We all know the likes of the big conventions: San Diego Comic Con and New York Comic Con to name two. But happening almost weekly are local comic shows that are just about comics (and sometimes cosplay.) I'd like to spotlight one particular promoter, Pug Productions and NJ Comic Book Shows and its sincere and illustrious host, John "JP" Paul. But first, to explain a little about the comics world and where these shows fit in.
The world of comics is doing (pretty) well: huge blockbuster movies and cinematic-esque TV shows give people a reason to want to pick up the source material. There are, of course, the avid fans who have their monthly subscription lists at their local shops, but there were and always are casual fans who pick up the graphic novel they've heard so much about (Batman: The Killing Joke comes to mind.) If you've ever frequented a Local Comic Shop (Or LCS, as those in the hobby like to say), you'll notice there are different types of customers: the avid reader, the browser, the parent finding something for their kid, and so on. Shops thrive on many things, and, as I'm not a shop owner/manager, I can't speculate as to what they thrive on most. What I am aware of, and can speak to from experience, is that those who (like myself) have a "pull list" (or subscriptions to certain comics that come out every week), do have some weight in keeping those shops afloat. Of course, selling toys, Magic the Gathering cards, table top games, and other items helps. But it's also avid readers and collectors that give the shops their weekly visitors, and, quite frankly, their charm (my LCS would disagree, jokingly of course.)
These avid readers also enjoy collecting their favorite books. "But what's the point of getting a comic if you're not going to read it?" you might ask. Believe me, we've read them, over and over again. We enjoy preserving them in bags and boards, in long and short boxes, or displaying them proudly on shelves to show our families and friends that we embrace our nerd-dom wholeheartedly.
So, where do you go if you know the stock of your LCS like the back of your hand? You could go to a big convention like San Diego Comic Con or New York Comic Con and all the ones in between. But those are expensive and are becoming less about the comics. In come local comic book shows. Some local shows are now rivaling the smaller of the big conventions, with thousands of people attending each day. I'm talking even smaller. Where if you get 500 people, that's been a great day. The local comic book show is a place for vendors to sell their wares to superfans, the collectors who have some pocket change to throw around on a Saturday or Sunday morning/afternoon, and want to go "dollar-bin-diving" (where you rummage through vendors' "cheap" boxes of $1 books to find hidden treasures or books to help you complete sets), or maybe are looking for that one big book they can't find anywhere else. It allows for variety; think multiple LCSs in one room! (Some LCSs do set up at shows.) And, most importantly, it brings the community together. I'm not going to say "real" fans; that belittles the casual reader who may become the avid reader. No, it brings together avid fans and collectors to converse on everything from the Golden Age of superheroes to local politics. Many of the vendors get to know one another; the show-goers get to know the vendors and each other. It's a big family. And all are welcome, especially the new and casual reader, who will hopefully become part of that family.
Where does Pug Productions and NJ Comic Book Shows fit in? For one, it hosts some of the best small shows in the state of New Jersey. Twice monthly, JP sets up space throughout mostly northern New Jersey for vendors and collectors to meet, greet, and have a great time. These shows are like flea markets of just comic books. They're all around you, almost overwhelmingly so. JP has been doing this since 1991 and hasn't missed a month! Incredible. Also sometimes featured at these twice-monthly gatherings are artists. Past guests have included Dick Ayers, David Cockrum, Lee Weeks, and Don McGregor. At the end of July this year, on a hot sunny Sunday, I attended the show in Hasbrouck Heights, situated in a medium-sized showroom at Holiday Inn.
As soon as you walk into the room, you're greeted by boxes and boxes of comics and trade paperbacks, walls of higher end comic books, toys, posters, and anything else comics-related you can think of. As mentioned, some people come in with spare change and look for a chance to dive into those dollar boxes, others may have thousands and are looking for a particular book - some obscure, some mainstream - and everyone is always having a good time.
I've been a vendor at many of JP's shows and can say it's always a long day: arrive around 7:30 am (early birds will show up) and unpack your car/van/truck. Load it into the room. Set up. The shows go from about 9 am to 4 pm usually. Once you're done, it's breakdown, take your stuff out, and throw it back in your vehicle. Sounds like a long and tedious thing to do on a Sunday. It is not. At all. The hours fly by as you talk with customers and other vendors, scour the floor for some deals, and watch as one of the show's famous auctions take place. Sure I'm tired at the end of it. But the excitement I feel the night before is a good trade for that lethargy.
So, I've talked about everything from local comic shops to a particular comic show. Why? I hear people complain that they don't have a comic book store close by or at all. But do they check their local listings in the paper, online or otherwise, to see if there are these types of events near them? All over the country, small to medium-sized shows take place where you can get anything: from an Amazing Fantasy #15 (I have seen multiple) to this week's new releases. Every comic fan should always support their local comic shop, but I'm here to say you should support your local comic book shows as well. Even if you're not an avid read or collector, they're a fun place to be on the weekend. Vendors are always willing to help people out with questions, give recommendations, and just meet new fans.
Some shows have a nominal admission fee; check their websites for details.
If you're ever in the North Jersey area, you should of course check out the local shops. But I implore you to make some time for one of JP's shows; you will not regret it. And check out your local scene for comic shows; I'm sure there are plenty! Happy hunting!
Check out Pug Production's website here: http://www.njcomicbookshows.com/
For a listing of local conventions: https://www.upcomingcons.com/comic-conventions
Below are pictures of some frequent vendors, as well as merchandise.
Left to Right: Joe who used to own a shop in Queens, NY "Comic Book Heaven"; Gus and Ray; and a comic stand holding some higher end books by a friend of mine, The Comic Box. Check them out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheComicBoxNY/