Comic books popularity spans generations

BRIDGEPORT – Those who believe comic books are meant just for children need only visit Hobby’s Inc. in Bridgeport to realize how wrong they are.

Masses of comic fans young and old overrun the shop every May for Free Comic Book Day. A large box behind the counter holds hundreds of volumes specially ordered by residents determined to keep up with their favorite series. The store recently expanded to hold an increased inventory for lifelong fans to enjoy.

“The comics grew up with people from the ’80s and ’90s,” Hobbys Inc. owner Mike Melnick said. “There are a lot more things just for adults now.”

Wittenberg University professor Matt Smith teaches special classes on graphic storytelling and arranges annual trips to the San Diego Comic-Con convention every year.

“A lot of people have this idea in their heads that comics are for children,” Smith said. “The reality is that comics are for all ages. Comics are a medium. They have a variety.”

When the crowds of fans flow through the aisles of Hobby’s Inc., Melnick said he and his employees sometimes have to make room through a wall of adults so children can see the massive comic book wall.

“The truth is that more adults buy comics than children,” Smith said. “This is a double-edged sword. It means the industry can mature with its readership but we’re definitely seeing young readership on the decline.”

Weirton Book Company owner Dave Rogerson said most major comic book companies do not have to adhere to a content code, allowing them to make comics more violent and mature.

“As readers get older, comics get more mature,” Rogerson said.

He said his store serves comic book fans from young children to adults in their 50s, 60s and beyond. As he prepares to celebrate 18 years of business in the Ohio Valley, Melnick said he has been able to watch the pattern. While adults remain loyal fans from being exposed to comics in everyday life, he said, comics are less available for children without having to visit a specialized store.

“They moved everything to the direct market many years ago,” Melnick said.

“Comics aren’t on newsstands or in grocery stores as much,” Melnick said.

Yet in recent years, Melnick said the tide has turned ever since “The Walking Dead” TV series debuted and brought a comic book series to millions of new viewers. Since then, he said, his display for the series has brought in new fans who often discover other series while there.

To Smith, the comic book convention phenomenon brought a whole new dimension to comic books and their fan base. He said celebrities from all different genres are brought in, creating a melting pot of fans and providing a glimpse into the wide world of fandom.

“There it is playing itself out in a tangible place,” Smith said. “It’s drawing them in.”

Aside from “The Walking Dead,” Melnick said Hollywood blockbusters help to get young viewers’ attention while the industry-wide annual Free Comic Book Day on the first Saturday of every year gives them a chance to sample select comics without charge.