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Comic enthusiasts emerge from the Batcave and storm the shops of Boston

Published: Thursday, October 7, 2010

Updated: Thursday, October 7, 2010 06:10

Now is the time to come out of the phone booth as a comic book nerd. With unique storytelling, multiple genres within the medium and intriguing recreations of iconic characters, comics are gaining cachet in the well−regarded mainstream. Film adaptations of niche comics like Alan Moore's "Watchmen" (1986−87) and Bryan Lee O'Malley's "Scott Pilgrim" series (2004−10) have received big promotional pushes. Furthermore, San Diego Comic−Con expands every year and an AMC television series based on the Image comic "The Walking Dead" is getting great buzz as its Halloween debut approaches. There's no shame in being caught on the T with your nose in a trade paperback these days.

Thanks to high−profile adaptations and comic creators crossing over into other media, it's no longer a secret that comics aren't just capes and cowls. "The Walking Dead," for instance, comes from popular writer Robert Kirkman. The black and white art by Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard is equally visceral in its gore and the emotional sucker punch that comes with the zombie apocalypse. Former "Lost" (2004−10) writer Brian K. Vaughan is behind the popular completed comic series "Y: the Last Man" (2002−08) and "Ex Machina" (2004−10), both mature, sprawling stories with sci−fi elements and fascinating political undertones.

Sometime−superhero−writer Bill Willingham is behind "Fables," a series that follows a community of fairy tale characters, exiled from their home worlds and living in modern−day New York City. Local creators Kevin Church and Ming Doyle respectively write and illustrate "The Loneliest Astronauts," a funny and surreal webcomic about antagonistic astronauts marooned together, which is also collected in a print version.

Even the superhero genre is finally shedding its stigma. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's "All−Star Superman," a 12−issue mini−series released from 2005 to 2008, was lauded by mainstream literary critics as a cerebral reinvention and reinterpretation of the nearly−80−year−old character. Christina Hendricks ("Mad Men") is set to star in the comic's upcoming animated adaptation as Lois Lane.

And of course, there's the subset of graphic novels that have achieved academic regard. Canonically, those books have included Art Spiegelman's "Maus" (1972−1991), which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992, and the aforementioned "Watchmen." But recently, that group has expanded to include Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home" (2006), Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" (1989−1996), Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis" (2000) and Chris Ware's "Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth" (2000).

It's easy to catch up on graphic novels and comic series through collected volumes, but many bookstores like Borders, Barnes & Noble and the Harvard Coop only stock the more widely known of these books. Furthermore, they often aren't up−to−date with the latest volumes.

Luckily for Tufts students, Boston has a robust comic book community, boasting native creators, its own comic convention, and an admirable network of independently owned comic shops. The following stores constitute a warm group of comic lovers — nerds and hipsters and everyone in between — who are dedicated to the latest and greatest in the medium.

Comicazi (Davis Square): One of Davis Square's best−kept secrets, Comicazi is a cozy shop located within walking distance of Tufts. Owner Mike Burke completely reorganized the store over the summer, putting more of a focus on the shelves of bound books and trade paperbacks. New releases are displayed near the back of the small space with the covers out for perusing. The store also boasts a wide collection of action figures and other comic−related toys, both new and vintage, as well as a dollar bin of secondhand issues that often boasts great finds.

Comicazi is a great resource for more dedicated monthly readers and anyone who is interested in following a continuing series. Setting up a subscription service at the store — a box in the store is provided for your issues to be set aside each month — entitles you to a 10 percent discount off of anything in the store. Subscribers and other customers can also join a Google group for the store to receive weekly updates about new releases.

The store is home to meetings of the Comicazi Book Club (CBC), an open discussion group that has so far covered such seminal comics as DC Comics' "Swamp Thing" (1971−1998), "Superman for All Seasons" (1998) and "Identity Crisis" (2004). Currently, the CBC meets every other Tuesday.

Comicazi has a friendly atmosphere that still invokes the neighborhood comic shop vibe that is quickly vanishing from the industry. It's a great first stop in the hunt for any comic. Million Year Picnic (Harvard Square): As far as independent, alternative and local comics go, the best nearby resource is Million Year Picnic. Tucked away underneath a beading shop in Harvard Square, this store is the one to go to for art books, vintage collections, magazines and books from non−mainstream publishers. The focus here is hardly on superheroes — though you can definitely pick up a Superman T−shirt. Rather, Million Year Picnic is all about where the medium is going. The shop has a definite bookstore environment, including a wide variety of trade paperbacks and hard−to−find anthologies and periodicals.

In keeping with the alternative feel, the store hosts a number of signings and events with underground creators and artists. It's a great, intimate environment to meet up with like−minded fans and comic industry pros. New England Comics (Harvard Square): New England Comics' (NEC) Harvard location is just one of eight in the greater Boston area. As the area's largest comics−centric chain, the store receives a fairly complete collection of new releases and graphic novels, especially from the big publishers. They also often have storewide sales on graphic novels, sometimes offering additional savings to students.

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