Triad Comic Shop Staffers Recommend Books for Newbies
Three years ago when I was being treated for leukemia, monthly comic books were the only reading matter I enjoyed, as my chemo-blasted brain couldn’t handle anything longer than thirty pages. Now recovered, I remain hooked on the art form I’d once loved but had drifted away from in the late 90s.
Back then, I asked John Hitchcock, owner of my neighborhood comics shop Parts Unknown, and Elizabeth Adams, who then worked at the Acme Comics Annex and was running several comics reading clubs for women and children, to give me recommendations. The books they named sustained me during my recovery.
For the purposes of this article, I’ve asked comic shop owners and employees across the Triad to do what Liz and John did in the winter of 2014; recommend books for either newbies or people who haven’t read a regular monthly comic in years. Several of them also talk about their most treasured collectables.
2148 Lawndale Drive, Greensboro
Over the twenty years that Jermaine Exum has been General Manager of Greensboro’s oldest and largest comics store, he’s seen his customer demographics change. “I know that some still don’t realize it even in 2017, but women are avid, frequent, and passionate consumers of sequential art stories. I think our oldest female customer is maybe in her early 60s. Several of our adult customers have husbands who just don’t get the whole comic book thing, which is a fun reversal on what I think most people assume is the norm.”
Jermaine highly recommends Ms. Marvel, Marvel Comics’ acclaimed series about their first Muslim superhero, Kamala Khan, a teenaged Pakistani-American in New Jersey who unexpectedly gains the power to change her size, shape and mass. It’s the co-creation of G. Willow Wilson, who is herself Muslim, and Marvel editor Sana Amanat, the daughter of Pakistani immigrants. “I have learned a lot of about everyday American Muslim culture through reading about Kamala’s home life,” says Jermaine. “I’m sure you know how you inadvertently learn things through comics. It still happens.”
“I’m also very fond of Erica Henderson’s artwork.” Henderson currently draws Marvel’s much-lauded The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, the launch of which was celebrated at Geeksboro two years ago by an Acme podcast with artist Henderson in attendance. The debut issue received rave reviews from Entertainment Weekly, the website PopMatters and the UK newspaper The Guardian, and the first paperback collection reached the New York Times bestseller list for graphic novels.
Burke Street Comics
545 North Trade Street, Winston-Salem
When I started this article, I knew nothing about shops outside of Greensboro, so I asked Kendra Parker. Kendra, a longtime comics reader, collector, and geekgirl hellraiser, sang the praises of Ryan Lusk’s Burke Street Comics in downtown Winston.
Ryan’s favorite ongoing titles include Harrow County and Southern Bastards, both of which are rooted in the rural and small-town South, the former being folklore-based supernatural horror and the latter the crime fiction subgenre that’s sometimes called “Redneck Noir.”
“Harrow County is very well-written and suspenseful. Southern Bastards is an in-your-face attack on Alabama football and the blunt racism and sheer ignorance unfortunately involved or rather implemented in some rural poor southern communities. I know the creative team behind this book and the message they’re trying to get across is appalling but absolutely necessary!”
As with most of the shop owners and managers in this article, Ryan sells back issues and collectables. “Our rarest book would probably be Mutt & Jeff #6 from 1919. It’s the first comic to have a number on the cover. Come see some of our rarities at Winston Salem ComicCon coming up on April 22nd at the Fairgrounds Annex.”
The Comic Conspiracy
108 North Street, Asheboro
Speaking of new titles by female talent, Jeff Lamb, “owner, manager and floor sweeper” of North Carolina’s oldest comic book shop (founded in 1978), is particularly fond of Dark Horse Comics’ Lady Killer. Written and drawn by Joëlle Jones, it’s the darkly comic (as in funny) story of Josie Schuller, an early 60s suburban housewife who is also a ruthless hitwoman. “Imagine Donna Reed as a professional assassin! It has great art work that’s simultaneously both old school and very modern.” Lamb’s most treasured collectable also has a female protagonist, albeit a more conventionally heroic one. “I’m proud to have a copy of Wonder Woman #29 from 1948 in Very Fine condition.”
The Comic Dimension
2823 Spring Garden, Greensboro
Chris Gordon, owner of Greensboro’s newest comics and gaming shop, is not afraid to sing the praises of a venerable superhero who until recently didn’t get much respect. “Aquaman. I definitely recommend it to people just starting out. The story is terrific and shows how much of a badass that Aquaman is, which a lot of people aren’t aware of because of Family Guy and the Super Friends cartoon. He does much, much more than just ‘talk to fish.’ As for collectibles, I’m probably proudest to have No Business Like Show Business by Kim Deitch. It is one of the rarest independent and small press comics from the 80’s and is in mint condition.”
906 Spring Garden Street, Greensboro
Owner John Hitchcock singles out a recently published book written and drawn by one of the oldest living veterans of the field, who is also a veteran of World War 2, although his career in comics predates Pearl Harbor. I agree with John that the single best recently-published book he carries is the hardcover of Sam Glanzman’s monumental USS Stevens: the Collected Stories. Glanzman, who has been writing and drawing comics since 1939, served on that real-life Navy Destroyer in the South Pacific from 1941 until 1946. In the 1980s, he started doing autobiographical stories about his wartime naval experience for DC comic books like Our Army at War and G. I. Combat, and in 1986, he did longer pieces for Marvel’s Savage Tales. More recently, he did Stevens stories for the late Joe Kubert’s Joe Kubert Presents. And now he’s finally collected and published them in a beautifully designed hardcover edition.
This book collects 60 stories, every USS Stevens tale he ever did, including one unique to this volume. “The guy is 91 years old and he did a new story for the book! These were the first autobiographical comics. They’re brutal, they’re honest, from a guy who lived the Pacific, and captured it with his pen. It’s the first time it’s ever been collected. DC Comics wouldn’t do it, but Glanzman somehow talked them into letting him self-publish. It’s a book that every comic book shop should keep permanently in stock. I recently sold it to a guy who didn’t know anything about it. He came in right before the snow and bought it and said he devoured it for three days. Said that’s the best book he ever read.”
“As far as new series go, Image Comics’ Moonshine is a brilliant crime book taking place during the Depression, but it also has vampires and werewolves. Very odd but very interesting, and the best art of any new title.”
3232 Silas Creek Parkway, Winston-Salem
Owner Bret Parks agrees with his competitors about Southern Bastards, but also recommends Unfollow, which he calls “a terrifying look at greed, celebrity culture and true art through the tools of social media and app technology. To a new reader, I’d recommend Paper Girls, a Spielberg-styled adventure about a group of young teen girls … that deliver the newspaper!” Paper Girls actually has some interesting similarities to Stranger Things, although it predates that popular Netflix series.
11651 N. Main Street, Suite #Q, Archdale, NC
Rubin Gee, the manager of Stormcrow, joins in the Southern Bastards lovefest. “It takes place in fictional Craw County, Alabama, home of the five-time State 4A football champion Runnin’ Rebs, and Coach Boss, the aptly named head football coach and leader of organized crime in the area. It’s a wonderfully irreverent, gritty, southern-noir romp, written by Jason Aaron, a native of Jasper, Alabama, and penciled by the Charlotte-born Jason Latour. The book is definitely intended for mature readers.”
As for collectables, “we recently got in a host of key issues. Perhaps the one I was most excited to see was the Superman vs. Muhammad Ali Treasury Edition. An iconic image, and with the sad passing of Ali this last year, perhaps a little more special.”
304 S. Elm Street, Greensboro
Finally, while comic shops have long supplanted other venues as the main source for monthly comics, traditional bookstores often have a graphic novels section. The one at Scuppernong is particularly strong due to the diligent efforts of employee Martha Rose, whom I asked to recommend a new(ish) title. Martha says she really appreciates the diversity of Image Comics, both in topics and creators.
“I just ordered Monstress by Marjorie Liu (author) & Sana Takeda (illustrator).” Martha is referring to Monstress: Volume 1, Awakening, the paperback collection of the first six issues of the ongoing Image comic, a steampunk series set in an alternate 20th century matriarchal Asia that’s garnered extremely favorable reviews. Martha says it should be on the shelves before this article comes out.