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For the love of comics

Comic books have been around for almost a century and though they’ve changed throughout the years, their popularity has remained constant. In fact, it has grown to include a wide audience that includes not just children and teenagers, but adults who find hope, knowledge and entertainment within their pages.

Josh Flint, 41, of Danville, is one of those people. Flint has been reading comics since 1982.

“I remember truly getting hooked by ‘The Incredible Hulk,’ ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Spider-Man’ television shows,” Flint said. “Christopher Reeve as Superman and Adam West as Batman is what really got me started though.”

For Flint, comic books have always been a means of escape.

“We had some really rough times when I was a toddler,” he said. “I found that in comics, a lot of the heroes had some of the same problems I did and they were able to overcome them and become something greater, as long as they kept fighting.”

A comic book convention. PHOTO PROVIDED

As an adult, Flint has found he relates to the heroes in his favorite comic books and shows even more.

“They cover a lot of real world-problems, but also take you away from them, even if for a short time,” he said.

Though he still buys comics and collects action figures and accessories, Flint said he has cut back, primarily because he’s running out of room.

“They start to take up a lot of space,” he said. “But I still purchase older comics with meaning to me and frame them when I find a good deal. My focus is generally on the characters I grew up with such as Ghostbusters, Thundercats, Voltron, LJN WWF wrestlers, Marvel, DC, movie related figures as well as 1/6 scale Hot Toys or Sideshow collectibles. I also customize figures for my personal collection.”

Occasionally Flint will paint these characters on commission as well.

In the age of the internet, it would be easy for Flint to find what he’s looking for online, click order and have his collectibles delivered to his doorstep. But that would be too easy he said.

“I have gone to many conventions looking for comics and toys and my wife and I used to dig through antique shops looking for golden age comics and toys. I do purchase online as well but it’s so much more fun to hunt.”

When Flint thinks about what makes comic books and collectibles so special to him, he said he views them as a “beacon of hope.”

“Superheroes and their stories can provide hope to children who might be struggling to find good in a world where there is so much chaos,” he said.

It was his desire to help bring this type of hope into the lives of kids who are going through tough times that drew Flint, a special needs nurse, to volunteer with Heroes Alliance. The non-profit organization, made up of prop-makers and costumers give back to the community by attending events dressed as their favorite super heroes. Flint is known across Central Pennsylvania as “Captain America.”

Heroes Alliance groups attend events like Relay for Life, Magical Memories, area Halloween parades, car shows and a wide variety of other events where they meet and take photos with children and their families.

“The kids that we reach out to have been subjected to evils and things that children should never have to bear witness,” he said. “I want them to know that even though things are crazy right now, it’s going to be ok because they are not alone. There are people out there looking out for one another — hope is so powerful.”

Cecil Castellucci also found herself drawn to the world of comic books as a child.

“I have been reading comics since I could read,” Castellucci said. “You could say I sort of cut my teeth reading on comics.

When she fell in love with Batman, from the Adam West Show, her parents got her omnibuses of Batman and Superman comics. She would also sneak into her brother’s room and sift through his treasures that included comics like Richie Rich.

Like Flint, Castellucci found that as she grew, so did her love of the comic book world. She took her love of it in a different direction, though. She started writing her own.

Castellucci is an award winning and New York Times Bestselling author of books and graphic novels for young adults including “Shade,” “The Changing Girl,” “Boy Proof,” “Soupy Leaves Home,” “The Year of the Beasts,” “Tin Star,” “The Female Furies” and “Odd Duck.” In 2015 she co-authored “Star Wars Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure” and she is currently writing “Batgirl” for DC Comics and “The Little Mermaid” for Dark Horse Comics.

She lives in Los Angeles.

“I’ve been doing this for 13 years now,” said Castellucci.

In 2007, Castellucci penned “Plain Janes,” for DC comics. The book was aimed at young girls interested in comics.

“At the time there was not really a lot of young adult comics,” she said. “Of course now we are in the golden age of it — but at the time wasn’t part of the fabric of literature.”

What was it that changed?

“I think that all the people obsessed with nerdy science fiction and comic books all grew up and became creators and wanted to make things we liked,” she said. “If you listen to any interviews by filmmakers or television producers, most have a rich history of loving those things when they were young.”

In addition, Castellucci believes that we’ve moved into a world where visual literacy is just as important as textual literacy.

“Comic books are a part of that,” she continued. “We gravitate to it because we have a need for visual literacy. It’s just more of a natural sort of fluency that we have. We are naturally drawn to stories with pictures and they’re good stories.”

If you’ve ever thought of venturing into the world of comic books but don’t know where to start, it isn’t as hard as you think, Castellucci said. The easiest way is to just ask people.

“Everyone knows someone in their family who is ‘that’ nerd,” she joked. “Ask them.”

You can also try visiting your local comic book store.

“Don’t be intimidated,” she said. “They’ll know things very well and are very well versed and will be able to offer many reading suggestions.”

If you have a favorite TV show, there is a chance it’s based on a comic book. And if you like the show, chances are, you’ll like the books too.

People often mistakenly assume that comic book stories and movies are only about superheroes but the truth is, said Castellucci, there are also many, many movies based on comics that are not superhero comics.

“So if parents are looking for good middle-grade comics for kids, just go to your local library and talk to the young adult or children’s librarian. He or she should be curating great lists and collections.”

Lastly, check out your local bookstore or the American Library Association for a list of novels that teens and young adults will love.

Joe Figure, manager of Isle of Comics in Williamsport, agreed with Castellucci that the local comic book store can be a great source of information. Figure himself has been collecting comic books for the past 35 years. He spent 20-plus years as the owner of America’s Most Wanted Collectibles and has promoted comic book conventions for the past quarter of a century.

To say he knows his stuff is an understatement.

“I’m not one to push product on anybody,” Figure said. “But if you have a question, I’ll do my best to answer it, to make suggestions and recommendations.”

Figure believes reading comic books and collecting is a great hobby and is one that a lot of people may have an interest in without even realizing it.

“They may have an interest in the hobby and just not even know it,” he said. “The fact is, they’ve made a comic book of literally just about anything you can think of. That’s the beauty of it. Sure, obviously comic books over the years have been superhero-driven but there have always been, and always will be, independent comics out there that are not superhero-based.”

He cites “The Boys” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” as examples.

“There is literally a little flavor of something out there for almost anybody,” he said.

Noting that comic books have become a part of mainstream culture these days, Figure believes comics were “blown into the forefront” by the media.

“You’ve got movies, TV series and events — all sorts of things going on,” he said. “You can’t turn on a TV channel anymore without seeing a comic book-based TV series or movie — and then you wonder where it comes from — all this stuff originates from comic books.”

While Marvel and DC are the biggest and most well-known companies, there are also independent companies that are in the limelight. Figure noted that is because that’s where a lot of the creators come from.

A fan of the artwork in comics, Figure said he has always appreciated meeting the creators, and that’s what led him to getting involved with comic book conventions and promoting.

“I decided to do it because I appreciate the creativity and have always been attached to the visual part,” he said. “I did art for four years in school and was fascinated with the sequential strip, but then got more of an interest in specific writers. I can get engrossed in a story and artwork based on how they tell the story and how it’s all laid out. Meeting some of these guys in real life is a fun hobby.”

Figure has been involved with the Williamsport Comic-Con, but recently was forced to postpone due to the outbreak of COVID-19. He said that postponing the event (and others across the nation) was necessary, but disappointing.

“Some of the shows are big annual events and will lose millions of dollars without having them,” he said.

Flint is one fan who will be sure to attend when the world returns to its “new normal.”

“Comic-cons back in the day generally had a lot more of us nerds accompanied by the occasional spouse who felt obligated to attend,” he said. “Now, though, you will see people who come just to take in the festivities, dress up and be a part of something special. It’s not just hunting for comics, autographed photos and toys anymore. It is truly an amazing time. Nerds unite!”

For more information on Cecil Castellucci, her comics and novels, visit www.cecilcastellucci.com.

To find out more about Isle of Comics, stop into the store at 56 W. Southern Ave., South Williamsport, or call 570-322-4753.

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