MAN ABOUT TOWN: For Men and Boys Only

Falls Church Times Columnist

March 8, 2010

I expect the Man About Town’s readership to drop by half this week, because my subject is of little interest to the fairer sex. Even my dear departed mother, once my biggest fan, would struggle to get through today’s column.

That’s ironic, because the phenomenon I’m addressing is due entirely to mothers. It’s the mothers, you see, who, when their sons grow up and leave home, throw away their comic book collections. That’s why old comic books are rare – although millions were printed, millions of mothers threw them away.

And so, many a Citizen Kane, after making his first million or first billion, seeks his “Rosebud” – a link to the lost idyll of childhood. That’s why pristine issues of the first Superman and Batman comics recently sold for over $1 million. And while the buyers remained anonymous, we can be sure they were men.

Girls don’t experience the same emotional attachment to comics. Sure, my daughters read a lot of Archie comic books. But only Archie – never the superheros. I think it’s because Archie’s girlfriends, Betty and Veronica, and the high school dating themes provide a fascination for pre-teen girls that overcomes their natural lack of interest in comics.

At Victory Comics, which just opened in the old Dinettes and Stools store on Maple Avenue across from Pearson Square, owner Jeff Weaver estimates that out of 100 visitors, 95 are male (not counting mothers accompanying their sons).

Weaver’s mother was different from your mother and my mother: she never threw away his comic books. He kept collecting and now has two freight containers full. For years he traveled the weekend comic show circuit before finally deciding to throw over his day job on Capitol Hill (Chief of Staff for Sen. Bernie Sanders-VT) and go for the real thing. Comics are serious business.

Weaver, who resides on Lincoln Avenue in Falls Church, is on his way to having the biggest comic book store in the state. He’s got plenty of room for expansion, but right now most of his collection remains in his containers. I paid a visit over the weekend and didn’t come away empty-handed. When I got home I asked my wife (who declined to accompany me) to guess how much the most expensive comic book in the store cost.

“I have no idea,” came the disinterested reply.

“Six-fifty,” I informed her, and then showed her my purchase – a reprint of Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge, created by comic book genius Carl Barks. Leafing through the comic at the store, I realized that I remembered the story from reading it 45 years ago. Of course I had to have it, and paid $12 for it.

“Wait a minute – I thought you said the most expensive comic was six-fifty,” my wife responded.  So I had to explain — $650. That’s actually cheap: Weaver sold a poor-quality Superman #1 several years ago at a comics show. It was in such bad condition that it only brought $35,000. Collectors value quality.

Like most Carl Barks stories, the comic I bought is a travelogue. Scrooge, Donald, and his nephews venture to South Africa to challenge a gold mine magnate for the title of world’s richest duck. Hiking through the high veldt and camping along the banks of the Limpopo River, our heroes encounter giant ant hills, swarms of locusts, and stampeding wild animals fleeing a grass fire. How many times did I read that story as a boy, never dreaming that one day I would live in South Africa, visit Kruger National Park, and watch hippos drowsing along the Limpopo River.

Some years ago when we lived in Barbados, a Foreign Service colleague showed me his bound collection of Carl Barks reprints. I was entranced. We agreed that our exposure to the Uncle Scrooge travel adventures at an impressionable age surely contributed to our decisions to join the Foreign Service. Ironically, Barks, who penned adventures around the world, never personally traveled outside the United States.

One more debt to comics: Majoring in English Lit in college, I had a professor who insisted that Moby Dick was the great American novel. It was required reading, but I could never get through it. I’m still trying – every few years I start at the beginning and get as far as the first few days aboard the whaling ship, when all forward progress stops. So how did I pass the class? I read the comic book!

Victory Comics promises to be quite a jewel in our Little City, and I wish Jeff Weaver the best of luck. He also sells board games (yes, they still make them), baseball cards (you wouldn’t believe how much even the new ones cost, and that’s without bubble gum), and collectable action figures. Of course he can’t run the whole place by himself, so fortunately he has an assistant.

That would be Sydney – his daughter.

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March 8, 2010 


5 Responses to “MAN ABOUT TOWN: For Men and Boys Only”

  1. Karen Hoofnagle on March 8th, 2010 11:53 am

    I, who am a woman, would have enjoyed the article on Victory very much if you hadn’t been so quick to actively uninvite me. I’ve been curious about the place and I’ve been meaning to take my small daughters there ( the older one is already a comic book buyer in her own right thank you very much!) ever since it opened.

    For your future consideration: Is it a good idea to review a store and tell half the potential customers in the world (ok, the half less likely to attend, but still) that they should just ignore the review? Is it worth excluding 5% of Victory Comics shoppers? I bet Jeff would miss them if they stopped showing up.

    Karen Hoofnagle

    GEORGE SOUTHERN RESPONDS: Karen, you force me to reveal my hand. Borrowing a trick from Tom Sawyer, I figured the best way to attract female readers to a story about comic books was with the headline “For Men and Boys Only.” And I hope you made it through to the last sentence, for which the headline was the foil.

  2. Sara Fitzgerald on March 9th, 2010 9:02 am

    Yes, George, the best way to get women to read your column is with your choice of headline. But let’s not forget Archie, Betty and Veronica, Winnie Winkle, Wonder Woman and Superwoman….

    And when is the annex for old baseball cards going to open for all those men whose mothers also trashed THOSE collections????

  3. Karen Hoofnagle Falls Church City on March 9th, 2010 12:31 pm

    George, I saw the last line. I just didn’t feel like it helped. On the contrary. Instead of making me think “look he was being ironic in his title” I thought — “Ok, having pointlessly offended me at the outset, I wonder if he’s smart enough to see the irony of this last line?”.

    Anyhow, it’s water under the bridge. I’ve got no lasting axe to grind. I only bothered commenting because I really think the device of excluding a readership segment from those interested in an article — even in jest — is one you do yourself a disservice to be using.


  4. AJ, Falls Church on March 10th, 2010 1:55 pm

    Great writing and article, George! Keep up the good work. My father still swears his mother threw out his original Batman and Superman comics.

  5. Jeff Weaver Falls Church City on March 11th, 2010 6:53 pm

    Thanks for visiting Victory Comics, George. While you are right that there are still many more men in the comic hobby than women, that is certainly changing as more diverse comic products by women and that appeal to women are brought to market. Since the dawn of the modern comic book there have been a wide variety of comic book genres targeted to male audiences. Those still exist. But they have been supplemented by a growing catalog of comics that have a large readership among women.

    In fact, there is a formal effort this year by the comics industry to celebrate comic stories by and about women. One very promising trend is that among younger readers who come into the store the gender mix is much less unbalanced. These young ladies (and all the women who shop here at Victory Comics and in comic stores across America) are in on the secret that comic books — one of our nation’s great pop culture art forms — aren’t just for boys.

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