This past weekend marked a rare occurrence for ComicUI, as in both founders were under the same roof and on a mission, meet Mark Waid…again. Mark Waid is an Eisner Award winning author who currently writes the recent run of Daredevil and Marvel NOW!’s Indestructible Hulk series, both are favored series at ComicUI. Many may be familiar with his DC work on Superman Birthright and Kingdom Come, or his titles over at BOOM! Studios, Irredeemable and Incorruptible. He’s also the creator and owner of Thrillbent, a digital comics site that deals in digital-only comics, for free, in the browser. Needless to say, Mr. Waid has come a long way and achieved things that we can only dream about in the comic’s industry.
Saturday the 21st of September, a comic book store in Muncie, IN was gathering the attention of comic book fans throughout the Midwest and normally we wouldn’t take the time or effort to attend, but this is no regular store. This was the Grand Re-Opening of Alter Ego Comics, which was recently given new co-ownership in the form of Mark Waid and Christy Blanch, teacher of the Super MOOC Gender Through Comic Books. Alter Ego Comics, who in part with (another) co- owner Jason Pierce, celebrated this grand opening of sorts by way of Batmobile, Delorean, and cake. Free cake? Then by all accounts, ComicUI was on the scene.
We drove up to Muncie, about an hour north east of Indianapolis, IN and started off very confused. The address via Google Maps and Apple Maps both placed the store about 2 miles north of its actual location. This led to a confusing 10 minutes or so, but we discovered a life size metal hippo that was painted purple. If any of you are familiar with Brian and his work on Roller Skating Hippo, then you’d realize this was a gem. From here we regathered our efforts, searched online some more, and finally headed in the right direction.
Alter Ego Comics was lucky enough to get the street roped off and Waid already had a line down the block for his autograph by 11:15 AM. Comics in hand (rather a backpack), we joined the line and waited. At this point, the startling realization I had nothing for Mark to sign hit me. Brian had brought issues of Daredevil and Indestructible Hulk, but I was empty handed. Should I bring my iPad and have him digitally sign the book? The thought crossed my mind and I’m sure he’d love the irony/change of pace. My mind raced with solutions for the first world problem I was encountering. I’d estimate we got into the store around noon, after having to explain to the ‘bouncer’ that Brian and I had gone to the store together but were not in fact ‘together,’ and that’s when we got our first taste of Alter Ego Comics.
This is a humble store, by all means. It may be owned by several heavy hitters in the comic industry, but the main store room is about the size of my bedroom. There are 2 walls with racks for newer comics and a center piece for some older issues (not old enough to be considered back issues, but not new either), they even had free Keurig coffee. But just then, a light in my time of darkness appears. A small wall that divides the back room from the kids room (more on this later), had issues of Waid’s work and a sign which suggested I get them signed by the author. Genius! So I picked up an Iron Man variant of an Indestructible Hulk book, quickly turned around and purchased it. Thus, the signature solution occurred.
After that crisis was averted, I noticed we were in a smaller line in the store that lead into a 12×15 room that was pointed towards children comics (and a few Trade Paperbacks), where comic book leaders Mark Waid, Art Baltazar, and Mike Norton sat at a small table. As Brian and I got closer, we couldn’t help but take note of the room’s decorations. There were shelves that were low to the ground and targeted directly for children, apparent with Baltazar’s Tiny Titans and the Fraggle Rock comics as well. I presume under normal operation, this is a place for children to immerse themselves in comic books without parents needing to worry about the content that more mature series may offer. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a store cater to that crowd.
Finally, the moment had arrived. We were next in line for Waid and we each had one question to ask Mark. Only one question because we’re modest and feel that he does enough without needing us to hound him about continuity and other choices that comic book writers are plagued with. I allowed Brian to go first, to which he posed a question related to digital comics, “Why do the newer copies of Daredevil not come with a digital copy code?” A solid question, especially since some older issues used to have the code included. Waid responded with something along the lines of the publisher wants to sell a print version and a digital version separate to make an extra buck and that everyone just isn’t on the same page for having the two mixed right now. At the time, we weren’t exactly pleased with the response, but after having time to think, I feel that if Daredevil is being so popular as to warrant the sale individual print and digital copies, then that is a good sign for the title and those a part of its creation. Brian thanked him and moved down the line.
I stepped up and handed over the Indestructible Hulk variant, in which Mark pointed and nodded at the book, saying “Ahh, this one!” which I’ll take as a good sign. He put his Mark Waid on the cover and I asked a question that I’ve pondered for a few months, “When we buy a comic book with a variant cover, and it includes a digital copy code, why do we not get the digital copy of that Variant cover?” This was the highlight of the trip here, as the response that came next gave the thought some validation. “That is a good question. Why don’t they?” he said. “Trade Paperbacks and collections come with all the variant covers printed in them, why shouldn’t the digital copy include that as well?” Sure, that wasn’t a direct solution to my question, but knowing that ComicUI is thinking ahead of the curve is encouraging to say the least. Chances are I’ll either stop by the store again and discuss the topic with him or do what people do these days and tweet it again until Marvel takes notice and absorbs ComicUI into it.
We stepped down the line (only like a single step away) to where Mike Norton and Art Baltazar were doing drawings on comic book sized pieces of cardstock. They took requests, so Brian asked Norton for a Lockjaw drawing, which was at home since Norton is creator of the Battlepug series. This spawned into two great conversations involving pets. Apparently Mike and his girlfriend have pugs at home, and Brian suggested putting tuning forks on dogs to have them be his Lockjaw for Halloween. The jaws dropped as we found out that his costume idea was universally loved. To which I brought up the idea of dressing up a raccoon as Rocket Raccoon. Mike looked up at me from his drawing, “Do you really own a raccoon?” I had to give a resounding no, but this led him into a story about a raccoon.
“So I was outside and I saw this cat walking down the street. It looked like it had something in its mouth and I noticed it was a rolled up newspaper. That’s funny, I thought, someone trained their cat to fetch their newspaper for them. Next thing I know, that cat is approaching a wall and it went vertically up the wall. About that time I realized it was a raccoon that had stolen a newspaper. Sure wasn’t a cat.”
Yes, that’s the paraphrased version, but how often do you get someone to start a conversation by saying “Do I have a great story about a raccoon!” Not enough, that’s how much.
Lastly, we both got quick cartoony drawings from Art Baltazar. I requested a Sentry and Brian got a Spider-man. They’re both rather quirky and awesome, expect some photos later. We bid our farewells and on our way out, Brian saw a manila envelope that happened to be a grab bag of 10 Avengers titles for $12. He picked it up and I went back outside as he paid for it and apparently caused a riot among Ball State teachers. Christy Blanch taught the SuperMOOC through them and AMC approached her to do a class on the Walking Dead in the same manner. Ball State turned her down apparently, so they took it through another University and within hours had the class setup to go. This ruffled some feathers at Ball State and I’m sure Brian’s recollection of the story is better than my second hand experience. Needless to say, we nearly incited a riot.
Having spent some money on the store and gotten an extended conversation with Mark Waid and crew, we felt that this daytrip to Alter Ego Comics was very well worth it. It isn’t about the signature on the comic books, but the atmosphere and adventures that happen along the way. Now we can add Alter Ego Comics to that list of places ComicUI has left its mark on (pun totally not intended). Next time, we just need to remember business cards.