On the street
Batman. It was the first comic I ever bought, and I’ve been a fan ever since.
The estimated $32.5 million that "Iron Man" pulled in during its first day at the box office earlier this month sent a clear indication that comic book culture is alive and well. Other films based on comic books, such as the upcoming "The Dark Knight," are further proof that the medium transcends its print editions.
But Sunday's Free State FreeCon Comic Book and Toy Convention at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds was a celebration of the booklets that Craig Klotz has been collecting for the past 15 years.
Klotz, who organized the third annual event, read comic books up until he was 12 years old. It took a 20-year lull and the cancellation of his favorite television show, "Babylon 5," to reignite his interest and passion in comics.
"It's a great medium because it predates television and film," Klotz, 46, said. The stories and the unique storytelling devices they employ are more intriguing and have a greater longevity than their on-screen brethren, he said.
About 15 vendors - mostly collectors, and both of Lawrence's comic book dealers, Astro Kitty and Quality Comics - sold new and vintage comics, figurines, posters and more. Klotz estimated attendance to be about 400, lower than in previous years. However, this year's convention took up only half of the fairgrounds' Building 21, whereas in years past the entire building was used. Klotz expects next year's convention to be larger.
Klotz began as a fan and a collector, but he soon began selling bits of his collection. He became involved in conventions "as an alternative to eBay."
Most of the merchandise for sale on Sunday came from people's personal collections.
"Everyone else is just a fan that has accumulated a half a lifetime worth of stuff," Klotz said.
Tyson Jensen, 32, displayed hundreds of comic books lugged from his home in Kansas City, Mo. He said most of the books he was trading were from the 1980s and 1990s.
"I've just got a lot of stuff that I need to make room for," Jensen said. "I just keep the ones I can't bear to leave."
He favorably compared the event to the recent Planet Comicon, a major show conducted in April in Overland Park.
He said he was selling more merchandise Sunday than at Planet Comicon, citing a more curious crowd.
Writers, artists attend
Several up-and-coming comic book writers and artists attended the convention, chatting with fans and drawing sketches for them.
Lawrence artist Tom Avery said the convention shows how far comic book culture has come.
"Ten or 15 years ago, if you said 'I do comics in Lawrence,' they'd look at you like you have antlers growing out of your head," said Avery, who has contributed to a compilation of Lawrence comic book artists called "Larrytown Laffs," and creates Web comics at his Web site, www.cheatingatsolitaire.net. His work ranges from political satire to an adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's book "Rappaccini's Daughter."
"For people who don't know about comics, they might not be aware that it's more than just superheroes," he said.
Young people's interest
Klotz said he was surprised by the high number of teens and tweens who purchased comics, which included new series, such as an adaptation of The Lone Ranger, and even some editions of comics from the 1930s.
Lawrence resident Bill Church, 28, said he collects Transformers figurines, not comic books, but was still impressed by the merchandise for sale.
"There's a lot of older, hard-to-find stuff," he said, pointing out a rare Lego set of the Star Wars character Yoda.
"It's a pretty good show," Church observed. "I wish they had it in Lawrence more often."
Klotz is hoping to turn the success of the Free State FreeCon into a regional show.