to killer in the first season is still stunning. That’s not to mention the series’ recent forays into science fiction.

Whatever you’re looking for, Fargo likely has it. It’s a series that is based on a great premise, offers a new jumping on point with each season, and hires the absolute best to execute some excellent television. But what makes it even more exceptional is that it aspires to entertain as well as excel. Watching Fargo is a delight that stands up to the best genre TV offered today. That’s why we hope you check out the new season starting next Wednesday, April 19th.

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Local Comics Store Spotlight: Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 12, 2017.

The foundation of ComicBook.Com is comics. While we love to cover all aspects of pop and geek culture, our roots lie in the comics community and the plethora of characters and stories that have sprung from it. If you speak with anyone in the comics community about what has made the medium successful in North America, you’ll quickly discover one answer that stands far above the rest: local comics stores. They are the bedrock of comics in the United States and Canada, supporting fans, communities, and conventions with open doors and a dedicated staff.

This year on ComicBook.Com we are highlighting this important aspect of comics and culture by taking a look at one local comic store each week. These are stores that embody what it means to support culture and community. We hope you can visit some of them throughout 2017.

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Joe Field has always been ahead of the curve. Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff, Field’s store, was founded in 1988 and all three decades of its existence have presented some of the most important lessons the American comics industry has subsequently learned. From the founding philosophy of Flying Colors to the creation of events like Free Comic Book Day, this is one store that has left an indelible mark on the industry. Field, his family, and his staff have continually led comics forward and the many stories they have to tell are still worth a listen by retailers, publishers, and fans alike.

When Field opened Flying Colors it was months before Tim Burton’s Batman movie opened, it was on the cusp of the 90s comics bubble and it was just after the bust of  the black & white boom. It was a great time to get into comics, one that came with a built-in audience and plenty of opportunities. That wasn’t enough for this store though. Field strove from the very start to be a family friendly store in which anyone could enjoy themselves and find something to read, not just the current crop  of collectors and readers. “My wife and three young daughters were my ‘marketing research’ team as we looked at all kinds of stores to come up with a plan,” says Field. The diversity of perspectives in age and gender that founded Flying Colors was decades ahead of its time and has paid off in a big way.

Field pays close attention to his customer base and has noted a big shift over the decades. When Flying Colors first opened its doors their customers were 80% male and about 20 years old on average. Today women make up more than 35% of the base and the average age has shifted upward towards 33. That speaks to the importance of inclusivity and building lifelong customers who keep reading well after high school. It’s the sort of change that emphasizes the long-term.

The long-term is a key concept behind Flying Color’s most successful initiative: Free Comic Book Day (FCBD). Joe Field was the man with a plan behind this international event that started at his store in Northern California. The first FCBD occurred in 2002 with only a few special issues and 8 publishers involved. In the 15 years since it has exploded into an event that will feature more than 2300 comic shops in more than 60 countries giving away 6 million comics from 38 publishers in 2017. It all began with Field looking at what worked outside of comics in an effort to boost his own industry. Field says it was all about “an age-old method of promotion: the freebie.” He had staked his livelihood on comics and believed in the product. FCBD was about giving people a taste of what makes the medium so special. For anyone who has visited a comic book store on the first Saturday of May in the past decade, the results speak for themselves.

Click ahead to learn more about Joe Field’s origins and where the future of Flying Colors lies.

Joe Field and Flying Colors owe a portion of their story to one of the great writers of origins in comics: Stan Lee. Field was working in sales and marketing at KJOY-AM in Stockton CA when he did a promotion asking Marvel to name Stockton as the “birthplace of the Fantastic Four.” In early 1986  Stan Lee  visited Stockton to officially bestow the FF”s hometown designation with lots of media in attendance. The pair hit it off and Lee invited Field to help him with some a freelance public relations gig. . It was a rabbit hole of comics fandom including promotion for Lee’s wife’s new book and the first few years of WonderCon. Field was hooked and opened Flying Colors only two years later.

Field captures a bit of Lee’s own flair in how he promotes his store and the people who make it a unique hotspot for comics. He refers to his customers as the “FlyCo Faithful” in a manner similar to the “Merry Marvel Marching Society”. The staff of Flying Colors, who have only numbered 53 in total over 28 years, are a source of immense pride for Field. That incredibly low turnover speaks to both their loyalty and a team people genuinely desire to be a part of.

The early years brought Field into touch with a lot of great young talent who would also leave a mark on the industry. He is quick to rattle off names like Dan Brereton, Jeff Johnson, Ken Hooper, and Darick Robertson. It was none other than Jim Lee who did his first professional store signing at Flying Colors’ Grand Opening which was three weeks after the store opened.

Flying Colors is a store with roots firmly embedded in the comics industry. You only have to look at highlights like early flirtations with Stan “The Man” Lee, support of many rising stars, and the creation of a world-wide event like FCBD to realize this is a comics store that cares deeply about comics. That’s a point Field doesn’t shy away from either. There is the “Other Cool Stuff” portion of the name, but it’s all a bonus that comes in addition to the comics. “We’re not a game store, even though we carry a few card games. We are first, last and always a full service Comic Book Store, and everything we do spins out of that,” says Field.

Flying Colors has already begun to gear up for its 30th anniversary coming in October 2018. There are a variety of events in the works and based on the store’s track record it’s entirely plausible the next FCBD might spin out of them. However, Field stresses that one of the most important things to do in comics is to remain flexible. The past 30 years of comics have been crazy with big ups and downs, and Flying Colors’ ability to survive it all speaks to some hard won wisdom. “It’s vital for us to stay low to the ground, and be flexible enough to charge hard when we can and pull back when we need to,” says Field.

Whatever the 30th anniversary and years after it may bring, there’s no doubt that Flying Colors will remain a leader in American comics. You only need to look at its history and how each of its ideas have played out to see how this store has consistently represented the future of comics. Field and his team led efforts to make their store inclusive and diverse before those were buzzwords. They actively pushed for new readers with events like FCBD. Artists teamed up with them to find readers and meet fans before striking it big.

Flying Colors is a testament to what one store can achieve and how ideas can spread to make an entire industry a little bit better.

Click ahead to see full details and photos of Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff.

Store Info

Name: Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff

Address: 2980 Treat Blvd

Concord, CA 94518

Phone: (925) 825-5410

Website: Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff

Twitter: @flycojoe

Facebook: Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff

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Review of Raw

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 27, 2017.

Plot is overrated. It holds a story together and offers connections between scenes, but it isn’t enough to make you squirm or scream or spit popcorn. This sort of visceral response is something more pure; it taps into a part of our mind and forces it to respond. It’s raw.

Raw is French director Julia Ducournau’s first solo feature film centered on Justine, a vegetarian beginning her first year of veterinary school. After being forced to consume a raw rabbit’s kidney in the course of hazing, she discovers a deep, insatiable hunger within herself that activates changes within her body and behavior. It is the start of a dark vortex that includes her older sister Alexia and gay roommate Adiren.

Raw is a film that values plot and character, but treasures this more primal response. It seeks to make audiences react beyond thinking. To watch Raw is to move and make noise and choose between watching and looking away. The experience of the film is undeniably powerful and its very existence makes the case for the power of film. Every aspect of the narrative is obsessed with drilling into the concept of human hunger, in all of its forms including addiction, discovery, and ecstasy.

That description of the film makes it sound like a Dionysian object of revelry, but what sets Raw apart from films tackling similar subject matter is its restraint. Trailers cast the story as a non-stop descent into madness with pain and passion coating each shot. Those reels are a greatest hits feature that serve the filmmaking well, but not the film itself. There is a story of school, family, and friendships in Raw and it is this narrative that allows the truest moments of horror to transcend.

Ducournau demonstrates a tremendous understanding of tension. It is built, explored, restructured, and rebuilt throughout the course of Raw to tremendous effect. By the time audience members begin to feel their skin crawl the setting and rules have been established. Rather than depending purely on the grotesquerie of a single moment, Ducournau builds to it in a way that makes the actual event seem both inevitable and shocking.

This is encompassed nowhere better than in a scene between Justine and Alexia midway through the film’s tight 99 minutes. Justine is given an opportunity to further her newly discovered interest in meat in a moment that is carefully constructed, but still capable of eliciting screams. As she ponders the decision, the step forward could not be more clear, but Ducournau holds the camera and moment just long enough to leave a question mark hanging in the air. There is no turning back, there never is in Raw, but the director challenges the audience to believe things might turn out better before robbing them of hope.

Ducournau’s long tracking shots throughout the film, extended seemingly based on just how uncomfortable or disorienting any given moment might be, serve to act as a dare. They challenge viewers to not turn away because the camera will not do so on your behalf. The most rapid editing occurs towards the films climax and, even in this brutal back-and-forth, it cuts only every few seconds. There is a need to continue watching that compels viewers to value what is on the screen over their own appetites. The horror on the screen is not enough, it is valued by its presentation.

All of this presentation lives and dies on the elements that build, the performance of Garance Marillier coming first and foremost. She is a hurricane of conflicts and constant change, an adolescent essentially. When she first arrives at school it is with an attitude that is demure and resistant. The enormous changes she endures in less than two hours are stunning. Yet the emergence of Justine as a sexual being, a fearsome rival, or a predator all make sense within Marillier’s performance. A dance sequence in which she pumps French club beats that shout about f**king and dominance while lipstick is smeared on a mirror feels perfectly right even compared to the girl hiding in the corner of her room an hour before. It is a transformative performance.

That is boosted by the efforts of Ella Rumpf as her sister Alexia and Rabah Naït Oufella as her roommate. Their comparative comfort within the school make Justine’s tumultuous path forward stand out. They are the ones who have accepted their roles, more so than Justine at the very least, and who her path has the potential to wreck. It is their comfort that makes her growth possible. Justine’s father, played by Laurent Lucas, plays a much more minor role, but it is every bit as perfectly deployed as the younger actors. He steals the final scene of Raw and offers a final shot that is made exceptional by his facial expression.

All of this is enhanced by a production that is surprising at the very least and often superb in its many facets. The score by Jim Williams can be compared to that of another recent horror standout It Follows. It utilizes electronica and strings to pulse in viewer’s brains and ratchet up tension like a piano string prepared to snap and cut the player’s face. Lighting and design elements are spectacular throughout. Small details highlight the reality of this school in which so many outlandish events occur. The illustrations that bedeck upper classmen’s lab coats are one example of an element that makes even extras feel like real people. It is an absorbing environment that help make many of the repulsive actions on screen so difficult to look away from.

The story of Raw is uncomfortable, often disgusting, and so the riveting result of a film speaks volumes both about the quality of the craft and compelling themes it contains. This is a story of how humans cannot help themselves or one another when confronted by irresistible desires. It is a film of weakness and mistakes, one that does not demonize its subjects, but forces us to empathize with their hungers are ultimately not so different from our own. That is why it horrifies and why we cannot look away.

The result is raw, in the best sense of that word.

Grade: A

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5 Reasons Laura Kinney is the Wolverine We Need

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 8, 2017.

Laura Kinney (a.k.a. X-23 and Wolverine) has existed in comics for more than a decade now, but it has only been in the past few years that her star has risen to the A-list of Marvel Comics properties. In the wake of Death of Wolverine, she stepped into Logan’s blue and gold boots to become Marvel’s only Wolverine and has held that title since. She also made her big screen debut in the incredibly well received movie Logan where she managed to hold her own against favorites like Patrick Stewart’s Professor X and Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. It has been an incredibly quick rise to stardom for the character.

That’s a good thing for fans of X-Men comics and movies alike too. Laura Kinney isn’t lucky to be where she is, we’re lucky to have her. If you’re reading All-New Wolverine or saw Logan already, then you probably already know why. However, if you’re unconvinced, we’re here to break it down for you. This is why Laura Kinney is the Wolverine we need today and why we hope she’ll stick around in the role for a long while to come.

Relaunching the X-Men

Let’s start with the X-Men at Marvel Comics. At their height there was no more popular group of characters in all of comics, but it has been awhile since the 90s and the X-Men franchise has seen better days. Starting this week the comics are getting a booster shot with 2 new leading team books (subtitled Blue and Gold), and are receiving a variety of other new launches. The X-Men’s greatest successes have always come from mixing up the formula, mutating what came before. Laura as Wolverine will be part of that strategy if this new launch is meant to stick.

Wolverine is undoubtedly the single most popular character to emerge from the X-Men franchise, but he’s also a character that has been around for a long time now and often at the center of stories. If the X-Men are meant to feel fresh again, then the old stories and norms need to be put aside. Having Laura popping claws offers some familiarity, but doesn’t force creators to repeat what has already been there. Instead we can have artists and writers focus on pushing the X-Men forward.

New Stories to Tell

Speaking of making the X-Men fresh, the same can be said of Wolverine as a brand. Logan’s story has been told so many ways that not even a careful reading of his Wikipedia page makes his history clear. This is a character that has been done to death and continuing to retread the same ground of his origins, connections to Japan, reluctant leader or mentor, or any other brand will feel like just that: a retread.

Laura’s stories are still fresh though. She has only just begun to establish herself as a real honest-to-goodness superhero. Springboarding from her troubled origins as detailed by creators like Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, Laura has started to grow and accept more responsibility. Now in the page of All-New Wolverine she has a compelling supporting cast and is just beginning to develop her own set of story tropes, villains, and other key elements. It should be a delight to continue watching Laura expand from Wolverine’s protege to a superhero in her own right.

Dafne Keen

It’s still astounding that in a film featuring both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, a young girl nobody had seen before still managed to steal almost every scene she was in. That’s exactly what happened in Logan though. Dafne Keen was enthralling as a feral child and her growth towards being a more emotionally complex and hopeful figure than her father was very well executed.

For Fox Studios the smart move is to find a way to keep Keen involved with the X-Men now that Jackman has left. Rather than attempting to recast the irreplaceable actor, they can build a new star from scratch and tell the stories of X-23 or Wolverine as part of a team or a solo character. While Logan may have been Jackman’s last outing, it’s clear that Keen ought to stick around for many years to come.

Logan is Resting in Peace

Of course there’s the issue that for fans of Logan in film and comics that he is still a beloved character. That should really be an argument for letting him stay dead though. We have bundles of top-notch Wolverine stories featuring brilliant artists and in a wide array of genres. Those aren’t going anywhere, while looking at the past decade it seems obvious that Logan was running out of steam in comics. Jackman is done with the X-Men franchise too, and there’s no use trying to find someone that can fill his shoes.

Death of Wolverine may not have been the character’s finest hour, but it gave him a chance to rest and it has worked out quite well. Without Wolverine in the Marvel Universe, fans still love the character and the stories have kept coming. For those who really need an itch scratched with 3 claws, there’s also the inclusion of Old Man Logan from an alternate reality. It’s time to keep Wolverine dead so we can appreciate his highlights and stop beating a regenerating horse.

Girl Power

Wolverine was always the cool guy in the X-Men from his joining the team in Giant Size X-Men #1. That’s true of Laura now too. Whether she’s palling around with the original team from an alternate timeline or diving into a crossover, Laura kicks butt and is always the toughest person in the room. Guys got their chance and now it’s a girl’s turn to show us all how it’s done.

It’s clear that Marvel Comics and superhero movies could use more women in leading roles, and this is one specific role that needs filled. The incredible violence, shocking depths of character, and versatility of Wolverine forms one of the best mantle in all of Marvel Comics. That’s a mantle Laura Kinney is clearly well-prepared to hold. We owe it to Laura and to ourselves to check out her stories and see where they go. She’s every bit as tough, cool, and interesting as Logan, but her tale has only just begun.

Lucky us.

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Local Comics Store Spotlight: Laughing Ogre Comics

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 5, 2017.

The foundation of ComicBook.Com is comics. While we love to cover all aspects of pop and geek culture, our roots lie in the comics community and the plethora of characters and stories that have sprung from it. If you speak with anyone in the comics community about what has made the medium successful in North America, you’ll quickly discover one answer that stands far above the rest: local comics stores. They are the bedrock of comics in the United States and Canada, supporting fans, communities, and conventions with open doors and a dedicated staff.

This year on ComicBook.Com we are highlighting this important aspect of comics and culture by taking a look at one local comic store each week. These are stores that embody what it means to support culture and community. We hope you can visit some of them throughout 2017.

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It’s possible for many comics readers to take their local comics store for granted. In midsize cities like Omaha, Nebraska or Newark, New Jersey, one or several stores are a standard in their community. They sit where they always have, filled with longboxes of back issues, shelves of the newest comics, and a thriving community of fans. Whether you’re a young student discovering a hobby or a longtime fan doing what you always have, these stores seem like they’ve always been there. That’s not true, but an institution like Laughing Ogre Comics in Columbus, Ohio, makes it clear how someone could see it that way.

Laughing Ogre Comics sits at the end of a strip mall composed of the literal bricks & mortar that are used to describe beloved small businesses. Its sign is a custom affair featuring both the jovial gremlin in its name and a Superman insignia – just in case someone was wondering what they might sell. In the window are posters of superhero teams and upcoming events alongside the store hours. Looking at the the storefront, it’s easy to imagine this place has always been here.

That’s not the case though. Laughing Ogre Comics opened its doors for the first time in 1994 and its future has not always been assured. Founder and current manager Gib Bickel points out the store has passed through three sets of owners with “a small dip in the middle”. While we may see local comics stores as standard parts of a community on sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory or The Simpsons, they’re often run as much on passion and willpower as economic success. Laughing Ogre’s continued existence is a testament to those elements in its staff.

Gib says, “Our initial goal was to create the shop we wanted to shop at.” Laughing Ogre is a store created by comics fans for comics fans, like many others. It’s that drive that helped to form the greatest asset of the location in Gib’s mind: a staff that is one of the best in the country. When you look around Columbus and at the dedicated patrons of Laughing Ogre Comics, it’s clear that this staff is what has made the shop a landmark in the Ohio comics scene.

Click ahead to see what has changed and Laughing Ogre Comics and how the store plans to continue its history for years to come.

Laughing Ogre Comics may have hit some rough spots in its more than two decades of history, but the store has never been in a stronger place than it is right now. The ownership notes there have been some big changes in readership over the past decade. Gib says, “We probably have the youngest and most diverse reader base we have ever had.  The biggest addition is the big influx of female readers.” Those additions to the readership have helped bring new life to the store and provide a readership for a growing range of comics. Each new reader is looking for a book to call their own and the staff at Laughing Ogre is prepared to help them find it.

Looking ahead, the future of Laughing Ogre is founded both on its people and its product. In addition to a wide variety of new faces coming through the door, there are a lot of great comics they’re looking to discover. When asked about what will make the future of Laughing Ogre great, Gib says it’s the combination of people and “the rise in the quality of the books, coupled with popular culture spreading the word.” Movies and TV shows might hook interest, but it’s what’s on the shelves that keep individuals coming back. The Image revolution combined with a diverse set of books from other publishers like Boom! Studios and IDW Publishing makes that possible.

The staff is interested in the history of comics as well as what is fresh and new. There’s no one right answer to selling comics for Laughing Ogre Comics; the answer is in embracing everything about it. “We want everyone that comes in to get a sense of the wonderful material being produced today, and through the art form’s history” Gib says. That can start as far back as early Ignatz strips or classic Pogo comics, and runs through today’s variations of superheroes with Superman being a father or Ms. Marvel being a hero for a new generation of readers. It’s apparent that the history seen on the walls of the store is felt within the products they carry too. There’s no battle between past and presents. It’s all comics and it all matters.

Laughing Ogre Comics is a cornerstone beyond its shopping center; it’s an important locale in Columbus. People from around the city rely on it to get their comics. Some have been coming for decades and others just discovered it after the most recent Marvel Studios film. What all of these people have in common is a fascination with comics and the staff at Laughing Ogre Comics is prepared to support them. This is a store that appreciates all of their interests and offers a place of shared community. That is what made it important in 1994 and what makes it important in 2017. It is a store that reminds us why local comics shops matter.

Thinking about everything that Laughing Ogre Comics has been through so far, Gib says, “I see a very bright future.”

Click ahead to see full details and photos of Laughing Ogre Comics.

Store Info

Name: Laughing Ogre Comics

Address: 4258 N High Street

Columbus, OH 43214

Phone: (614) 267-6473

Website: Laughing Ogre Comics

Twitter: @LaughingOgreOH

Facebook: Laughing Ogre Comics

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Why I Am A Hero is The Best Zombie Comic Today

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 4, 2017.

Horror has experienced a revival in the American comics market over the past decade. You can see more bloodsuckers than ever in comics like American Vampire or The Belfry, or see all sorts of other monsters in the pages of Hellboy or B.P.R.D., but there’s one sub-genre that has led the rest: zombies. It doesn’t take a genius to guess why either. The Walking Dead is a smash hit in comics stores and on TV, and there’s nothing like success to inspire imitation. So of course you can find an array of zombie comics, ranging from the great to the mediocre. Surprisingly though, The Walking Dead isn’t the best zombie comic being published today (although it’s definitely in the top 3).

The best zombie comic coming out in America right now is I Am A Hero by Kengo Hanazawa. Dark Horse Comics began adapting the manga into English translations last year, but the series has been running in Japan since 2009 where it’s currently on its 22nd volume. We are just starting to catch on here in the states, but it’s easy to see why it has been around for almost a decade once you start flipping pages. The series features Hideo Suzuki, a lazy artist with no drive, who finds himself in the midst of a zombie plague with one of the only rifles in Tokyo. It’s a riveting read.

Here are 5 reasons why it’s the absolute best zombie comic being published today.

The Slow Revelation of Horror

One of the advantages of manga is that it’s not constrained to a 20+ page monthly package. Having a variety of assistants help a series’ artist allows for a much more challenging production schedule with many more pages on which to expand a story. That’s something Hanazawa has taken full advantage of for the series most dramatic moments. He will regularly utilize 5 or more spreads in order to breakdown a single moment that might only occur over the course of a single second.

In the very first volume there is an instant where a crashing airplane strikes a person with its landing gear. Rather than deliver the blow in one instant, readers have to watch as the wheels draw closer, hit the person, annihilate their body, then crash through cement. Each turn of the page reveals new horrors and increases the reader’s sense of dread. This choice inverts the typical method of shocks by slowing down revelations rather than relying on a sudden page turn. It’s a brilliant choice that really pays off.

Varied Peoples and Places

Setting the story in and around Tokyo provides endless fodder both in regards to setting and characters. The absolute chaos that would surround a zombie outbreak in one of the most densely populated areas on earth provides a non-stop deluge of changes for the story. Nowhere is safe and that means the protagonists must keep moving at a breakneck pace. Within the first few volumes you jump between apartment complexes, highway hauls, amusement parks, and cabin retreats, and never have a chance to get settled.

This also means Suzuki is encountering new people every few chapters. They often play out like mini-tragedies (often with a comedic edge) as individuals are killed almost as quickly as they appear. From high school students to feuding couples to cab drivers, there’s a wide array of people who come through the panels of I Am A Hero, not that many of them last.

A Really Relatable Regular Guy

The truth behind most zombie stories is that the “typical guy” isn’t very typical. They find it in themselves to commit acts of incredible heroism or terrible depravity. Their choices are decisive or caricature the pits of human depravity. Ultimately the heroes of these stories are exaggerations. For better or worse, probably worse, Hideo Suzuki really seems like a regular guy and reflects how someone grounded in normality might reflect to this sort of scenario.

He is often torn over moral decisions and finds his indecision just as troublesome as any choice. Power is just as regularly taken from his hands as circumstances leave him with no choice but to run. There are no major character redefinitions, as that’s not how life really plays out. Suzuki is a relatable, understandable and consistent human being. He responds based on who he was before the apocalypse, not as how he would hope to be after it has happened. That level of realism and character-driven storytelling is admirable.

Truly Horrifying Images

Hanazawa does not hold back when imagining the creepiest images possible. He features lovers chewing one another’s faces off, babies biting at heels, and even more terrible nightmare fuel. I Am A Hero ought to come with a reader beware warning because it never holds back. If you enjoy horror, but hesitate at gore, then this may not be the comic for you.

However, if you enjoy some truly creepy moments that won’t leave your brain for years to come (like most zombie fans), then you’re in for a treat. This comic offers some incredibly well rendered panels that combine design and concept into a perfect blend of images that will keep you up well past your bedtime.

Surprises Beyond Shocks

It’s easy to shock a reader. You can kill a character with no warning or compose a particularly gruesome image. It is much harder to offer deeper surprises than shock though. I Am A Hero is filled with shocks, but it offers those deeper surprises as well. Much of that is founded in its character-driven storytelling. You get to know the characters who last well enough that the smallest changes can surprise you a great deal.

Watching the people of this comic learn and grow in their situation in a very realistic fashion, one that often prevents them from changing by more than centimeters, makes these surprises much more substantial. Relationships that grow from a situation of incredible anxiety and choices that stem from a long line of previous decisions are very rewarding. While it’s still a blast to see the most gruesome new zombies and terrifying slow-motion kills, it’s the longform storytelling of I Am A Hero that makes it the best zombie comic today.

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