By Rick Malwitz
RED BANK – AMC, the network that gave viewers starched collars and narrow ties in its smoke-filled hit Mad Men, is now offering a full-season of Comic Book Men.
They’re back. More than ever.
Comic Book Men, an unscripted reality show filmed in and about Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash comic book store on Broad Street, will return on Oct. 14 with 16 half-hour episodes about guys being guys in a comic environment.
The show debuted last year with an estimated 1.5 million viewers tuning into six one-hour episodes.
The location here is described by AMC as a place, “where both staff and customers geek out over mind-blowing pop culture artifacts and the legends behind them.”
The store is owned by filmmaker (Clerks), stand-up comic (Kevin Smith Burn in Hell) and author (Life Advice from a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good) Kevin Smith. Smith’s buddies are described by AMC, as “moody manager Walt, uber-nerd Mike, career slacker Brian and Ming the shop’s go-to whipping boy.”
Visitors to the store are not given a script, though they are encouraged to talk trash and cash, and above all “be natural, and don‘t look at the camera.” Not all visitors are naturally buoyant.
The world of comic book fanatics, “is not inhabited by a bunch of social butterflies,” said Christian Paladino, a producer for Original Media, the company that operates out of a production facility at a storefront on Broad Street. The company leased the facility on July 1 and began filming July 9.
Original Media created a roster of visitors by using social media, culling names and stories from the world of comic book fans.
One way to judge the size of the fan base is the scope of the annual Comic Con gathering in San Diego, which brings together about 150,000 fans, many in costume.
Speaking at the convention in April this year, Smith explained that Walt Flanagan, the manager of the store since 1997, was not keen on the idea of a reality show.
“I don’t want to be Snooki,” he told Smith.
“I respect him, but who doesn’t want to be Snooki? Snooki did very well,” joked Smith.
“I couldn’t be on a better network. They’re the premier destination for any storyteller looking to spin an offbeat yarn,” Smith told the Comic Con audience. “As if I didn’t love them enough, now they’re putting my friends on TV!”
“The comic book store is, in many ways, the corner bar for comic book fans. It is still this place where everybody knows your name, and you can go and geek out with like minded people,” AMC’s Joel Stillerman said in a press release.
In addition to hundreds of comic books, the store has T-shirts, toys and memorabilia.
The reality show has added traffic to the store from around the country and, said Mike (uber-nerd) Zapcic, “from around the world.”
The genre of comic books began in the 1930’s. Like rock ‘n’ roll music, comic books – known as “The Ten-Cents Plague” – was viewed as a menace. A 1954 book by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, Seduction of the Innocent, kick-started an investigation by the American Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency.
Today it is mainstream enough to support a comic book store reality show and draw students to The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont.
Wade Simpson, a producer for the reality show, recently graduated from the center’s two-year program.
“It used to be the only cartoon schools were the ones you saw on matchbook covers. Comics have gone mainstream,” said Simpson, whose course work had him working on projects with Dartmouth College.
Another producer, Shamello Durant, is not only a producer who screens guests for the show, but a serious collector. “When I was a kid Spider-Man was my world,” he said. “It still is.
“He was the underdog who kept trying. He gets knocked down and keeps fighting. I felt the same way. Spider-Man is my kindred spirit,” Durant said.
Paladino, who studied cultural anthropology in college, is not a collector, but a television producer who has worked on such programs as The Sopranos and The Apprentice.
“I love the stories we hear,” he said. “These people (who come to the store) are not screwing around. They’re living and breathing comic books.”