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A wall of classic back issues for sale at Coliseum of Comics at Millenia in Orlando. (PHOTO/Matt de Simone)

At one period in pop culture history, it seemed comic books weren’t accessible to anyone—much less a popular form of entertainment. Legendary stories were only available to those who invested time and/or money into the purchase. In the 1980’s, Marvel Comics and DC Comics paved the way by republishing stories to give fans a more accessible way to discover classics. However, as the rise of the “graphic novel” progressed, those old, individual “back issues” readers read about in Wizard Magazine, that were—at the time—high in value, remained unreadable to a non-collector. As technology advances by the minute, so does the accessibility of comic books, which has increased comic book culture’s popularity to an all-time high.

Orlando, Florida is a great example of comic book accessibility. Within a 15-mile loop new readers can easily find the comic books they’re looking for. Twenty years ago, finding a local “brick and mortar” comic book shop was difficult for “small-town” readers. Now, people can find vast collections of comics available to check-out from the local public library. Plus, bookstores like Barnes & Noble contain a massive number of graphic novels for sale. As far as simply picking up and purchasing a comic book, readers in this era of accessibility may have the fastest route to comics yet. However, there is an even more direct route.

No, not internet piracy. Downloading scanned copies of comic books over the internet may educate fans of the superhero genre, but those individuals take money out of the publishers’ pockets. Plus, these people have nothing to show for their thievery other than thousands of titles “on file” within his or her computer. For some people, it’s enough, for the true fans within the comic book community, it’s a bit shameful.

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A wall of DC Comics on display at Gods & Monsters in Orlando, FL. (PHOTO/Matt de Simone)

To combat internet thieves, the industry came up with a way to access comics digitally (and legally) for readers who lack the “space” and time to collect and/or read their favorite titles. Comixology is the best source for digital comics. With one touch, an endless library from the industry’s most popular publishers awaits subscribers. Although it isn’t the most popular way to read comic books, digital sales manage to account for 9% of comic book sales each year. Maybe a reader lives in a small apartment and/or has toddlers and babies that would no doubt eviscerate a physical comic book. Comixology is their new comic book vault and best friend rolled into one.

The main influence on the culture comes from Hollywood. In the last 36 years, there has only been one year (1985) where a superhero motion picture did not grace the silver screen. People born during this period have grasped the concept of the superhero genre and have grown up with its steady rise in popularity. James Grebey, a writer for Business Insider, says that not only are fans, new and old, viewing the comic book films dominating the box office every year, but now, the viewers are ready to engage in the stories on the pages of comics. Based on numbers allocated in 2016, the comic book industry is thriving—thanks, in part, to its comic book movie universes.

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Darth Vader stands tall inside Coliseum of Comics at Millenia in Orlando. (PHOTO/Matt de Simone)

Individuals that have collected comics for years tend to have issues with the loose plots and the repackaging of the source material’s featured players. However, these “hang ups” don’t seem to keep some of these “lifers” out of the theaters when Wonder Woman or the Guardians of the Galaxy show up in cinemas worldwide. Fans support their heroes like they support their favorite bands or sports teams.

For people who grew up with the comic book community’s accession into mainstream pop culture, many remember the “comic book boom” of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Namely, the “death” of Superman which sparked interest across the globe. Before DC Comics’ marketing scheme paid off, the comic book industry already became a topic of conversation due to the roster of creators who became household names. Rob Liefeld, the creator of Deadpool (now an unmistakable superhero), appeared in Levi’s commercials. Todd McFarlane, best-known for his pencils on late 80’s and early 90’s Spider-Man titles and the creation of Spawn, became known for his sports memorabilia collection and a line of toys. Liefeld, McFarlane, and Jim Lee—who helped design DC Comics’ first MMO video game—visually reinvented some of Marvel and DC Comics’ most popular heroes. These “redesigns” set the tone for the way the current crop of new superhero fans see their favorite characters on the big screen and the 22-page stories published every week.

Amid all the current comic book hubbub comes a rise in comic book retail shop success and new places where fans can purchase comic books. Aaron Haaland, the owner of A Comic Shop in Orlando remains “cautiously optimistic.” He knows that while the films increase interest in the superheroes inside the numerous titles on display in his shop, the publishers themselves need to make sure their current stories don’t rest on the laurels of Hollywood success.

Mike Phillips, an Orlando comic book and toy retailer, sees the ebbs and flows in comic book’s popularity firsthand from his shop, the Acme Superstore. He understands another reason why people turn to the genre’s escape from the “everyday.” Phillips says, “Every kid must find an outlet, how they deal with everyday stress.” For most people, the comic book genre provides a way for people to get away from real world issues as well as the stresses of their careers.

Another pair of retailers who also understand the rise of comic books’ popularity and accessibility are Todd Fisher and Anna Young of Gods & Monsters in Orlando, FL. In order for a shop like G&M to bring in more people interested in the genre comes from the overall layout of their store to better direct newer fans towards their favorite titles and heroes. “Between my wife (Young) and I, we’ve got over 40 years of experience in genre retail. This stuff makes sense to us,” Fisher says, “We’ve always tried to push the boundaries at what’s expected out of a comic book store.” This goes to show that, sometimes, it’s the “look” of a comic shop that attracts new fans.

Over the past several years, Free Comic Book Day continues to welcome new readers as the industry’s top publishers offer up free comics featuring popular heroes and upcoming storylines. Brian Villar, a retailer in A Comic Shop in Orlando understands that with the comic book movies released in the spring and summer being such hits, it’s smart for the publishers to line up their free comics centered around the heroes and villains seen in the upcoming movies. This is another example of how Hollywood continues to make its mark in the comic book industry.

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A pair of 1970’s X-Men comics. (PHOTO/Matt de Simone)

 

Sales figures for comic books remains cyclical. One year, sales are up. Then, the next year, sales decrease. From year to year, quarter to quarter, the song—for the time being—remains the same. The years 2016 and 2017 are a prime example. In 2016, reports stated that more comic books were sold than any other year since 1996. In 2017, websites countered those reports with statistics revealing sales dipping at the close of 2016 and the start of the new year. Regardless of the stats, comic books remain in discussion with the industry’s ventures at the box office and television entertainment.

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Outside of A Comic Shop in Orlando, FL. (PHOTO/Matt de Simone)

At the end of the day, comics and their mythos line so many aspects of pop culture today. However, accessing a place which houses comic books wasn’t the easiest destination to discover. Popularity increased interest. Consumers helped establish a “Direct Market” for comic books. It was then up to those with the right business mind to make comic books more accessible.

In this current age of instant access, comic books become one of many forms of entertainment consumers may enjoy without leaving the confines of their home, office, or vehicle. Easy access is the major reason why so many people invest in the superhero genre today. As times change, so will people’s interests. One thing that makes comic books wonderful is their means of escape from the “real world” problems individuals face daily. Literature is something that will never fade with time. The same thing can be said for comic books. If people have the need for an “escape,” comic books will be there to offer a route of adventure.

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