Collector’s Paradise and Comics Factory gear up for the biggest superhero makeover in decades
By Carl Kozlowski 09/01/2011
As a longtime comic book fan, Ed Greenberg has found thrills and chills in reading about battles between good and evil, underdogs versus the rich and powerful. When he decided to open a second location of his Canoga Park-based comic-book store, Collector’s Paradise, in Pasadena last April, Greenberg found himself engaged in a different kind of battle — one for Pasadena’s comics market against the long-established Comics Factory, a 15-year-old store that has cornered the market on the city’s three main college campuses.
Now Greenberg and his competitors at the Comics Factory are eagerly gearing up for an event that could shake up the entire comics industry.
On Wednesday, DC Comics — home to such legends of the industry as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman — re-launched its entire universe of heroes and villains, with more than 50 characters getting both visual re-designs and adjustments to their core stories.
The reason for the re-launch was simple: DC has fallen dramatically behind its main rival, Marvel Comics, over the past decade, with Marvel currently claiming 43.59 percent of the market compared to DC’s 34.76 percent. The two fiercely competitive brands stand head and shoulders above the rest of the industry, with third-place Image Comics nabbing just 4.52 percent of the market, according to Maryland-based Diamond Comic Distributors, the nation’s largest distribution company.
But DC’s latest moves to regain supremacy mark the biggest changes in comics in nearly two decades.
“I think it’s probably the biggest thing to hit comics since the early ’90s, when the death of Superman brought a lot of people into comics who weren’t fans before,” says Greenberg. “DC has been foundering behind Marvel, with characters that are unapproachable due to histories stretching back decades. Marvel has more realistic characters [X-Men, Spiderman, Ironman, Fantastic Four], people with flaws and edge and powers that don’t make them better than everyone else but extend their flaws.”
Greenberg notes that DC’s big moves couldn’t happen at a better time. The industry has fought a tremendous downturn over the past two years. Readership and the number of publications have sunk each month — today, even the biggest-selling titles are barely printing more than 100,000 copies.
But the fascination stirred up by DC’s reinvention, piquing the interest of longtime fans as well as drawing many new customers into the store to pre-order copies, has shot numbers back up. DC is printing more than 100,000 copies each of its six main titles, with more than 200,000 being printed for the initial “Justice League” comic teaming several of its biggest heroes in one epic adventure.
“I think it’s going to work spectacularly, because based on the numbers of people pre-ordering who’ve never bought the books before, it’s amazing,” says Greenberg. “Young people are coming in asking us to hold the books for them. There’s not just a change in the writing approach, but the art.”
Indeed, Greenberg notes that the new DC titles are more visually driven in an attempt to cater to a video-game generation that wants a more visceral visual appeal. They also seem to taking a page from teen-angst dramas like “Vampire Diaries,” which fills the schedule of TV’s CW network, and the “Twilight” series of films. Characters are re-designed to look youthful, as opposed to brooding “40 year olds who’ve been saving the day for 50 years,” according to Greenberg.
Cutting-edge comic writer Grant Morrison is behind the reinvention of Superman, in which the hero still comes to Earth from the planet Krypton and is still raised by the Kent family in a small town. But instead of merely being a shiny, happy paragon of wholesome American values, the new version of Clark Kent/Superman will be “more of an outsider with the angst of being on a planet with people who don’t understand him. He won’t be as always perfect in every way, but edgier, darker and with more resentment,” says Greenberg.
Being an outsider is something Greenberg, who grew up in Russia before moving to the San Fernando Valley at age 16, can relate to. He started reading comics seriously for the first time at age 19 and then fell in love with the industry so strongly that he opened his first Collector’s Paradise store in Canoga Park at age 22. Now 39, he was eager to finally make the leap into a second store in the Los Angeles area.
“We’ve always been looking to open a second store, but it’s very difficult to open your own from scratch,” he notes. “A friend in Pasadena owned the Comic Odyssey store for a long time and tipped me off that he didn’t want to keep going, so I bought his comics stock and customer database, but not the existing space. We have a 100 percent new store location with almost 100 percent new pictures displayed and lots of remodeling. We have a totally new and different outlook and approach to the business.”
Greenberg says that the need to know his product lines in great detail stems from the fact that up to 70 percent of his customer base consists of regulars who come in weekly for the latest editions. He sees himself as providing a service, rather than merely operating a retail store and reminds his staff to cater to customers’ individualized needs.
“For me, the best part is still interacting with the customers about the comics,” says Greenberg. “I still read almost all the comic books that come out on Wednesday and return them to the racks on Thursday. It’s a lot of homework, but if I can’t do it, why be involved? A lot of store owners don’t read comics, and I think that’s their downfall.”
For Sean Jackson, manager of Comics Factory, consistency has been the key to growing his customer base over the past 15 years. He landed his career after being an avid customer of the store during its first year of business, proving himself to be an incredibly well-informed and passionate fan.
Jackson attributes Comics Factory’s success to the fact that it has an eager audience rooted in Pasadena’s three major colleges, with Pasadena City College located a mere two blocks away, Caltech just three blocks away and Art Center College of Design sending in fans from across town.
“Caltech guys are looking for certain artists, PCC kids come in looking for certain writers or topics, while Art Center kids want the hottest imagery, and when they all come in every week or every other week, soon they’re hooked just like someone who’s been reading their whole life,” says Jackson.
For his part, Jackson — who counts some longtime customers as his closest friends —believes DC’s re-launch will be enormously successful.
“DC’s new approach of starting its stories from the ground up means that they can draw in new readers who have been leery of learning how to follow big concurrent events and storylines that have been sprawling for years,” says Jackson. “By creating a whole new universe from the ground floor, anyone can get in on the stories. A lot of people like the idea, a lot of people hate the idea, but either way they’re picking up books.” n
Collector’s Paradise, 319 S. Arroyo Parkway, Unit 4, Pasadena. Call (626) 577-6694 or visit comicsandcards.net.
Comics Factory, 1298 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Call (626) 585-0618 or visit (323) 666-2228.