Superpowered stories

Comic books still capture the imagination



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Vintage Phoenix manager Matt Traughber's self-illustration

Try to imagine a world without superheroes. A world without men and women

gallivanting, punching, and eye-lasering for justice. Not easy, huh?

These masked crusaders have captured our imaginations since the mid-1930s with the first appearance of Superman. And it doesn’t look like they are going anywhere any time soon.

Phase two of the Avengers cycle continued with the November release of “Thor: The Dark World,” and more Marvel or DC movies are planned all the way through 2015.

Inside went to Bloomington’s hometown comic book shop, Vintage Phoenix, 114 E. Sixth St., to discover the power behind these characters and their stories.

Why comics rule supreme

Matt Traughber, manager of Vintage Phoenix, says comic books were once more visually stimulating than film.

“For a long time, maybe until the ‘70s, the stuff they could do in comics, they couldn’t do in film media,” he says.

Matt means the intense colors, the incredible feats of power, and the action. Even with $200 million budgets, few films can maintain a “wall-to-wall, amazing” experience like a comic can, he says. An added bonus: you get a new one every month. Comics continuously build on their story’s canon, so if you become a fan of a series through a film or television show, you have decades worth of material to still delve into.

The proof is in the numbers. Print comic book growth has continued, despite trends in other print markets. Estimated market size has grown from around $300 million in 1997 to $700 million in 2012, according to Comichron, a resource for comic book research.

Not just your friendly neighborhood Spiderman

Comic books have been pushed into the cultural consciousness by successful film and TV adaptations but also by wider acceptance of “nerd culture,” Matt says.

“People aren’t embarrassed to buy comics anymore,” he says. “Even creators, back in the ‘60s, used to be embarrassed to make comics.”

No more.

“Comics have never had an impact as big before now, I don’t think,” Matt says.

Despite digitization of the medium, comics are tangible, collectible items. Digitization can’t beat that.

“I think there’s always a place for print,” he says. “Maybe 500 years from now people will be good living in a cubicle looking at all of their screens ... but people want good, tangible things.”

Especially if they are graphic depictions of their favorite characters.

Many of our favorite superheroes have a history book’s worth of storylines waiting to be read. People can’t get enough.

Maybe it’s partly due to some adolescent power fantasy, Matt says. But maybe they speak to another side of us — a side that craves to learn about worlds and people that could never (supposedly) exist in our own.

“Superheroes are comic books,” he says. “You can’t get stories like this anywhere else.”

Check out these series

Matt suggested four series for the interested comic book reader.

The Walking Dead — Ten years strong and more popular than ever, this character-driven zombie series by Image Comics recently hit its 100th issue. And if you think the show pulls punches, Matt says, just read the books. It gets worse.

Saga — Also produced by Image Comics, “Saga” has already surpassed “The Walking Dead” in popularity, Matt says. It’s a new mix of the space opera genre and features two aliens from warring races fleeing from two sides of a galactic war after having a child together. “Star Wars” meets “Game of Thrones” is a popular comparison for this award-winning series.

Hawkeye — For superhero fare with a creative twist, check out “Hawkeye,” Matt says. Fans will remember his name from the “Avengers,” but this book takes creative risks. One issue was told entirely from the point of view of “Hawkeye”’s dog, using a language and a graphic diagram code designed specifically for the issue. People who aren’t into other Marvel series dig this one, he says.

Batman — Jokingly called the “Adjectiveless Batman” (as many comic book heroes have multiple series, each with a new adjective: “Incredible Spiderman” and “Amazing Spiderman” are two different series, for example), this Scott Snyder-written storyline is currently one of the best Batman adventures out there right now, Matt says.

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