A comics craze: Nostalgic hobby flips the script to become a favorite … – Jersey's Best

Posted on January 24, 2023 by Hunter Hulbert – Community
From traditional adventure to challenging social conventions and pushing boundaries, comic books have always played an important role in pop culture. Photo courtesy of Garden State Comic Fest
Comic books. 
For some, these colorful, flimsy, funny books are where a love of reading begins. For others, they’re a nostalgic look back on their childhood, or something to grab for an afternoon on the beach. Still others may look down on them, thinking, “Feh, they’re for kids.” 
From the early days of “Superman” to the silliness of the 1960s “Batman,” to modern-day books that range from traditional adventure to challenging social conventions and pushing boundaries, comic books have always played an important role in pop culture.  
With comic book stores located throughout the state, large conventions that attract big-name guests, and comic creators who have had a hand in creating some of the biggest characters in the world, New Jersey has a healthy and energetic comic book “scene,” one that is becoming more diverse every day, with families, children and men and women of all ages finding something they can enjoy. 
“I am definitely seeing a young crowd. We’re getting more teenagers and more females,” said Mike Pfeifer, owner of Main Street Comics in Milltown.  
‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ hangs on the ceiling inside Main Street Comics. Photo by John Saccenti
Pfeifer, who opened Main Street Comics more than three decades ago, said the diversity of content being put out is growing, and the number of titles aimed at women and minorities is part of what’s driving the popularity of comic books. 
“We’re seeing a diversity in titles, and that’s being reflected in the clientele,” he said. “I see it as a good thing.” He pointed to a recent publication by DC Comics titled, “DC Pride,” which included stories about the company’s LGBTQIA+ characters. “A younger trans person came in and bought the book, and you could just see how happy they were. It was nice to see. It makes me feel really good that people have something they can identify with. It got me emotional.” 
Pfeifer’s shop — located at 74 N. Main St. in Milltown, (mainstreetcomicsnj.com) — has a huge selection of back issues, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the first issue of “Fantastic Four,” “The Avengers” or even “The Amazing Spider-Man” hanging on the walls. He also carries an assortment of new books that publish weekly, vintage toys and collectibles, and a healthy section of trade paperbacks, including some that are catching on with young women, like “Ghosts” and “Smile,” by Raina Telgemeier. Another hit is “Yummy: A History of Desserts,” by Victoria Grace Elliott, which explores the history of desserts through facts, legends and recipes to try at home. 
Another recent development is the number of parents looking to get their children excited to read — a definite sign of the changing times. “It used to be that parents really didn’t want kids reading comics. Now, kids don’t read anything but what is on their phone, so (parents) are happy about getting them to read.” 
The number of titles aimed at women and minorities is part of what’s driving the popularity of comic books. Photo courtesy of Garden State Comic Fest
Dave O’Hare, founder of Garden State Comic Fest (GSCF), which holds comic book and collectible shows that attract guests from around the world, sees the same thing. From families and children who look at “cosplay” for their favorite characters, to those who come to be among kindred spirits, the conventions provide a haven for people to express themselves while embracing what they love. With “Star Wars” lightsaber training classes, cosplay contests and karaoke, and hundreds of dealers with thousands of comic books and collectibles for sale, O’Hare’s shows have something for everyone.  
“We went out of our way to make our show family friendly. We wanted everybody to be comfortable. One of the reasons we call it a ‘fest’ is because it’s a celebration of comics and characters and the people who create them,” O’Hare said. 
GSCF also provides opportunities to meet some of the biggest comic book professionals in the world. Some creators in attendance at a recent convention included Walt Simonson, who helped guide “The Mighty Thor” for years; his wife, Louise “Weezie” Simonson, who is known for her work on almost everything, including “Superman,” “X-Factor,” “Conan” and more; Graham Nolan of “Batman” fame; and a list of individuals with resumes that include “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Star Wars” and almost everything else under the sun.  
The Batmobile made an appearance at one of the Garden State Comic Fest events held at Mennen Sports Arena in Morristown. Photo courtesy of Garden State Comic Fest
Also attending were representatives from The Kubert School in Dover. Founded by legendary artist Joe Kubert, the school offers high-level instruction in cartooning and graphic art. It’s a great opportunity for aspiring creators, O’Hare said.  
“People can bring their portfolio in to be reviewed and get tips from some professionals. Whether it’s to show artwork, to get an autograph or to find a specific comic, people can find it here.” 
With shows that have brought in about 8,000 people at times, O’Hare has a good idea of what’s popular, and a lot of that is driven by movies and television shows, with people coming to shows dressed as Moon Knight, as seen on Disney+, Doctor Strange, Peacemaker and others.  
“Movies and TV definitely seem to drive things, where whoever is coming out next, that’s the hot book and the hot cosplay,” he said. “We’ll aways have people dressed as Deadpool or Harley Quinn, but if a Spider-Man film is coming out that year, we’re going to see a lot more Spider-Man. The movies definitely drive up the market prices.” 
GSCF’s next show is slated for Jan. 28-29, 2023, at the Sussex County Fairgrounds. Visit them at gardenstatecomicfest.com. 
New Jersey isn’t just filled with wonderful places to buy, collect and show your love for comic books. It’s also home to artists and writers who help bring these characters and stories to life.  
Central Jersey resident Fabian Nicieza has written nearly every comic book character in the Marvel and DC stable. Photo by Cyndi Shattuck
Fabian Nicieza’s first job at Marvel Comics was in the company’s manufacturing department for Fisher-Price activity books. He later became advertising manager while also writing for the company as a freelancer. The Central Jersey resident made his bones writing “X-Men,” “New Warriors,” (one of his favorites) “Thunderbolts” (an upcoming movie) and others, but has written nearly every comic book character in the Marvel and DC stable.  
“I wanted to play in those ‘sandboxes’ since I was 6 or 7 years old, and getting the opportunity to do it was really, really enjoyable,” Nicieza said. “It was fun and rewarding knowing that I have a place in the history of certain titles and characters.” 
One of Nicieza’s biggest hits came in 1990 with the publication of “New Mutants” No. 98. The issue was the first appearance of Deadpool, a character he helped create, and one in which he continued to write in “X-Force” and “Cable & Deadpool.” 
He said he isn’t surprised with the character’s popularity. “It wasn’t a light switch going on. It was a slow, gradual build. A lot of people don’t realize that, because people think the movie was the instant it happened, but it had been building it for seven or eight years before that,” Nicieza said.  
A lot of the top-selling comic books and costumes are driven by movies and television shows from Disney, Marvel and DC, among others. Photo courtesy of Garden State Comic Fest
Nicieza has stepped back from comic books for a new challenge — becoming a novelist. His first book, “Suburban Dicks,” was published by Penguin in 2021 and his second, “Self-Made Widow,” hit bookshelves in June. The books follow the adventures of suburban mother of five Andie Stern, a should-have-been FBI profiler who tracks down mysterious killings in West Windsor. 
Part of his motivation for the jump to novel writing was “anger and jealousy,” he joked. “I saw that multiple peers had sold novels in various genres, and I just got angry with myself and said, ‘Why can’t I do it?’ ” 
Which might be good advice for aspiring comic book writers and artists. “Challenge yourself to try different formats, different genres to keep yourself interested and to keep improving and expanding your skills,” Nicieza said.  
Then, he said, get your work seen, get feedback and accept criticism (see above conventions!). And when the time comes to pitch a story to an editor, keep it short, sweet and simple because your biggest, boldest idea isn’t always the best way to go.  
“Writers and artists who want to break into DC or Marvel are better served showing a six-page story that can fit into the end of another book. You’re much more likely to sell that to an editor. Be smart about tailoring your approach so it is sellable because that’s ultimately the goal of professional publishing, whether it’s graphic novels or single-format comic books,” he said.  
It’s advice that he followed himself. “When I started at Marvel in ‘85, I did something rare for me. I stepped back, shut my mouth and paid attention.” And so far, it’s worked out pretty well.  
For the full list of Nicieza’s comic credits and information on his novels, visit fabiannicieza.com. 
John Saccenti is a member of the Jersey’s Best editorial team. He has been covering New Jersey news, education and arts for close to 30 years.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of Jersey’s Best. Subscribe here for in-depth access to everything that makes the Garden State great.
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