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Cover Story : Super Selection : As interest in comic books has increased, so has the number of stores selling them. The Valley is home to more than two dozen, many of which offer discounts, sales and memberships to attract repeat business.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Comic books are big business these days. Consider:

* A Sotheby’s auction of rare comic art in New York brought in a record $1.7 million in June, with the first comic book appearances of Superman and Batman fetching nearly $55,000 and $49,000, respectively.

* According to Jesse Leon McCann, customer service representative for Diamond Comic Distributors’ Los Angeles outlet, a staggering 600 to 800 individual comic book titles are published each month.

* And today through Sunday, tens of thousands of fans will converge on the San Diego Comic Con, one of the nation’s largest annual comic book conventions.

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It’s no surprise, then, that as interest in comics has increased, so have the number of stores that sell them.

In “Over 50 Years of American Comic Books,” writer Ron Goulart notes that although comic books had been sold for many years through the head shops and used record stores of the 1960s and ‘70s counterculture, stores devoted to comics didn’t appear in significant numbers until the mid-1970s, when retailers were able to bypass wholesalers and deal directly with publishers.

“Now it looks like every time you turn around, there’s a comic book store,” says lifelong comics reader Todd Chodorow, 26.

Today, the San Fernando Valley is home to more than two dozen shops devoted to comics and related merchandise--a competition that has inspired many stores to offer discounts, sales and memberships to attract repeat business.

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“It’s the service that’s going to sell you on a place,” Chodorow says.

But despite comics’ growing market and the proliferation of “mature"--the comic book equivalent of an R rating--and pornographic titles, some argue that much of the industry’s output remains rooted in timeworn formulas.

“The market has gotten really, really big,” says Joe Masset of Forbidden Planet in Sherman Oaks. “It just hasn’t gotten all that broad. Comic book publishers are still trying to sell superhero books.”

Indeed, despite the explosion of titles and publishers over the last few years, most comics still star costumed superheroes and comic readers remain largely male.

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“A lot of women don’t like (comics) because of the way women are portrayed,” says Rosa Thwett, co-owner of Comic Asylum in West Hills. The opinion is shared by most retailers, who note that women generally account for only a fraction of their customers.

There are exceptions, such as 24-year-old Lisa Nelson of Glendale, who spends nearly $30 a week on Japanese animation videos and Japanese comics, known as manga. According to Nelson, the science fiction-heavy Japanese comics tend to feature stronger women.

“For me, the female characters in American comic books are just kind of hokey,” she says.

Still, comics are evolving, and so are the stores.

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“That’s because the audience has changed,” McCann says. “The way comic book stores have changed is the way that readers have changed.”

No longer the domain of the after-school crowd, today’s comic book store draws everyone from preteen “Spider-Man” and “Batman” readers to adults lured by moody, sophisticated titles such as DC Comics’ “Sandman.”

In response, many retailers have expanded their merchandise beyond the typical $2 comic book to include T-shirts, posters, model kits, trading cards and graphic novels--softcover books with original and reprinted comics material. And while many shop owners see them as a passing fad, most are now carrying Pogs, those whackable discs that have gripped the grade-school crowd.

Says Charles Pira of Pee Wee Comics: “I don’t think a store can survive just on comics nowadays.”

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The following is a non-inclusive list of Valley comic book shops, from successful veterans to lesser-known newcomers, with an emphasis on the products and services that make each unique.

* The Art of Collecting, 6100 Laurel Canyon Blvd., at the Laurel Plaza Mall, North Hollywood.

When an earthquake shuts your doors for two months, what do you do? Conduct business in the parking lot! And so it went for this shop, located on the outside of the quake-battered mall. The store is open again, but the mall remains closed, its future cloudy. Employee David Wilhite, 27, says Laurel Plaza’s closure means “a lot less traffic” nowadays, but the store does offer a 15% discount on new comics with the purchase of a $10 yearly membership. Members can also earn “bargain bucks” toward the purchase of back issues.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. (818) 766-5604.

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* Brave New World, 21048 Devonshire St., Chatsworth.

Opened just over a year ago, Brave New World sells every major comic as well as model kits, paperbacks, posters, T-shirts and old magazines such as Mad. “We’re pretty diverse in what we get,” says assistant manager Don Heinsberg, 25. They also carry mature titles, although you have to ask for them at the counter. Like many shops, they also invite the occasional comics professional for in-store appearances. Later this month, former “Justice League” penciler Adam Hughes will visit the Chatsworth store and its older twin in Newhall.

Chatsworth hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. (818) 341-2170.

* A Collector’s Dream, 21222 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills.

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The store’s small floor plan looks something like a studio apartment, and perhaps that’s appropriate since owner Mike Frank spends virtually all his time there. “July 4th was my second day off this year,” he says.

The shelves are stocked with a good number of comics from most major publishers. For serious collectors, Frank runs an investment program where he’ll select $25 worth of comics each month that he believes will increase in value. “I want to make my living but I don’t want to gouge anybody,” says Frank, 30.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. (818) 992-1636.

* Comic Asylum, 22807 1/2 Saticoy St., West Hills.

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Catering mostly to kids and teen-agers, Comic Asylum sticks to mainstream comics, trading cards and Pogs--avoiding such higher-priced items as graphic novels. “We don’t carry off-the-wall kind of stuff,” says co-owner Thwett, 24. For collectors and investors, the store maintains a bidding wall where customers can bring in their comics for weekly, sealed-bid auctions. In addition, Pog tournaments are held every Sunday, drawing as many as 50 young competitors.

Hours: noon to 7 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays, noon to 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. (818) 888-2756.

* Comic City, 6633 Fallbrook Ave., in the Fallbrook Mall, West Hills.

This brand-new store, like its twin in the Sherman Oaks Galleria, caters primarily to kids and teen-agers, says co-owner Greg Schiffman, 25. Although they don’t carry the weekly selection of new comics, back issues line the walls and the store does a brisk business in Pogs. According to Schiffman, the mall provides a wide range of customers, with parents and children often browsing together.

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“I think people want to shop where they feel comfortable,” he says. The store’s name may change after Schiffman resolves some business matters with his partner, but you can find it next to Foot Locker.

West Hills hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays. (818) 313-9182.

* Comic Jungle, 8925 Sepulveda Blvd., North Hills.

Manager George Marquez, 24, says the store specializes in popular, mainstream comics, trading cards, toys and Pogs.

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“They’re a lot more knowledgeable about what they sell,” says customer Nathan Storey, a 20-year comics reader.

With every $5 purchase, customers are entered in a monthly drawing for a current “hot” comic. Marquez, who speaks some Spanish, says he also tries to attract customers from the neighborhood’s Latino population--a demographic largely unserved by Valley comic shops. “A lot of people forget that there’s a potential market for them,” he says.

Hours: noon to 7 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, noon to 8 p.m. Fridays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. (818) 893-4487.

* Comic Odyssey, 8238 Tampa Ave., Reseda.

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A clean, well-lit store with a good selection of comics, graphic novels and toys, Comic Odyssey has something for all readers. With sister shops in Panorama City and Simi Valley, owner Sandy Sansolis, 25, says he tries to serve “hard-core collectors” while encouraging new readers to enjoy comics as a hobby.

Still, he recognizes that comics fans are notoriously fickle, driven from one fad to the next. “If I had Power Rangers, I’d be rich,” he says.

Reseda hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays through Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays. (818) 341-9630.

* Continental Comics, 17032 Devonshire St., Northridge.

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Sure, the Jan. 17 quake knocked most of this store’s shelves down, but it also toppled an interior wall, making the place a bit bigger in the process. Back issues are still kept behind the counter--"to keep ‘em in better shape,” says assistant manager Mike Garanchon, 25--but the selection is extensive. At 17 years old, Continental is one of the older Valley comic book shops.

“We try to keep everything rather lively,” he says.

The store carries a variety of mainstream and esoteric titles, as well as Japanese animation videos, trading cards and toys.

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. (818) 368-8909.

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* Emerald City, 1802 W. Olive Ave., Burbank.

There’s something spooky going on here. Maybe it’s the creepy models of monsters and ghouls scattered throughout the small shop, their sightless eyes peering over your shoulder as you browse.

“We’re almost like an anti-comic store,” says owner Taylor White, 32. “We cater more toward the old monster crowd.”

Although you’ll find the latest comics from most major publishers, the store also has a large selection of vintage monster magazines and fanzines targeted to sci-fi and fantasy buffs and every stripe of collector.

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“We’ve gone out of our way to make this a much different store,” White says.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays. Closed Sundays. (818) 842-9383.

* The Flip Side, 18551 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana.

Started six years ago in Canoga Park as a used record store with comics, the Flip Side now boasts an impressive number of comics titles as well as movie posters, paperbacks, trading cards, Pogs and magazines at its 3,000-square-foot location. “We wanted to be able to offer customers a wide variety of products,” says co-owner Derth Obbink, 49.

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The used records and compact discs are still there, offering shoppers unique bartering opportunities. “People can trade records for comics or comics for records,” Obbink says.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. (818) 758-9103.

* Forbidden Planet, 14513 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

A worldwide chain of independently owned comics, science-fiction and fantasy stores, Forbidden Planet sells a large variety of comics merchandise in the back of its neat and clean Valley store behind rows of sci-fi books. There are titles from nearly all publishers to choose from; employees will take the time to point out comics that match customers’ interests.

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Assistant Manager Joe Masset, 34, says: “I want people to explore them and find the thing they like best.”

On the sci-fi side, the store frequently invites such authors as Ray Bradbury, Greg Bear, Clive Barker and William Gibson for book signings.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. (818) 995-0151.

* Future Frontier Comics & Collectibles, 8205 Woodman Ave., Panorama City.

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Longtime DC Comics writer Marv Wolfman is a partner in this modest shop, although he’s not involved with Future Frontier’s sister store in the Santa Clarita Valley. The store offers a good selection of mainstream comics and comics industry magazines, as well as some trading cards and Pogs. Manager Craig Stone says the shop also has monthly sales.

“We can sit here and talk about comics all day,” Stone, 21, says of regular customers. “I don’t care if I sold ‘em a book.”

Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. (818) 908-1216.

* Golden Apple, 8962 Reseda Blvd., Northridge.

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Part of a three-store chain that began with its popular Hollywood location, Golden Apple packs a lot into its small Valley shop--comics, graphic novels, toys, trading cards, videos and more.

“We pretty much get everything we can,” says employee Pat Morgan, 24.

The selection is good, with titles from nearly every publisher available on the racks, including “Flaxen,” a comic book starring Golden Apple’s mascot--a mousy nurse who transforms into a buxom superhero. They also maintain a 24-hour hot line at (213) 651-0455 that lists current comics and in-store happenings.

Northridge hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. (818) 993-7804.

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* Heroes, 1918 W. Olive Ave., Burbank.

A few blocks from Emerald City, Heroes is a more traditional comics shop, offering the latest titles from mainstream publishers, as well as action figures, posters and a huge selection of non-sports cards. Owner Jake Hagopian, 26, also carries gift items. Indeed, what better present for a science fiction-lovin’ Dad than a “Star Trek” necktie?

Hours: noon to 7 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. (818) 562-1900.

* Heroes & Legends, 5879 Kanan Road, Agoura Hills.

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Located a bit farther down the road from its previous Kanan Road location, Heroes & Legends now shares a mini-mall unit with a video rental store. Although new comics and back issues are available, the store concentrates more on Hollywood and sports memorabilia, says employee Corey Goldstein, 32.

“There’s so many new titles, it’s overwhelming,” he says.

In keeping with current trends, the shop also sells several varieties of trading cards and Pogs.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. (818) 991-5979.

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* Komic Con, 11824 Ventura Blvd., Studio City.

Formerly Comic Kingdom, the store and its counterpart in Granada Hills are under new management. The selection leans mostly to mainstream comics, although trading cards and inexpensive Pogs are also for sale.

According to employee Cat Jercan, 26, the store is willing to bargain with customers to keep them coming back.

“I try to be cheap with everything,” he says. “If I have to break even, I will do it.”

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Like Comic Asylum, the store also has weekly Pog tournaments for kids 14 and younger.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. (818) 761-3753.

* Komic Kid, 6800 Balboa Blvd., Van Nuys.

Parking isn’t great and there’s very little breathing room inside, but the 3-year-old shop is often buzzing with activity.

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“We have a lot of energy,” says manager Linda Fougere, 43.

All major titles are here, as well as every variety of non-sports trading cards. And with every $5 purchase, customers are entered in a weekly raffle of store merchandise. And parents, if you’re on the hunt for “Power Rangers” toys, this is the place to come. But be sure to bring your wallet, since the rarities aren’t cheap.

Hours: noon to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. (818) 997-0289.

* Pee Wee Comics, 7520 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Canoga Park.

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Another veteran Valley store, Pee Wee began in 1984 and has since opened shops in Agoura Hills and Thousand Oaks.

“I wanted to start a store that I’d be comfortable with as a customer,” says co-owner Charles Pira, 28.

Two years ago, the store expanded its merchandise line to include toys, magazines, T-shirts and collectibles, but as Pira explains, “our biggest push is customer service.”

Pee Wee has frequent sales, such as its annual Thanksgiving Day blowout, when customers are treated to pie, milk and coffee, and all comics are half off.

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Hours: 12:30 to 7 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. (818) 348-2083.

* Shooting Star Comics & Games, 618 E. Colorado Blvd., Glendale.

This is the store with everything--and 2,000 square feet to hold it.

“We have a much wider selection,” says Sam Silbert, the store’s 28-year-old owner. “We carry the full lines--dozens of companies and a lot of the small ones.”

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In fact, the store maintains one of the largest collections of graphic novels from publishers large and small, in addition to a wide selection of Japanese comics and videos. On the game front, the store carries a sizable number of fantasy role-playing products, but no Pogs. “We’re out of the Pog business, thank God,” Silbert says with a chuckle.

Hours: noon to 7 p.m. daily. (818) 502-1535.

* Things From Another World, 1000 Universal Center Drive, at the Universal CityWalk, Universal City.

Not a very big store, but clean, bright and stocked with comics and graphic novels from most major publishers, as well as toys, models, books and other memorabilia related to such sci-fi mainstays as “Star Trek” and “Star Wars.”

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“We tend to carry more trendy, unusual items,” says manager Barbara Lubbers, 35. “The staff is geared to talk to the customers and show ‘em what we have.”

And although they don’t sell back issues in the traditional sense, there are usually a few months worth of each comic at cover price.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays. (818) 622-8464.


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