Concord's Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff celebrates its 25th year
By Lou Fancher Correspondent Contra Costa Times
Call Joe Field a superhero. Call him an industry icon. If you are a comic or graphic book lover or a fan of silver screen supermen and women, call Joe Field -- or better yet, visit him -- because you will have the time of your life yakking with one of the biz's biggest boosters.
Field is the owner of Concord's Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff store and founder of Free Comic Book Day. Celebrating the store's 25th anniversary all year long (the official opening date was Oct. 3, 1988), means a visit to the Treat Boulevard location is a must and often, it's a party with special guests.
And it all started with a broken arm.
"I was recovering and read comic books for days," Field recalls. "My favorites still include Spiderman, Batman and Fantastic Four, but as an adult, you want to try all the flavors."
The childhood enthusiasm that propelled him to start a comic book club and spend his every dollar on favorite rags never ran out. After earning a degree in broadcasting and marketing from San Francisco State, Field worked for KJOY-AM/KJAX-FM in Stockton. It was there that he had the "crazy smart" idea of appealing to Marvel Comics on their 25th anniversary in 1986 to name Stockton "the birthplace of the Fantastic Four."
The successful campaign garnered national media attention and Marvel's Stan Lee, the co-creator of characters like the Amazing Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, the Avengers, the Uncanny X-Men, the Mighty Thor and the Invincible Iron Man, among others, came to the city for the celebration.
A few months after the hoopla, Lee hired Field to promote his wife's first novel. A relationship developed and a radio man who says he "had no idea he'd ever go into the comics business," peeled off one identity and transformed himself.
"One of the early lessons I got from reading comics by Stan Lee is that great good comes from great power. If you have power, you have a responsibility to use it for good purpose," Field says.
Setting out to open a comic book store, Field and his wife, Libby, took a sophisticated research team on the road: three daughters, then age 3, 5 and 7. They'd go into a store, check out the selection, climb back in the car, gather their kids' feedback.
People want broad selection, knowledgeable staff, events, benefits for nonprofits and a store that is "not letting the moss grow under its feet," he claims. They also want the annual Free Comic Book Day, which attracts 1,200 people to Field's store on the first Saturday in May -- and 1.2 million people to 2,200 stores in 60 different countries worldwide.
"I had no expectations," Field says, of his second "crazy smart" idea. "There was free this and free that, so why not comics? It was an idea ripe for the picking."
The same could be said for comics in the 21st century. Although America's comic book history includes a grim period in the 1950s, when Field says federal government committees associated comic books with juvenile delinquency and the country "fell behind in a field we created," Hollywood blockbusters and video games saved the day.
"The general trend of comics is becoming universal. There are conventions in Japan that draw a quarter million people and another in France that takes over an entire town for a week," he says.
With many areas of print succumbing to the Internet, comic books have branched out into graphic novels, video games, and especially, movies.
As young people grow up in a visually saturated environment, schools and libraries are using comic books to bridge the transition from a traditionally text-based culture to an active, participatory readership.
Field, recently returning from Comic-Con International, an annual convention in San Diego, says "the tentacles are getting longer" as publishers and digital companies feed the public call for fresh fare.
He likes "Saga" and "Nowhere Man" series from Image Comics and Marvel's "Superior Spiderman." But that doesn't mean he's given up navigating the ballon bubbles of his old faves or suffering extreme anticipation about an expected visit by Stan Lee on Aug. 7.
"He's coming for a 25th anniversary signing," Field exclaims, as if he can hardly believe it himself. "He's 90, walks 100 miles an hour and he'll move 250 people through the store in two hours."
Field says autographed photo packages have already sold out, but expects the nearly 700 people who have responded on the store's Facebook page will come "just for a glimpse of an icon." For that, they can look to either Lee or Field.