Guest Column by Eric Bresler
It’s 2011 and the comic book retail industry is rapidly changing. Digital comics are on the rise while the prices of their printed counterparts fluctuate as publishers scramble to adapt to advances in technology. The brick and mortar comic book shop remains commonplace, but for how long? Is it just a matter of time before our beloved Wednesday meet-up spots go the way of the video rental store?
As collectors know, the direct market comic shop is much more than a retail outlet. Its a place to converse, to share ideas and opinions, to hunt for treasures and fill holes in collections. The Delaware/Pennsylvania/New Jersey area features the highest concentration of comic book shops on the East Coast, all of varying sizes and qualities.
In this new weekly column I’ll be documenting the histories of these shops as well as providing my two cents as to whether or not they’re worth a visit. Regardless of my humble opinions, I encourage you to explore and support all of our area’s comic book shops while you still can.
Welcome to the Delaware Valley of Comics.
The Delaware Valley’s hidden haven for comic book treasure hunting is located in an otherwise abandoned plaza on Route 45 in Woodbury, NJ. Frankenstein Comics is small, ideally suited for only two or three customers at a time, but the store’s sheer volume and quality of back issues is overwhelming. About forty-five long boxes are constantly refreshed with $1, $2, $5, and $10 books all priced far below guide values. “It’s a reader’s store,” explains owner Bill Bead. “No one’s going in the hole except me selling this stuff.”
Bill of Frankenstein Comics
Bill, a veteran of Diamond Comic Distributor’s original warehouse in Baltimore, opened Frankenstein Comics, formerly J & J Cards, Comics, and Collectibles, back in 1993. He is a staple at area comic book conventions and is also the organizer of C.H.U.D., an annual one-day convention in Cherry Hill where all books are sold for $1 or less. “Everyone has stuff in their closets that wasn’t worth a second read. There’s an ocean of Malibu Comics, an ocean of Dark Horse Comics… books have no value unless you move them, you have to bring them to market. Your collection has no monetary worth if it’s in the basement and you never show it to anybody.”
Like many comic shop proprietors, Bill’s passion for the medium began at an early age. “I’m 53 now, so it was 50 years ago that I was given my first comic book, issue #32 of [Superman’s Girl Friend] Lois Lane that featured Superman on the cover wearing a bonnet. I remember thinking, “That’s stupid.”” Bill’s current personal collection numbers only in the dozens and is primarily comprised of sentimental oddities. “Batman getting captured by aliens, the Legion of Super-Pets, pterodactyls vs. guys with machine guns…that’s the stuff I like, the strange 60’s D.C. stuff.”
With over 30 years experience in the comic book retail and distribution industry, Bill has an encyclopedic-like knowledge of the development of fandom and direct market sales, all of which he’s more than happy to share with customers, while he still can. “If the digital stuff comes then there won’t be people who love [printed] comics and there will be a natural end to all of this. People don’t like to talk about it, but hobbies have a lifespan.”
Inside Frankenstein Comics
Until then, it’s business as usual for both Frankenstein Comics and the retail industry as a whole, according to Bill. Speculators continue to flood the market as evidenced in the immediate increased price values of recent Image books such as 27 and Morning Glories. Back issues that provide the source material for big budget films and television series remain in high demand, The Walking Dead for example, a show that Bill has no interest in viewing. “I have a store in Woodbury, NJ. I know zombies.”
Verdict: I can’t say enough good things about this shop. Cheap comics, a frequently refreshed inventory, and the most affable and knowledgeable proprietor around. Just a few of the treasures I’ve found at Frankenstein over the years include: plenty of Spire Christian Comics, both issues of Alan Moore’s Big Numbers, and back issues of FOOM and The Amazing World of DC Comics. Frankenstein Comics is one of my favorite comic shops in the country and is well worth the trip from wherever you may live.
845 Mantua Road, Route 45
Woodbury, NJ 08096