Manahawkin Comic Book Show Draws Hobbyists, Collectors

Biannual Show at Holiday Inn
By VICTORIA FORD | Mar 14, 2018
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

The Manahawkin Comic Book Show drew some 200 comic book enthusiasts and collectors to the Holiday Inn on Sunday to check out the mini convention of comic books and pulp magazines, prints and video, Funko Pop! vinyl figurines, live artists, crafters and more.

Organizer Chad Spano of Manchester, representing Central Jersey Comic Book Shows, puts on two shows a year at the Holiday Inn and another in Bordentown. He said he’s constantly learning how to do things better in order to stay on the cutting edge. It’s a lot of trial by fire. This year, for example, he tried live streaming on Facebook from his phone, and discovered the Square reader creates feedback. But social media reach is important, and hobbyists will travel long distances for a well-run event, which helps the area and cultivates the comic book community.

For those who are into comic books, the nearest specialty shop is Conquest in Bayville, he noted.

Currently, he said, the biggest thing in the comic book world is Black Panther, thanks to the blockbuster movie, and The Amazing Spider-Man, “because it’s finally getting better.”

Movie-based comics are hot now, according to Robert Hoskins from Stormwatch Comics in West Berlin. Marvel and DC have made it easy, bringing the characters to life on the big screen and thus creating new entry points for fans. Instead of the comics driving the movies, the trend has reversed, he said, so movies are now a starting point from which comic tales grow.

The popularity of comic books really took off in the 1980s and ’90s, when “sports cards collectors were looking for something to speculate upon,” Hoskins said.

For him, as a kid growing up in Camden, he was attracted to comics for the storytelling, the artwork, and as an escape. He liked team books, such as the Justice League and New Mutants (a sort of “junior varsity squad for the X-Men”), for the relatability factor – they provided a group of interesting characters in which to find inspiration.

Another great thing about comic books, in his opinion, is for an illustrator “it costs nothing to do a special effect.” So, the explosions are bigger, the worlds are more fantastic, and literally anything is possible.

At the same time, he appreciates the non-heroic stories, from the likes of Terry Moore, creator of Strangers in Paradise. “It took 14 years to tell that story,” he said. With that kind of character development, the emotions run deep.

He also thinks the comic book audience enjoys a certain realness of the creators behind the pages. Authors and illustrators tend to be more accessible – they show up at conventions and interact with fans.

Busily finishing up a commission piece, Jay Taylor of On the Square Comics explained he started self-publishing in 2014 with Centralia, a sci-fi murder mystery that combines elements of “Dune,” “Casablanca” and “Star Wars.”

“There are no gatekeepers anymore” in the comics industry, he said. Where technology, ambition and opportunity intersect, there are many different avenues for success.

Taylor explained that in the mainstream industry, the two main ways comic books get made are full script, also known as DC-style, and plot script, or Marvel-style. Either way, he said, the measure of good artwork is to be able to tell the story even without words. The words give voice to the characters and add nuance, but the imagery should carry the action.

Along side Taylor was comic book writer and publisher Ramon Gil, of Scifies. The relationship between writer and artist can take many forms, he said, but almost always involves a lot of creative interplay and cooperation. Gil said he usually starts with a pretty specific vision and hires an artist to draw it out. No matter how strong the communication, unexpected interpretations can result, within the subtleties of body language and facial expression. So, he keeps an open mind.

Managing the Funko table were Claudio Sidders and his girlfriend Meghan Gamble, with their home business based in Barnegat. Sidders said he grew up wanting to be Batman and fight crime, so it’s not surprising he ended up working in law enforcement with the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department. The collectibles is a side business that grew out of his hobby.

What he loves about doing shows is the universality of the joy the characters and their stories bring to people of all ages.

The older fans come for the nostalgia, while the young kids come to it with a brand new sense of wonder. Meanwhile the hardcore collectors paw through boxes of old issues, consumed by the hunt, negotiating prices on hard-to-find treasures, chasing the feeling of victory.

“The adults’ excitement is the same as a 6-year-old’s,” Sidders said.

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