The Ninjabot

Talking Shop with AMC’s Comic Book Men

Posted on September 9, 2013 at 1:01 pm by Tyler Waterman

If you’re a fan of comics, you’ve likely spent a good amount of time in comic book shops, and if you have, you’ve probably thought on more than one occasion “man, they should make a reality show about this place.” Comic shops attract the some of the most passionate and vocal geeks around, and if you hang out often enough, you’re sure to see some serious characters.

Well, good news! AMC did exactly that, and the show has been a huge hit. AMC’s Comic Book Men is set in Jersey’s own Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, the comic shop owned by director/actor/writer/podcaster Kevin Smith. Managed by Walt Flanagan, he, along with Mike Zapcic, Bryan Johnson and Ming Chen bring us both their adventures dealing with customers as well as their own antics outside of the shop.

The crew was at this year’s Baltimore Comic Con to promote the upcoming third season of the show, which premiers October 13th. Myself and Geek Legacy contributor Jeff Mueller sat down with them to talk comics, digital versus print, podcasting, and… baby MODOKs?!

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Tyler: First question for you guys since you’re Comic Book Men, what are you guys reading right now? What books do you not want to miss, what’s most recommendable?

Ming: I read the Matt Fraction Hawkeye, big fan of it. And then I pick up trades that these guys recommend. One of the trades they didn’t recommend that I got at a shop in my hometown was Godzilla: Half Century War, which Walt is big into Godzilla –

Mike: Wait a minute… you went to another comic book store?!

Ming: I was at home! It was the one that got me back into comics, back when I was in college. So I paid them a visit and they knew who I was.

Mike: You mean where you grew up? Like your hometown.

Ming: Yeah. And that one has been great.

Tyler: You can’t go wrong with Godzilla. You really can’t.

Ming: That’s what Walt has been telling me for years. There’s other monsters in that book too, not just Godzilla.

Walt: [I’m reading] Swamp Thing, the current Swamp Thing, and the new Deadpool. I like a book called Bedlam from Image, and another book from Image, Bulletproof Coffin. It’s over now, but that one, I really loved that one. The most recent Image books, I like them a lot.

Tyler: Most recent Image books is a loaded thing, too, since there’s about three new ones every week.

Walt: Yeah! 

Mike: I read a lot of the DC New 52, I really dug the Trinity War. Forever Evil, that was really cool. From Marvel, All-New X-Men, that’s pretty cool. I like Bendis’ take on time travel.

Tyler: There’s plenty of time travel in Marvel right now.

Mike: Oh yeah, oh my god. Also Walking Dead. They still continue to surprise me.

Bryan: (makes butt-kissing sounds. Everyone laughs.)

Mike: Hey, I know which side the bread’s buttered on!

Bryan: Right now I don’t read any new stuff, but I do read old anthologies like Eerie and Creepy, that kind of stuff. I went back and got a couple hardcovers. It’s amazing what people used to consider horrific. My favorite one is the one about a cactus that comes back to life and kills somebody.

Walt: Did that one keep you up at night? (Everyone laughs)

Tyler: (To everyone:) That’s an impressive spread there. (To Bryan:) You read nothing new? Just don’t care, or are you burned out?

Bryan: Na, just don’t care.

Tyler: Fair enough!

Bryan: Complete apathy.

Tyler: Nice, that’s the best kind.

Jeff: So as people who run a comic book store, are you noticing a trend that things are moving away from it just being the Big Two now? We talked about Image for a minute, you know, Image is putting out new books constantly. Are they selling really well in the store, or is it still primarily Marvel and DC are the kings and everyone else is lagging real far behind?

Walt: I personally think that Marvel and DC are Coke and Pepsi, and everyone else picks up the crumbs.

Bryan: There’s no RC Cola? No Shasta?

Mike: No one wants to be Shasta!

Walt: Comic books are too expensive, man. It’s not that disposable income kind of hobby anymore, so a lot of people got to pick and choose, and they’re consistently, or predominantly stick with Coke and Pepsi.

Jeff: Are you guys seeing that as an obstacle? The constant raising of prices on books?

Walt: Oh yeah. I mean it, it has to factor in at a certain point. People have less money to spend on comics, with the economy and everything, so they’re real choosy, you know? I mean, I can remember, growing up I’d buy everything. It didn’t feel like it was that hefty a price tag. But now somebody comes up with a little pile of books and it’s, like, thirty bucks.

Bryan: I remember going with you and Kevin, and like, these guys would buy, it would literally be like that many books. (Holds his fingers apart wider than a phone book.)

Walt: Yeah, which would cost now over $125, probably.

Tyler: Oh yeah, and then you talk weekly, it can add up pretty quick.

Walt: Yeah. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there’s still books that companies will put out that will always sell, like Hellboy or some certain Image books, but it’s a Marvel and DC world , you know, we’re just living in it.

Tyler: Do you find the same thing with collectibles as well? Is that market kind of dipping down too?

Walt: Collectibles, you mean like statues and stuff?

Tyler: Statues, figures… I’ve noticed a lot of my local shops are scaling back, it seems like they don’t get as much.

Walt: Yea, you have to be real picky and choosy about what high-end collectible you’re going to stock, because if you stock them all…

Tyler: … you’ll have them forever?

Walt: Yeah. It may take a while. I find it has to be something I have extreme confidence in. And if it’s too much, I mean some statues are $700, $800, that’s a real tough investment. But those are the ones that you find, though, that two years from now they’re going for $3000, because there’s such a limited run.

Ming: The level of detail in those, and the accessories, it’s crazy.

Tyler: Same with the replicas we get now, the Lanterns and whatnot, they’re pretty epic.

Bryan: One thing I learned about this season is Hot Toys, which is the corniest name of all time, but it seems like that’s another thing that appeals to high-end collectors, with so many little pieces.

Ming: Yeah, and the interchangeable hands, and all the accessories.

Bryan: It’s so detailed.

Mike: It’s an insane amount of detail.

Bryan: But it’s something I imagine is hard to buy on spec[ulation], just hoping somebody will pick it up.

Walt: Well, like you said, there are certain characters, you know, like if it’s a Batman, if it’s a Joker…

Mike: Spider-Man too.

Walt: … it’s a good bet you can move it. But when you start getting into, like, the weird villains who are like…

Mike: Who the hell wants a MODOK?!

Tyler: Yeah, this $900 MODOK made of solid gold!

Mike: It’s gorgeous, don’t get me wrong, it looks like a creepy little baby, you know, designed only for killing.

Tyler: BODOK?

Mike: Yeah! Give him stubby little arms and legs, and stick it in a rocket chair, you’ll be good to go!

Jeff: How are you guys dealing with the constant strain on your time? You’re here in Baltimore, you’re doing conventions left and right, you’re still running all your podcasts, you’re on Comic Book Men, you guys burning out at all? You still enjoying the ride? Are the podcasts eventually going to die off?

Walt: It’s tough. (To Ming:) You guys were talking about killing off your podcasts.

Jeff: What?!

Bryan: And yourselves! (Everyone laughs.) They can’t take it!

Mike: Yea, we were going to do both at the same time, it was going to be epic!

Tyler: It’s one big sendoff!

Mike: I can feel the poison taking effect Ming!

Ming: Oh we’re doing assisted suicide? How do we do it though?

Walt: You gotta put guns to each other’s heads and go 1, 2, 3.

Ming: I’m like “oh wait I changed my mind!”

Mike: Ming, you’ll be the first to go.

Bryan: I’ll upload it for you guys. (Everyone laughs.)

Mike: No charge, thanks Bryan, you’re awesome.

Tyler: Has the show helped the business itself?

Walt: Yeah, definitely has helped the business.

Ming: I mean, when you look at it, it’s a thirty-minute commercial for the store.

Tyler: It definitely is.

Ming: A good commercial! It’s a good commercial.

Walt: It’s one of those things, though, where I live in the same state as the Cake Boss, and I see those lines for the Cake Boss, and it really just hammers home that, like…

Bryan: Why not the comic books?

Walt: It’s still such a niche thing, because everyone, they can go to the Cake Boss and buy a pastry or a cupcake, but, you know, you’re not going to get that same kind of excitement of just the everyman going in a buying a stack of comic books. We are thinking about getting some cupcakes in the store. Comic book cupcakes.

Tyler: Sounds delicious!

Jeff: Sounds dangerous, I don’t know.

Tyler: Is there anything, if you could go back, is there anything you would change about the show? Because I’ve noticed as time went on, the folks that come in with the things that they want to sell to you almost seemed like they were auditioning, and I know you guys probably screen it, but at the same time do you feel like you’ve lost regular customers because now you’ve got the “Hollywood” customers, or is it still a mix of both?

Walt: Yeah, I’m telling you, when the camera and crew aren’t there, it’s a comic book shop.

Bryan: It’s not like Ben Affleck and Johnny Depp are all coming in, you know, just shopping.

Tyler: Yeah, to get their pull list!

Mike: Yeah, we don’t have Samuel L. Jackson coming in saying “time to get my books.”

Ming: Walt isn’t like “oh do you have [Brad] Pitt’s pull list this week?” and I’m like “let me check the P’s.”

Walt: I find that it’s more refreshing to have our regulars back in.

Tyler: I’m sure.

Walt: Because they’re our backbone. They’re the guys who were there before there was the show. Our regulars, I mean.

Tyler: Right, the real people.

Bryan: Yeah, not the jerkoffs. (Everyone laughs.)

Walt: Yeah, not the guys who come in looking to sell stuff. We get that now too, now, which is fine, but the regulars, they’re like family to us.

Tyler: How much longer, I mean, I’m not saying peg the number of seasons, but is this a thing you’d love to do forever, or is thing a thing where you’ve got one more season starting in a couple weeks and you are very ready for that.

Ming: I want to do it forever. I do! I love it.

Tyler: It beats digging ditches I’m sure.

Bryan: He’s not kidding.

Ming: I’m not. Even this.

Walt: As long as AMC wants to have us, I mean, who wants to leave?

Jeff: Is there anything you can tell us about the upcoming season?

Walt: More guest starts, a la Stan Lee’s. Maybe not on that caliber.

Tyler: Is there anyone else on that caliber, really?

Walt: Yeah, that’s the thing, but there are some very iconic faces who show up. Iconic, truly iconic. And more transactions.

Jeff: Which is good, right?

Walt: Which is excellent.

Bryan: More people not wanting to pay the price printed right on it.

Tyler: It’s good to know some things are universal about comic stores no matter where you go, because I know my local shop is not nearly as famous but still has people coming in trying to sell crap all the time.

Mike: Oh my god yes.

Tyler: And they’re flabbergasted when you don’t want to buy they’re AT-ST Walker from 1979 with a broken leg.

Mike: I welded it back on!

Tyler: It’s superglued… it’s super! You like super, right? It’s a comic shop! So are there any big surprises we might see podcast-wise? Any of these big guests on your podcasts as well?

Ming: They’re not on the show, it’s better with the five of us.

Walt: If we have people on the podcast we want it to be more of an event. We want to have Monster Bill on. To me, I don’t know if you watched the last season, he’s one of my favorites. I’m telling you, if you get underneath that shell it’s astonishing what this man has done.

Tyler: As guys who run a podcast ourselves, do you have any tips for people who want to get into it, or who want to get better?

Walt: What’s the name of your podcast?

Jeff: The Comic Corner Podcast.

Walt: Oh, you’re comic guys! Oh!

Tyler: We’re strictly comics. There’s a reason we’re talking to you more about running a comic shop and less about TV!

Walt: Do you run a comic store as well?

Jeff: No, we don’t. No competition there!

Ming: There’s room for more than one comic book podcast!

Walt: Is there? See, that’s not the proper attitude.

Ming: It’s not? There’s only room for one?

Walt: Remember Conan’s motto?

Ming: I remember Conan’s motto.

Mike: Crush your enemies.

Bryan: He’s such a sellout! Like, for 50 bucks he’ll advertise another podcast that’s directly in competition. He’s a douche.

Tyler: It’s not like we share a time slot!

Mike: Actually, he’s not a douche, because he gives $20 to me.

Walt: So what do you guys do? You guys do reviews?

Jeff: We do news and reviews, rants and raves…

Tyler: Whatever DC did this week to make us mad, that kind of thing.

Walt: Do you guys do that?

Bryan: They don’t even talk about comics!

Walt: They don’t want the backlash, right?

Mike: That’s why we’re the number one gardening podcast around, alright?

Walt: So podcast tips? Do you have a cast of wacky characters that you can call upon?

Jeff: We do not have wacky characters.

Mike: I bet you do, and you don’t even know it.

Walt: You need guys that hang out in bottle dumps. You need guys you deliver comics to that live in a trailer.

Bryan: Yeah, people truly on the fringes of society.

Mike: Get your alcoholics, your Asperger’s patients.

Walt: And exploit them as much as you can, until they realize it.

Mike: And then when they realize it…

Bryan: … they say “there’s nothing I can do.”

Walt: Ming, as a guy who has a successful comic podcast, what is your biggest words of sage-like advice.

Bryan: Steal your friend’s audio.

Ming: Yeah, steal your friend’s audio! When they come up with a theme song you think you might like, take it.

Walt: Steal the name as well!

Ming: Just take it! And be consistent. That’s it.

Tyler: Ok, so find crazy hobos, and steal as much as you can.

Bryan: Walt wrote a song that a band in Canada put to music, and there’s a lot of views, like over a hundred thousand views.

Ming: Almost a million.

Bryan: Almost a million views on YouTube. This guy unapologetically took the title of the song, turned it into his podcast title, and stole the song! The theme song!

Ming: Yeah!

Tyler: Like they made it for you!

Ming: Yeah!

Jeff: Look at this! No remorse at all!

Tyler: Swag.

Mike: That’s my partner!

Ming: That’s what you should do.

Mike: And have a fall guy.

Ming: Einstein did it. You guys are Nikolai Tesla, and I’m the other guy! (Everyone laughs)

Walt: The other guy no one remembers.

Tyler: You might have wanted to flip that!

Ming: Oh yeah…

Mike: Do you mean Edison?

Ming: Yeah.

Mike: Thataboy.

Tyler: Ok, so practical application of science as well is also important.

Ming: Sure!

Walt: How long you guys had your podcast?

Jeff: Six months.

Walt: Cool, so still in it’s infant stage.

Tyler: Oh, we give away free stuff, we’ve found that has been a big help.

Mike: Oh, cool.

Tyler: Yeah, people like free. And Marvel gives out digital codes for their comics so they help! They back us on this, technically, whether they know it or not.

Walt: Nice.

Bryan: (To Ming:) You never did that, huh? Look! He’s gonna steal it!

Tyler: Have you seen, with the uprising of digital books, has that made any impact on your business at all?

Walt: Yes. I can see, and I hear people talk about it in the store.

Bryan: Get the fuck out! (Everyone laughs)

Walt: I don’t think there’s any way you can keep your head in the sand anymore. I think at a certain point it’s going to tip in favor of, the way that, it’s going to be almost all digital. You’ll still have the paper comics out there, but as our kids are growing up, they’re weened on digital, iPads and stuff. Today’s kids, I don’t know that they’ll be buying comics the same way that comic books are being purchased now. They’ll be purchasing them digitally.

Mike: I think that will never go away, the way that vinyl never went away.

Walt: Right, yes.

Mike: You’re going to get your limited print run, which is going to make the back issues even more valuable. Isn’t that why Action Comics #1 is valuable anyway? There’s only a hundred of them out there?

Walt: I also don’t know that you can kill the collecting mentality. You can’t collect a digital comic book. I mean, you can read them and you can enjoy them and everything…

Bryan: You just can’t hold up an iPad and go “here’s my collection!”

Walt: You can’t be like “Oh look! That digital download I just got is worth a $100 now!”

Jeff: You can’t get it signed, either.

Walt: That’s never going to go away. That’ll keep this industry…

Mike: Afloat?

Walt: Yeah, there will always be print runs of comic books, but I think that will start to shrink even moreso than they are now. Like I said, as our kids grow up in a world where they don’t need paper.

Bryan: Digital Comic Book Men, coming next season.

Tyler: Just robot versions of all of you? Significantly less pay.

Mike: Yeah!

Walt: Well, more robotic versions.

Jeff: If you don’t mind if I follow up on that question, how do you consume your books? Are you strictly paper, or do you do digital, or both?

Walt: Pure paper.

Tyler: Will you ever change?

Walt: I’ve never downloaded a comic book, never will. Never gonna do it.

Ming: I’ve downloaded a few back issues that sold out really quick.

Jeff: You look ashamed of yourself.

Walt: You torrented it, didn’t you?

Ming: I went through Comixology and paid the $1.99!

Bryan: I’ll steal my friend’s intellectual content, but comics?! (Everyone laughs)

Ming: I gotta draw the line!

Mike: Oh my god. I’m pure paper. When I get my singles, it’s awesome. It’s fantastic. I love just to have it.

Tyler: (To Bryan:) And obviously you will never, because pure apathy.

Bryan: Yeah I don’t care.

Jeff: I think that’s what we’ll name this interview, “Pure Apathy.”

Mike: Maybe you can get Leonard Nimoy to tell it.

Tyler: We’ll slow it down five seconds the whole way so we all sound slow.

Jeff: Well, thanks guys, really appreciate it.

Tyler: Yeah, thank you very much for the time.

Walt: Absolutely, good luck with the podcast.

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You can catch Season 3 of AMC’s Comic Book Men starting October 13th. For more information, check out the official website, and follow them on twitter.

 

 

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