Today is "Comic Book Day" across the country and Pleasanton's Heroes & Villains' comic book store will celebrate with a day of festivities that should keep its Main Street store a downtown destination for those who want to see Bay Area Ghostbusters and Birds of Prey.
It's an event families and comics aficionados won't want to miss as store owners Jim Cravens and Catherine de Dood introduce us to real-live characters most of us remember from the comic book pages, including Blackhawk, Raven, Catwoman, Robin, Poison Ivy, The Riddler and more. Even better, everyone will leave with two free comic books and, for those who contribute to food barrels for Open Heart Kitchen, Jim and Catherine will add another one or two free comics.
Last year, more than 500 crowded into the 400-square-foot store during the annual national event. Many more are expected today as the store's customer base has soared. The well-stocked store is jam-packed with a full inventory of comic books, unique board games, statues of favorite characters and trading card games, including Magic the Gathering, Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh.
Cravens met de Dood at comic book conventions as they were pursuing college degrees. They opened their first store in Manteca, building the business for five years before selling it in 1993. Cravens took a job offer from a nearby GM dealership, but then found himself on the "cutting edge" as GM faced bankruptcy and started closing dealerships.
Seeking a different career, Cravens took de Dood's advice and they found the empty Pleasanton store at 264 Main St. to re-start the comics business they both enjoyed. That was March 30, 2010, and the business has grown its customer base and profitability ever since.
While de Dood runs the store, Cravens "shops" the country for the best values on old comic books that he can buy and bring back to Pleasanton. He just returned from a retailers' summit in Chicago where distributors from across the country and publishers met with Cravens and other comic store owners to strategize on beefing up the market.
The idea for a national Comic Book Day came out of one of those meetings and more promotions are ahead. Comics in a digital format are coming, Cravens said, although the many distribution firms in the U.S. have yet to get together on, say, a common app that they all could share. Although there's iTunes for dowloading just about any type of musict, those who distribute the printed comics aren't there yet.
Even when they achieve that uniform delivery system, Cravens says most of his customers want the printed comic book. A digital version would cost about the same ($2.99 to $3.99) but couldn't be shared or printed out. Comic book collectors, who Cravens said are passionate hobbyists similar to those who collect and barter in stamps and coins, want to build their collections, not keep them in a digital format.
Cravens said comics are more than just pages of light reading. They've become even bigger than stamp collecting and are a lot more fun.
Just a stroll through the Heroes & Villains store shows why. The numerous stacks of comics bring back great memories for those of us who used to read Superman, Batman and Dick Tracy years ago, and there they are again, in Cravens' store.
New artists have continued the work of cartoonists well-known in the 1940s and 1950s with only subtle differences in style and language. Popeye just came back to the new comic book world and he looks just the same. Because the new books are printed on heavier stock and glossy paper, the colors print better and there's less chance of tearing a page, all the better for collectors.
Craven and de Dood's interest in board games also has brought different types of games to their store. One they obtained from a German manufacturer, "Settlers of Catan," comes designed for different ages and skills, and can provide hours of intellectual challenges and fun. Unlike Monopoly and Sorry, these board games are independently designed and made and sold in specialty stores.
Even newly published comic books are produced independently today instead of in publishers' corporate offices in New York or Los Angeles. Thanks to the Internet and social media, artists, writers and reviewers can do their work at home or in small offices anywhere in the U.S., putting the comics now on the shelves at Heroes & Villains together for comic book lovers to enjoy in Pleasanton.