There's Nothing Funny About Comic Book Sales

In the Fountain Valley store called Oohs and Ahs where Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, the Thing and Human Torch hang out with hundreds of other comic book characters such as Swamp Thing and X-Men, it seems that John Fulce, 34, has found his calling.

A one-time landscape architect, he is the keeper of 250,000 comic books, most selling for the bottom price of 75 cents each, but some that go for thousands of dollars. He said a recent auction by a collector brought $40,000 for an original Superman comic book.

"Comic book readers today are all collectors and investors," Fulce said, as a score of customers milled through his shop looking for new issues that arrive Fridays, as well as for conversation on what's happening in the comic book scene. "It's an investment for when I go to college," said Ross Hughes, 14, of Fountain Valley, who has $5,000 tied up in comic books through his minimum $5 weekly purchases. UC Irvine sophomore Alex Arden, 19, plunked down $44.15 for comic books, observing: "There are a lot of intelligent books and many are handled in a positive way."

And that, Fulce says, is what comic books are all about today, a substantial change from when they sold for 10 cents and featured Captain Marvel, Superman, Little Lulu and Archie.

"Besides an investment for collectors," he said, "they provide good reading because comics today are dealing with abortion, the drug scene, child molesting, divorce, murder and rape, and they have different heroes trying to do something about each of them."

Nathan Purkiss, 18, an Orange Coast College student who has $3,000 invested in his 1,000-book collection and was being questioned by parents and acquaintances about his choice of reading material, pointed out: "When I started playing football, it suddenly was OK to read them."

Fulce said that reading and collecting comic books is big business, declaring that he grossed $200,000 last year from a store that is open only half a day. "Six years ago when I first opened, I only grossed $45,000," he said, adding that part of the increase comes from comic book T-shirts he sells.

Ken Francis, 23, of Cypress, is just back from a 5,600- mile bicycle trip that took him through 11 states and two Canadian provinces. The tour lasted 104 days, some of it through 110-degree heat and days of driving rain.

But despite those discomforts, he is planning another trip next year, this time with about 20 cyclists who would perform a day of community work a week in each city they visit during a 10-month cross-country tour.

"I grew up in California and I wanted to see the contrast in America," said Francis, who started with two other cyclists but continued alone after they dropped out. "When you grow up in a city, you never get to see that much."

Said Francis: "I was sad that it ended."

John Stewart, 33, like most good reporters and editors, knew how to get to the point quickly, such as when he told a friend that the chemotherapy he was undergoing for cancer would either cure him or kill him. Well, the treatment didn't work, and before he died, he told the friend: "I've done everything I wanted to do."

The Orange County Register journalist, who lived in Irvine, may have exaggerated that point a bit, so to perpetuate his name, a bunch of newspaper people will hold a memorial scholarship fund auction at 7 p.m. Nov. 1 at the Fluor Corp. in Irvine.

Besides offering some great auction items, the event will bring together employees of all of Orange County's major competing newspapers and news organizations, and some of his friends think that Stewart would have liked that kind of testy gathering.

Of course, Stewart would have wondered who was putting out the paper.

Acknowledgments--Kimberly Morris, 7, of Mission Viejo, named Orange County Ambassador for the Easter Seal Society of California, will help warn of dangers in Halloween night trick and treating . . . . 20-year U.S. Marine veteran Norman J. Brunner, 42, appointed administrative assistant at Fullerton Municipal Airport to monitor noise abatement and emergency-preparedness programs.

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