Comic-Con International in San Diego began in 1970 with one hundred comic book and sci-fi fans meeting in a hotel basement.
Now attendance tops out at around 130,000. Taking over and maxing out the entire San Diego Convention Center, nerd culture spreads throughout the city like an unchecked zombie virus. San Diego’s annual explosion of pop includes a film festival, industry awards, hundreds of you’ll-never-see-anywhere-else panels and presentations in the programming schedule, an art show, workshops, autograph signings, and the mind-blowing, eye-popping masquerade contest. Hollywood bows down to their most enthusiastic fan base and courts favor through movie star appearances and surprise screenings.
Several comic book milestones will be celebrated in San Diego this weekend. Seventy five years ago, people of the earth first looked, up in the sky, not at a bird and not at a plane, but at Superman. Action Comics #1, published in June 1938, featured the debut of one of the world’s most iconic fictional characters and its first superhero. Fifty years ago the world of fantasy saw the birth of the X-Men, the Avengers, and Dr. Who.
It’s gonna be a party in San Diego this weekend.
It may be Comic-Con weekend in San Diego, but around here the comic book scene focuses on Third Eye Comics in Annapolis.
Steve Anderson and his wife Trish Rabbitt own Third Eye. To walk through their doors is to feel welcomed.
As a kid growing up in Bowie, Steve “fell in love with comics.” Writer/artist Frank Miller’s groundbreaking 1986 Batman saga, The Dark Knight Returns “was the coolest thing ever,” Steve says. “It was like somebody took punk rock and poured it on a page. It was so visceral, vibrant.”
Since opening their first Annapolis storefront in 2008, Steve sold his comic collection to raise capital, Third Eye’s West Street operation is now a 5,000 square foot mega-store and one of the East Coast’s largest. “People warned us off because there supposedly wasn’t enough of a fan-base in this area,” Steve says, “yet here we are, still growing in so many ways.”
“The business is time-intensive,” says Steve, “you’ve got to love it. It can’t be just a job. New comics come out every Wednesday. If you’re not excited about that, this isn’t the career path for you.”
Steve continues, “A huge percentage of our customers are first time comic readers. Pop culture fandom from TV to movies to music is tied into comics now. A store operator should know the books and the people who spend money at his store well enough to be able to say if you enjoy that, you’ll love this.
“Comic fans are a diverse group,” Steve says, “We have lots of women customers, families too. The stereotype is obsolete.”
Steve and Trish admire America’s great comic book stores, and have visited many to soak in the atmosphere and see what makes them successful. “It’s all about the culture of the store,” Steve says. “Be invested in the community. Build a personal relationship with customers. Find the right staff. Be consistent.”
Their approach is working. In 2011, Steve and Trish opened a second store in Prince Frederick.
Third Eye Comics offers something rarely available in the world of retail – fun. Steve says, “You’re spending hard-earned money, but it’s in a comics shop – this should be special, an exciting place to go, the best part of your day. What we owe our customers most is our enthusiasm.”
“We’re like a bar for comic fan but we don’t sell alcohol,” adds Trish. “We’re a place where everybody who loves comics can mingle.”
Third Eye Comics is hosting their first annual tent sale on Saturday. Fun and bargains galore are sure to be had.