Janesville comic book convention crowd spans ages, genders

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Neil Johnson
Monday, April 15, 2013

— Hawkman. Batman. Sad Sack. Even Super Duck (The Cockeyed Wonder)!

They were all in attendance—if you had the patience or child-like wonder to browse through hundreds of boxes of classic and new comic books at the Comic Book Convention on Sunday in Janesville.

The event was held in a conference room at America’s Best Value Inn Conference Center.

It was Craig High School senior Nikki Higgs’ first comic book convention, although she’s been reading her favorites—Teen Titans and Batman—since she was in sixth grade.

Higgs, 18, was excited because she had found a grocery bag full of Teen Titans, a DC Comics series focused on an ever-changing crew of young superheroes. The best part: The books Higgs found were from the “Bronze Era” of comics—the 1980s.

The books were packed with characters she had read about, but didn’t know, as well as those in contemporary Teen Titans comics.

To Higgs, the 1980s Titan characters, who would now be in their 40s if comic book characters actually aged, were decidedly old school.

Higgs, who was wearing a Craig High letter jacket topping a Green Lantern T-shirt Sunday, said it’s rare at her school for females to be comic book enthusiasts.

She said it can be tough being one of her school’s lone comic book girls; the Comic book guys don’t want to automatically give her credibility, even though she’s been reading Titans and Batman comics since middle school.

“They’ll be like, ‘You’re not a real nerd; you’re just a fake nerd who’s trying to get in on this,’” Higgs said. “It’s like, I am too a nerd.”

For Higgs and classmate Alexis Hartwig, 18, who was at the convention with dark, gothic eye shadow and a Batman T-shirt, 1980s comics are practically oldies—classics even.

But convention attendant Ron Rowlett of Rolling Meadows, Ill., comes from another time. Rowlett started reading The Amazing Spiderman when he was a kid in the 1960s. Now, Rowlett has more than 700 Amazing Spiderman comics.

He’s seen, but not met, Spiderman creator and Marvel Comics stalwart Stan Lee. He even has a Spiderman comic signed by Lee.

Rowlett, 53, is so comic-bookish that comics even influenced his life’s work: For 30 years, he’s designed scale-model toys for Revell, a Chicagoland toy company.

“It was natural. When I was a kid, you did one of two things, comic books or model airplanes,” Rowlett said.

Among his most memorable designs: Batman’s Bat-Plane.

Rowlett, who goes to gatherings in Chicago and New York, said those attending the major comic book conventions are skewing younger and younger. Many teens and pre-teens are again getting into comics.

He said the resurging phenomenon of summer blockbuster action films based on comic book characters such as Iron Man, Spiderman and X-Men seems to be driving some of the youth interest.

“I think it’s the films. It’s got to be the films,” Rowlett said.

At Sunday’s convention, if you didn’t mind dropping $500 in a fell swoop, you could buy a first-edition Andy Griffith comic.

The book, from the early ’60s, had a smiling color photo of Sheriff Andy of Mayberry posed next to a young Ron Howard as Opie Taylor on the cover.

Other books, which ranged from $5 to $10, could take you back to the “Bronze Era” of comics—deep in the 1980s, before Superman died and while the X-Men and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were just cutting their teeth.

Jerome Wenker, an exhibitor and vendor at the convention from Minneapolis-St. Paul who has collected comics since the early 1940s, remembered when his kid brother sold off a box of his 1940s comics for $5.

His long-gone box of books would now be worth $125,000 to the right buyer, Wenker estimated.

He talked about the changes in comic books over the decades. DC comics from comic books’ “Golden Era,” the 1950s, once cost 12 cents. Now, some of those issues are worth hundreds of dollars. New comics now cost $4 or $5 dollars.

Art styles, characters, corporate ownerships and even the way comic book authors are treated by corporate executives have changed. Themes have shifted. The comic Archie, for instance, now has an LGBT-friendly character in it.

But Wenker said one thing has never changed about comic books—and particularly comic book readers.

“People that read comic books—they all actually read because they learn that reading is fun,” Wenker said. “It might start with comics, but then it spreads to a love of reading of other things. Bigger things. Magazines, books, everything.”


Last updated: 10:25 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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