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Comic Elements in an Adult World

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Sophisticated comic books on serious topics are flying out of stores faster than Superman on a vitamin kick. Though many of the old favorites--”Batman” and the “Amazing Spider-Man”--are still kiddie hits, the updated version for the adult reader has turned into a big-seller.

The adult comic books, which range in price from $1 to $12, tackle big issues in a satirical or absurd way. “Lois Lane” (DC Comics, $1.50) deals with the topic of runaway children in a two-part issue. Fire, Water, Air and Earth are characters who cope with the world’s problems in “Elemental Special” (Comico Comics, $3). And Art Spiegelman’s “Maus,” (Pantheon, $12), which tells the story of a concentration camp survivor, has sold 90,000 copies since its 1986 release.

“It’s a flourishing sub-literary culture that is popular with people who are not utterly ossified in tradition,” says Dave Dutton of Dutton Books in North Hollywood. “People who are buying these are people who are interested in the theater of the absurd.”

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Myk Price, owner of Continental Comics in Northridge, which carries about 300 comic book titles, says that business is up more than 50% from last year. “We’re seeing comics that take well-known characters we grew up with and put them in situations they would encounter today,” Price says. Today’s narrative adult comics evolved from Zap comics in the ‘60s.

The biggest sellers at Dutton’s Books are the Matt Groening series of “Work Is Hell,” “Love Is Hell,” “School Is Hell,” “Childhood Is Hell” (Pantheon, $5.95 each), in which a bunny rabbit character inhabits a dark, sinister world. The longer comic books, like the Groening series, average about 100 pages and are printed in soft cover. The cheaper, shorter comics run about 30 pages and still have the traditional paper cover.

Adults race from the office to the comic-book store on Fridays, says Continental’s Price, “when people buy comics to unwind after a long week.”

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