[singlepic id=164 w=300 h=220 float=left] Chuck Messinger did something I really admire: He ditched a 15-year career in business manager to follow his heart, opening Comic Evolution in Puyallup in 2007. A comic book collector since 1983, Chuck stocks a plethora of new and vintage comic books, graphic novels, computer games, limited-edition and original artwork, books – even family-friendly board games, dolls, toys and lunchboxes. Comic Evolution was also one of the sponsors of and exhibitors at the Eighth Annual Emerald City ComiCon (www.emeraldcitycomicon.com), held last weekend at the Washington State Convention Center.
What’s more, Chuck and his associates have ventured into the wild world of publishing, having just announced the founding of Creator’s Edge Press, (www.creatorsedgepress.com) “a new venue for up-and-coming writers, artists and creative minds … with a singular vision: keeping independent comics independent.”
Chuck takes pains not only to offer varied, quality stock and to organize it effectively in the store but to have access to great material for both the novice and the advanced collector.
Having been a comic book enthusiast in my youth – I was particularly passionate of horror comics like “Creepy” and “Eerie,” some of which featured original cover art by the incomparable Frank Frazetta – I had lots of questions for Chuck, about Emerald City ComiCon (ECCC) and comic book collecting in general …
AmeriCollector: Comic Evolution sponsored or co-sponsored seven exhibiting artists/writers/creators at ECCC this year: Mike Norton, Tim Seeley, Nathan Fox, Khary Randolph, Chris Burnham, Jenny Frison and Scott Allie. Can you tell us a little about them?
Chuck: Thanks to my partner Paolo at Cadence Comic Art (www.cadencecomicart.com), we were blessed with a wide variety of artists representing multiple companies and styles. We had writers, interior artists, cartoon designers, game illustrators, cover artists, editors and publishers, all at our booth. I could get into their individual credentials but I think the above statement sums it up best. We truly had the best of the best at our booth this year.
AC: In 2007 you did what a lot of collectors fantasize about: made your passion into a business – and in Puyallup, no less. How did that come about?
Chuck: I was the unfortunate victim of corporate downsizing with my prior company. I had told my daughter in her youth that I would someday pay for her college with my comic collection. I don’t know that I ever saw myself as a retailer; I think my “packrat mentality” just made it really easy to open a store with what I had. Being close to home for a change was my driving motivation.
AC: What kind of material does Comic Evolution carry? Do you sell original art as well?
Chuck: We have the largest variety of affordable old comic books, graphic novels and new-release books in the area. We also pride ourselves on promotion of local and independent artists. We have more than 300 pieces of original art and lithographs on our walls – another thing that I think sets us apart from the rest.
AC: How did you get interested in comic books?
Chuck: My 14th birthday, my friend Jed exposed me to books with pictures. Up to that date I was quite the bibliophile, with an impressive book collection. Jed, you are responsible!
AC: How much have comic books changed over the years?
Chuck: The old standbys are really the same. The nice thing about the current market is there is plenty of room for independent innovative properties. The majority of the properties you see getting optioned for films and other mediums are original ideas from independent thinkers.
AC: What’s the difference between comic books and “graphic novels”?
Chuck: A comic book is essentially a “serialized” graphic novel. With few exceptions, graphic novels are typically reprints of individual books in a series. Some properties go straight to graphic novel if the story is best told in one reading.
AC: Are hard-copy comic books – like other printed media, such as books and newspapers – becoming obsolete?
Chuck: My business is still booming. I think with the digital age of comics it is just exposing new readers to the industry. You just can’t beat the smell of the paper.
AC: People talk about the “value” (i.e., the prices) of comic books as “investments” dropping in recent years. How would you advise a novice collector to get started? Do you encourage buying comic books as investments?
Chuck: You certainly can make good investments in comics, but your choices in new comics are few and far between. Most comics are printed in such a high print run that everyone has them. I recommend to those investing in comics either focus on highly collectible variant issues or stick with “Golden Age” (late 1930s to late 1940s) and “Silver Age” (mid-1950s to about 1970) books. Some independent labels will produce books in smaller print runs that can make them desirable as well.
AC: What are the popular collecting categories among your customers?
Chuck: I have focused my inventory mostly on affordable reader copies of the older books, meaning they may not be in perfect condition. With the economy where it is, people want to spend less for more. Selling someone their first “Fantastic Four #1” for an affordable rate is more satisfying for me as a retailer than to have a $5,000-plus book taking up space.
AC: Do you ever have industry guests at your shop for meet-and-greets and signings?
Chuck: The last two years we have had more artists and writers than I can count. We have been extremely supportive of all aspects of the industry. Moving forward we are focusing much of our attention in store on aspiring artists and writers through our Penman’s Guild group. We want to be responsible for the next generation of talent in the industry.
Images courtesy of Chuck Messinger.
Comic Evolution is located at 206 S. Meridian, Puyallup, WA 98371; reach them by phone at (253) 770-6464. www.comic-evolution.com