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The changing face of comic book culture in Charleston

Comic-book, or "pop," culture on King Street took a huge hit at the end of 2006 when Atomic Comics closed its doors. A perennial Best of Charleston readers' pick, the store was the go-to place for alt press comics and graphic novels, offbeat greeting cards, and pop-art posters, as well as the traditional monthly superhero releases from the major presses.

Now, those accustomed to getting their pop fix on King Street have been venturing west of the Ashley River to Capt. Lou's Comics and Toys.

click to enlarge Comics fans are now venturing west of the Ashley for their pop fix, and a new Mt. Pleasant store hopes to open in June
  • Comics fans are now venturing west of the Ashley for their pop fix, and a new Mt. Pleasant store hopes to open in June

"A lot of people have been asking about the alt press comics and graphic novels," says Mike Campbell, new owner of Capt. Lou's. "So we're in the process of building up our inventory of exactly that."

The current state of comic book cool has grown a substantial market of pop culture art around it and attracted painters, sculptors, and top-notch writers. Publishers such as Chris Staros of Marietta, Ga.-based Top Shelf Comix are conducting regular portfolio reviews at places such as the Sequential Art Department of Savannah College of Art and Design, out on the prowl for new talent.

And it's not just the graphic novel coming-of-age memoirs and personal stories of love and loss that your art-smart girlfriend wants you to read that are hot right in 2007.

Spider-Man 3 snagged $148 million in box office receipts in its first three days and is still going strong. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is preparing to ride the wave next, followed by Transformers and 30 Days of Night.

On the smaller screen, shows like Lost, Heroes, Supernatural, and the now-canceled Smallville are proving the point, week after week, that comic book culture is resonating with a huge chunk of the population, nationally and locally.

After years of collecting high-dollar works by pop culture sculptor Randy Bowen, local businessman Jeff Foster is drawing up plans to bring his love of the finer side of pop memorabilia to the public. "I came up with the name Red Rocket Comics because I love the retro side of it," he says. "This is the classic sci-fi stuff that we grew up watching when we were kids and now a lot of people want to introduce their own kids to it."

Foster plans to showcase framed original comic book and pop culture artwork in his soon-to-open Mt. Pleasant store as well as the limited-edition statues of sci-fi film icons, superheroes, and villains that are steadily increasing in collector's value.

It's no surprise to Campbell of Capt. Lou's that adults with larger disposable incomes are prepared to pay for statues or art that reawaken the childhood sense of wonder and imagination. He routinely sees wives and girlfriends come in hoping to find a surprise that will thrill a husband or boyfriend.

"The people of my generation are willing to drive a smaller car if it means that they can have more of the stuff that makes them feel happy," he says.

Ties may make fine last-minute gifts, but a bust of Wolverine putting a match to his cigar is just cool.

New kinds of writers, new kinds of stories

It isn't only the sculptors and painters who have found a pop outlet for their talents. Fueled by summer blockbuster success, the comics industry now has a new credibility and caché with which to court and groom top novelists and television writers.

"Comic books that tie in with novels, like Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake and Stephen King's Dark Tower, are the hottest thing with our customers right now," says Scott Carter, owner of the Green Dragon in North Charleston.

Top-notch TV writers such as Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly) are writing comics, Jeph Loeb (Smallville, Lost, Heroes) juggles scripts for television and comic books, crime novelist Charlie Huston was recently recruited by Marvel to relaunch a series starring two-fisted borderline-madman Moon Knight, and DC Comics brought in best-selling author Jodi Picoult to pen Wonder Woman.

Accordingly, recent stories are more in line with an older audience. The popular Civil War storyline by Marvel Comics, for example, dealt with a mass-casualty tragedy that divided the superhero world along partisan lines, some advocating for increased government surveillance in the form of a Superhero Registration Act: trading civil liberties for security and calling into question the loyalty of anyone who disagrees with that.

Now that's topical stuff, indeed.


click to enlarge hulk-and-dr.jpg

Where to stock up locally:

Captain Lou's Comics & Toys

This longstanding hub of the local comic book community offers a wide range of everything from new releases of monthly comic book titles to trade paperbacks, graphic novels, statues, action figures, T-shirts, and trading cards. There are Star Wars books and toys aplenty and way cool pop culture stuff from the 1970s, '80s, and '90s. Plus, this is currently the best place in town to find Bronze or Silver Age comics.

Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.–7 p.m.
1209-D Sam Rittenberg Blvd.
West Ashley
766-6611

Green Dragon

If Magic: The Gathering happens to be your thing, odds are you already know all about this place. Scott and Adriana Carter have been in the comic book and fantasy business for 32 years. This is the kind of place that could put a spell on you with its mix of crystals, incense, dragons, fantasy art, and Conan the Barbarian statuary. New releases of monthly comic books hit the shelves every Wednesday here, and their stash of trade paperbacks and hardcover compilations of superhero stories is one of the best in town.

Mon, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun, Noon-6 p.m.
7671 Northwoods Blvd.
North Charleston
797-2052

Red Rocket Comics

This one hasn't opened for business yet, but look for it sometime in mid to late June in Mt. Pleasant at the Seaside Farms shopping center. Owner Jeff Foster plans to concentrate on the memorabilia side of the pop culture scene: everything from rare statuary of Marvel and DC characters to movie tie-ins and framed original art. He also plans to incorporate Charleston's own pool of artistic talent into the store's theme, providing an outlet for local illustrators and painters whose style tends more toward Boris Vallejo or Alex Ross than Rainbow Row.


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