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Why Sci-Fi and Comics Fanatics Gather

MIKE PESCA, host:

What do Iron Man, Superman, Spiderman, assorted Jedi and Eva Mendes have in common? They all have strange powers over 13-year-olds, and they all were all in Gotham City this weekend for the third annual New York Comic-Con, tens of thousands of sci-fi and comics fans in a mecca of comic books, toys, graphic novels, lots of superhero paraphernalia.

The co-creator of Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men, Stan Lee was there, true believers. It's also a big industry event. Some of the biggest deals get done there. Joining us now is Christopher Butcher, who manages Toronto's Beguiling Books and Arts and blogs for comics212.net. How are you doing, Christopher?

Mr. CHRISTOPHER BUTCHER (Manager, Beguiling Books and Arts; Blogger, Comics212.net): Pretty good. Pretty good.

PESCA: So you're at - you've been to all three of these, you were telling me? All three of these New York Comic-Cons.

Mr. BUTCHER: Yeah. The first one three years ago was my first trip to New York actually, just fantastic.

PESCA: And I know they have the biggest show - the biggest comic show is in San Diego. Is this the East-Coast equivalent?

Mr. BUTCHER: Very much so and getting more like that every year. San Diego's a really media-focused show now. Big bright lights, Lucas Film takes out 30 square feet of - oh sorry, 30 feet by like 30 feet of booth. It's huge.

PESCA: So they use it to promote comics related and fantasy-related movies that are coming out?

Mr. BUTCHER: Oh, yeah, and that's bigger than ever now.

PESCA: Yeah. So here's my question, I guess. If the West Coast Avengers were a pal version of the East Coast Avengers, why was the West Coast comic show bigger than the East Coast comic show?

Mr. BUTCHER: I think it's because California's got nicer weather most of the time.

PESCA: Yeah. That's true. And when you wear the suit, you know, sometimes the Superman cape doesn't provide much protection. By the way, if we went there, would we see a lot of people walking around in costume or is that kind of rare?

Mr. BUTCHER: You know, more and more now, too. This year was everything from like really home-made kind of fun, funny-looking comics - costumes, sorry, to really like top of the line like productions, you know, like everything like you'd find in a theme park almost, and these are fans that are that dedicated to their craft and to being these characters. And it's not just superheroes either, like the Manga for the kids, a lot of Pokemon...

PESCA: The Japanese comics.

Mr. BUTCHER: Yeah. The Japanese comics. Or you know, people coming in costumes as characters from, you know, more mature graphic novels, but because they look like everybody else, it's kind of an in joke.

PESCA: When people come dressed as Manga comics, what do they do about those big saucer eyes? Do they have plug-ins or?

Mr. BUTCHER: Generally, they go with their own eyes, but I saw a girl online the other day who had tattooed Manga eyes up on her eyelids so her eyes would be like two inches tall. It was really creepy.

PESCA: Hope it's a henna.

Mr. BUTCHER: I hope so, too.

PESCA: Like, when she's a grandma at 65! Now, we said big deals are done there, so it's not just fans. It's industry also.

Mr. BUTCHER: Yeah. Actually, I came down for the industry stuff being a retailer. They do a lot of retailer programming. They do a lot of programming for librarians now because graphic novels are such a huge, huge issue for reluctant readers. Boys that are trying to figure out what reaches them, and this does, but also just general populous.

People really love graphic novels and so the librarians want to get in there, the schools want to get in there, and then obviously, the Hollywood stuff. Stan Lee, who you mentioned in the intro, had a huge weekend with announcements where he's being the first U.S. creator to sort of work with the Japanese creators and create a character that's for both markets, and he's coming up with a new line of superhero comics for Richard Branson, Virgin Comics.

PESCA: Now I know Stan Lee's like 80, and obviously, he invented a lot of these, but you know, a lot of the comic-book purists think that he kind of stole Steve Ditko's thunder with "Spiderman." I mean, you know, when these guys are so invested in it, you always have some sniping. In general, is Stan Lee a God? What's the conception of Stan Lee?

Mr. BUTCHER: I think there are very few people that have a really balanced measure of Stan Lee, because growing up, I mean, reading the comics, he was sort of like this mythical figure sort of floating around in the comics alongside the characters.

PESCA: Right, he would draw himself in the comics, and he would answer readers' questions and he was front and center, yeah.

Mr. BUTCHER: Any panel he was on this weekend, people reacted like he was one of the Beatles, like, they just lost their minds for him.

PESCA: That's cool. And you know, you were talking about graphic novels, I think I read that in the last 30 years or something, graphic novels is the only genre the New York Times Book Review has added. So they review graphic novels, and they're getting so much more legitimacy and so much more respect. What about sales? Are sales really in line with kind of people's perception of them?

Mr. BUTCHER: The big news this weekend, at least on our trade side, on an industry side, was that graphic novels remain the only section - the only category in bookstores that are actually increasing in sales and in volume year after year. So the book stores are really jumping on this because, you know, the book industry is kind of flat right now, and I mean, anyone who's following the book news knows that things, you know, things are pretty tough out there.

PESCA: And what's good about the graphic novels is the other big growth was one title, "Harry Potter," and graphic novels it's not just one author or one, you know, franchise. Graphic novels as a whole are doing well.

Mr. BUTCHER: Yeah. Most of the growth is coming actually from the Japanese comics. The younger and younger readers coming into the industry, which for the longest time, I mean, between when I came into the industry in the mid-1980s with the "Transformers" comics and maybe even four years ago, there was nothing out there for kids.

It had gone - it had become this sort of grim and gritty - almost like you see with the Frank Miller "Sin City." He did a Batman book that - and "Watchmen," which is coming out to theaters I think early next year, really sort of set the tone and comics became - even the superhero stuff became very adult.

PESCA: Right. It wasn't accessible, and kids would go to a movie and say, oh, I love Spiderman and go into a store, and it would be off-putting. There'd be 17 different titles, all these different timelines, and nothing really for an 11-year-old.

Mr. BUTCHER: Yeah. Nothing for an 11-year-old. They've really tried in the last little while, I got to give Marvel some credit, they've really tried to make the books more new-readers friendly, but it's a learning process for them, because no one who was there 20 years ago is still at the company.

PESCA: Why was Eva Mendes there?

Mr. BUTCHER: Damned if I know. Why was Jenna Jameson there? Jenna Jameson was on the women of comics' panel this year.

PESCA: Because she's a living comic book? Is that the idea?

Mr. BUTCHER: Far be it from me to say, but they're actually doing a comic based on her idea of what a superhero is.

PESCA: Oh, thank God. Listen, this is the last question and I did a little impression of the Simpsons' comic book guy, what are the comic book- the real comic book guys, think, of "the worst episode ever," the owner of the Android Dungeon on the Simpsons?

Mr. BUTCHER: Nobody wants to be that guy, but everybody secretly is that guy. It is pretty much how it shakes out. I'm lucky in that my friends don't ask me to do the voice too often which is nice.

PESCA: But do you have those kind of strong opinions? Like, "actually in episode 42..."

Mr. BUTCHER: Yeah. And I'm always, always in the back of my head going, just shut up, shut up, no one wants to know.

PESCA: Christopher Butcher, comic book manager and blogger. Thanks very much, Chris.

Mr. BUTCHER: Thank you.

PESCA: And next on the show, the NFL draft is coming up this weekend. Matt Ryan is the golden-boy quarterback. We will talk to him next on the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.