The Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, which makes its home behind a humble yellow facade on Burbank Boulevard, opened its doors Saturday to a new event called the North Hollywood Comic Book Convention.
Comic book dealers and collectors gather regularly at such events, called “cons” by those who attend. The big con is held in San Diego. Another goes on monthly at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Several comic book readers who belong to the Science Fantasy Society decided the San Fernando Valley was ready for its own con.
It was a modest one, in scale with the Science Fantasy Society’s establishment in North Hollywood.
The society occupies two small stucco buildings a block east of the Hollywood Freeway. The front building appears to be a converted house with three rooms that were once living room, kitchen and bedroom. The rear building is a small warehouse, like a three-car garage with one small door.
Midway through the show Saturday afternoon, about a hundred people were browsing through the two structures, buying, selling and trading. Most seemed to be in their teen-age years or younger.
There were four dealers in the front building, all squeezed into the room that had been a kitchen. Slides were being shown in the living room and the bedroom couldn’t be used. It was full of the accumulated effects of the society.
The comic books were spread over tables and stacked in tall, narrow boxes with dividers. The customers leafed through the boxes while the vendors exhorted them with offers they couldn’t resist.
One had a sign taped to the edge of his table. It said: “If you don’t like prices quoted, don’t walk away. Let’s make a deal.” A strapping teen-ager who walked up to the table didn’t want a deal. He wanted Iron Man No. 2.
“I want a perfect mint and I’ll pay extra for it,” he said intensely. The dealer, who was only about 20, shook his head and put the youth on a want list.
“I really like Iron Man,” the teen-ager told someone who was watching the scene. “He’s like a conservative Republican.”
The youth conceded that Iron Man isn’t as big as the X-Men are right now. But he said he’s hoping for an upswing.
“They’re going to have to come out with a big seller,” he said.
A best seller, he supposed, would need a more involved plot than the usual comic book. “Something you’d have to think about. Like three things that could happen. He could die. He could go to prison. Or he could come out alive. You’d have to think about it.”
In the rear building, near the entrance, two youths were selling what they described as underground comics. They had done the drawings, written the words and paid to print 300 copies of their first two books.
They said they had to go underground because their comics are too mature, too artistic for the mass media.
“They’re stories everybody can relate to,” one of them said.
Their hero isn’t a he-man type. He’s a kind of ghost or devil character.
“Like people go to the theater and put their feet on the chair in front of them?” the other said, explaining.
Well, the devil character gets mad when people do that and blows up the earth.
“Basically, these ideas are too taboo for the DC and the Marvel,” the first youth said.
“It’s made for people 18 and up,” said the second.
Meanwhile, business was getting a little heavy in the back of the room. A 15-year-old dealer named Todd Ullman had stepped over to the table where Rob Gustaveson, the organizer of the convention, was doing business.
The kid wanted to buy two X-Men comics for $30 and a trade-in. Gustaveson wanted $40 without the trade-in.
Ullman got into business by buying a collection of 2,800 comics for $70 from somebody who was liquidating. When he found that some of the books were worth that much alone, he bought a table at the convention hoping to cash in. But he ended up buying more than he sold. Gustaveson had noticed.
“I already could have got this for five bucks a few minutes ago,” he told Ullman, patting his hand disparagingly on the trade-in Ullman offered.
“From who?” Ullman asked.
“From the kid you bought it from.” Gustaveson said. “Tell you what. You can keep it and give me 40.”
“I don’t know,” the kid said. “I bought so much today.”
“That’s about it,” Gustaveson said. “Do you want it?”
He wanted it.
Only one person at the con wasn’t buying or selling something. He was a middle-aged man with an intense face who sat behind a card table with his wife.
Small kids and even a few adults kept walking up to the table to ask, “Mr. Kirby, will you sign my comic books?”
Most carried satchels full of them. Carefully sliding them out of plastic cases, they presented them, one at a time. The man meticulously opened each and signed on the bottom of the first page.
He was Jack Kirby, a luminary to comic fans. In the 1960s, Kirby was the chief artist of the Marvel team that created the Fantastic Four and later X-Men, still one of the most popular crew of comic heroes. The X-Men are mutants who have superhuman powers. Some use their power for good and some for evil.
Today Kirby is working on a new genre of heroes, more true to life. He introduced them in his book called “The New Gods.”
The evil hero is his favorite. He’s called Dark Side.
“He represents a realistic element that I put in all my comics,” Kirby said. “It’s a parable on our own lives. It’s a parable on our own society. Dark Side, of course, runs our society. You’ll never be able to see Dark Side. Neither will I.”
Makes you think.