The Comic Crusaders

Three heroes use the power of comics for good

Bam!
Pow!
Clang!

Each year with Free Comic Book Day, three stand against the melee. There’s little violence, but Steve Anderson, Billy Vogt and Bumper Moyer face throngs of fans.
    It’s their favorite time of year.
    In Chesapeake Country, fans have three stores they rush to get their comic fix year-round. On May 7, Annapolis’ Capital Comics and Third Eye Comics and Glen Burnie’s Twilight Zone gave away more than 6,000 comics, each of the 37 books specially made for Free Comic Book Day, a decade-old event to promote both literacy and the medium.
    But one day a year isn’t reason to run a business. How did these mild-mannered men and a woman become purveyors of the superhuman?

Origins

    Three people boldly opened businesses in a tough economy, promising the best in graphic novels and comics to those in need. They’re rivals in business but compatriots in their common love.

Steve Anderson turned his childhood obsession into a livelihood with Third Eye Comics.

    Steve Anderson turned his childhood obsession into a livelihood. At age 11, Anderson picked up X-Men’s Apocalypse. Thereafter, he spent every day after school at Alliance Comics in Bowie.
    “Other kids got into sports or theatre or music,” he said. “I discovered comics.”
    At 18, Anderson found a career befitting his love, managing Alliance Comics. Like many a hero, he needed a love interest to push him to greatness.
    When Anderson heard that Green Alien Comics in Annapolis was closing, he and girlfriend Trish Rabbitt leapt at the opportunity. To accomplish his dream, Anderson made the ultimate sacrifice.
    “I sold my entire collection, and Trish and I worked odd jobs, shoveling snow, whatever we could, just saving, saving, saving,” Anderson said.
    Anderson lost his hobby, but he got a business — plus the store and inventory, re-opening as Third Eye Comics.

Meanwhile ...

Billy Vogt opened Capital Comics on Main Street in Annapolis in 2007.

   Howard Countian Billy Vogt also heard the call of comics. His love of the serials began when he uncovered a family treasure.
    “My older cousin had a big collection of comic books,” says Vogt, who at age five started reading DC’s Brave and Bold and Marvel’s Team-Up featuring Spiderman. “Looking through [his comics] is how I learned to read.”
    And read he did, consuming comics throughout high school and college, when he dreamed of owning his own store. At first, Vogt denied his calling, finishing university and working in video. But like Anderson, Vogt was unable to resist the call to greatness and made the leap.
    “I’d been eyeing this spot on Main Street for a while, and finally I went for it,” he says.
    He opened Capital Comics in 2007. Its prime location near City Dock draws in loyal fans and curious tourists. Vogt welcomes both.
    “A lot of explaining goes on in here,” says Vogt. “I love it. It feels good to get people into comics and help them find the stories they really like.”
    You’ll find Vogt behind the counter most days. Like the comic heroes he loves, his work is never done.

In Another City ...

After going into the comic book business back in the ’80s, Bumper Moyer was lured back in 2003 when he opened Twilight Zone Comics.

   Former Annapolitan Bumper Moyer, 47, has spent more than 20 years in the comic business — and double that with his nose in their pulp pages.
    At seven, Moyer got into Tarzan, then horror titles. Superhero-wise, he says he had an affinity to Thor.
    In 1984, he and a business partner turned a small flea market-booth-like operation into an Annapolis store. In time, the two added shops in Bowie and Glen Burnie.
    A few years later, tired of the rat-race, Moyer sold his part of the businesses, packed up and moved out west. But in 2003, he was lured back.
    He returned to Twilight Zone Comics in Glen Burnie.
    After 40 years of reading comics, he says it’s hard to come by a new plot line, though these days he’s into the “more mature stuff; more cynical, more violent, more twisted and unique in terms of the situations that are presented.” Crossed, a “one-up” on the zombie theme, and Irredeemable, about a good superhero gone bad, are two he’s enjoying.
    “I’m more into following a talented writer than blindly following a particular subject,” he says. “A good writer can make any storyline interesting.”

Fighting the Evil Twin Stigma

    All these champions battle a pair of deadly perceptions: that comics are overly graphic with sex and violence and that they are just for kids.

Comics vs. Graphic Novels

Make sure you know what you’re getting. Comics are serialized stories, meaning that the plot continues issue after issue — think X-Men or Captain America. Graphic novels are stories whose plots are contained within the book’s covers — though the characters may reappear in sequels. Think The Watchmen or Sin City.

    The age charge is easy to counter, the owners say: Comics have something for every age and taste.
    Customers bustle in and out of Third Eye, eager to get another comic, another story. Anderson says they range in age from 18 to 35,with some in their 40s, 50s and 60s.
    “It’s such a large group. We see business suits, hard hats and everything else,” he explains.
    George, a 20-something regular of Third Eye, drives from Glen Burnie to this shop. “Steve always has extra copies of everything, and he helped me get my girlfriend into it. Now she loves comics as much as I do.”
    Capital Comics’ Vogt sees comics as ageless, like the people who read them.
    “With most hobbies, you do it for a while, and then maybe you fall out of it,” says Vogt. “But with comics, even if you fall out of it, you can always come back to it. It’s a hobby that has transcended generations.”

The Fight to Read

    As to the second charge, they refer opponents to literature, where that battle has already been fought. Like all literature, comics have a wide range of themes, including tame as well as violent.
    Not every comic features a zombie, sex or a decapitation. Plenty of series, such as AVATAR: The Last Airbender and Darkwing Duck, feature words and images geared toward younger eyes. There are even evangelical comics that teach youngsters about religious values through paneled illustration.
    Decriers of the violence overlook the good the books do for young readers.
    Vogt isn’t the only kid who got into reading through serialized comics. The Canadian Council of Learning released a study in 2010 concluding that comics increased the literacy of young boys.
    In the stores, the owners see proof positive every day.

Comic-Con Comes To Annapolis

Annapolis will host its first-ever Comic-Con on September 25, Third Eye Comics’ Steve Anderson announced on Free Comic Book Day. Co-promoter Ben Penrod — owner of NinjaPirateGear.com, an online comic book store based in Waldorf — confirmed that Comic-Con is expected to bring hundreds of fans to the Annapolis Elks Lodge that day. For details as released, visit AnnapolisComicCon.com.

    “I think it’s a great tool in learning how to read,” says Vogt, who claims some of his favorite customers are the youngest.
    “I think back to when I was a child, maybe eight or nine years old, and I remember knowing and using words like omnipotent and omniscient, words that I’d read in Thor,” Twilight Zone’s Moyer recalled.
    “I work with middle-school teachers all the time,” he explained. “There’s a percentage of students that teachers just can’t get to engage in reading. They come in to the store with the idea of using comics, and they come back wide-eyed. All the sudden these same kids are excited and opening up.”
    On Free Comic Book Day, Capital Comics hosted Boom Studios writer Pat Storck of Baltimore, who writes children’s comics. Storck uses the Muppets to act out classic storylines like King Arthur, Snow White and most recently, Sherlock Holmes.
    “Comics are a vital tool in teaching or learning to read,” Storck says. “Kids can follow the pictures, the dynamic and the context. It expands their vocabulary. [As a writer] every so often I try to throw in three-or four-syllable words.”

Comics Conquer Cinema

    Think comics are just on paper? Think again. Film adaptations of comic books are one of the most profitable genres in cinema today. Their inundation of the market ranges from Oscar-winning (The Dark Knight) to Razzie-winning (Jonah Hex).
    Even in television, The Walking Dead, based on Robert Kirkman’s comics, broke cable ratings records when it premiered with just six episodes.
    Disney recently bought the rights to the Marvel universe, promising to produce not only The Avengers but also origin films for the heroes. Thor is playing in theaters now, with Captain America and the third Iron Man coming soon.
    Still don’t believe the hype? This year, you’ll be treated to The Green Lantern, Captain America, Superman, Priest, The Avengers, X-Men First Class, Spiderman and another season of The Walking Dead. Sounds like a graphically good line up.