Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The High Cost of Being a Comics Fanboy

"There are two types of comic book fans: pencil-necked geeks and fat fanboys. The pencil-necked geeks spend all of their money on comic books; the fat fanboys spend most of their money on comic books and the rest on Cheez Doodles."

One of the topics I touched upon briefly during my talk at Hofstra last week was the high price of comic books these days. I pointed out that one thing that was rising as quickly as the cost of a college education was that of collecting comic books.

With a number of their books selling for $3.99 each these days and sales of some in the mid four digits, DC and Marvel recently announced that they were cutting prices to $2.99 (with a corresponding reduction in the number of story pages). DC will be releasing 56 comic books in December and it will cost $192.44 to buy all of them; in January, they will also release 56 books, at a cost of $171.44. Ninety-three Marvel comics in December will cost $353.07; in January they'll have only 75 books, with a total cost of $273.25. The grand total for every DC and Marvel comic for the two month-period: $990.20!

Jump into the time machine to the same period in 1960 (when comic books all cost a dime) and you'll find that DC released 28 titles in each of the two months while Marvel -- which was still technically Atlas Comics at the time -- had eleven titles in December and nine in January. The cost of buying all 76 of those books: $7.60, roughly the price of two and a half present-day books.

Okay, I'm playing a little fast and loose with the numbers and ignoring inflation, so let's tighten the look a bit. Fifty-six DC comics in 1960/61 cost a total of $5.60. That same number of books in December 2010 will cost $192.44, more than 34 times the cost half a century ago. With the reduced price in January, the fifty-six are only 30 times more!

Back in 1960, at the very beginning of my comics-collecting, my allowance was 25c a week. If I spent all of it on comics, I could get ten books a month. More likely, however, I was buying six or seven and spending the rest of the money on candy bars or baseball cards. Ten comic books today would cost between $30 and $40, but how many nine-year-olds get an allowance between $7.50 and $10 a week to enable them to make such a purchase? Is it any wonder that sales have dwindled to abysmal numbers?

And I'm not even mentioning all the hardcover and trade paperback reprint collections DC and Marvel publish every month. With those prices ranging from $10 to upwards of $75, the cost of buying everything would easily outpace the monthly rent or mortgage many people pay.

Were I a nine-year-old today, would I become a comics fan? Like most of today's potential new readers who can't afford the habit, I'd have to say, "Probably not."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More Politics as Usual

In the past week, there have been a couple of political campaign ads that, if you listen carefully, you can't help but say, "Hunh?"

One that I've heard on the radio this week condemns a candidate for voting against the cost-of-living increase on Social Security and also voting against extending tax cuts. This strikes me as a damned-if-you-do/ damned-if-you-don't situation. If you want to spend more money, you need to increase taxes; if you want to cut taxes, you'd better not spend more money. You can't have it both ways.
The ad goes on to say how the candidate is working against our senior citizens by denying them their Social Security increase as well as saddling our grandchildren with massive debt. Well, if we want to pay out more money and not pay taxes, who exactly is going to foot the bill? With a 2010 budget deficit of over a trillion dollars -- that's a million millions, a 1 with 12 zeros after it -- and a national debt of more than 13 trillion, somebody will eventually have to pay. I guess it must be that anonymous "they" who shell out for unemployment benefits, emergency rescues and repairs during natural disasters, and all those other things that just seem to be there.

Another ad I've seen on TV the past few days had me wondering what the point of it was. A woman who owns a diner -- I'm not sure where, because it is never made clear -- talks about how the mayor tried all sorts of unscrupulous tricks to put her out of business and steal the land her diner was on. The woman speaks with a heavy accent, making it even more difficult to understand her story, and the voice-over and captions do little to alleviate the situation. Apparently, she went to court and was successful in stopping the mayor's evil scheme. But even after seeing it four or five times, I have no idea who the mayor she is talking about is, what office he is running for, or even in which state -- New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut -- this is taking place.

And then there was the gubernatorial debate that took place here in New York last week. Local newspapers and TV news programs referred to it as a "seven-ring circus" as the two major party candidates were joined by five others from minority parties. One, representing the Rent is 2 Damn High party, is apparently releasing his campaign platform as a rap CD and, despite the name of his party, does not pay rent.
Most amusing, however, was the former madam who compared her business to the MTA, saying that, unlike them, she had only one set of books, everything ran on schedule, and all the customers were satisfied.

Finally, basing their campaign on the concept that every elected official is evil, corrupt, overpaid and morally bankrupt, there are the groups who tell you to vote against all the "career politicians" and elect their candidate instead, usually touting theirs as a success in some other field.
Yes, I'm sure there are people in office who fit their description, just as there are people in every other profession who would. But before you jump on their bandwagon, consider this: If you need surgery, are you going to go to a "career medical professional" or a guy who has been a successful plumber? Do you want the car you drive repaired by a "career auto mechanic" or someone who is successful restaurateur? If you are the victim of a crime, do you want the aid or a "career law enforcement professional" or someone who wins at online poker?

While there are things about our government that are broken, they are not going to be fixed overnight by throwing everyone out and starting again. Vote for the candidates you feel will do the best job, regardless of party lines, and it will be a step in the right direction.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Volleyball Challenges

Last spring, because we had so much interest in our Tuesday Adult Ed volleyball program, I started campaigning to get a second night added to the schedule. Monday and Wednesday nights, the gym is used for Adult Ed basketball, and they show no signs of decamping, so the high school venue is out.

One option that did open up, however, was the gym in the middle school. For awhile it seemed like a sure thing, then we were told it would not be available. Just as our fall semester was about to begin, we found out that we actually could play there on Wednesday nights.

This was quite fortuitous. Because nearby Seaford closed down their Adult Ed volleyball, we inherited a substantial number of new players. I already had 52 people -- four more than the cap of 48 I had tried to set -- signed up for Tuesday night and had to turn away quite a few. With only two courts in the middle school, I wanted to cap the class at 34, but have ended up with 40. So far, we've had enough absences each night that there has not been overcrowding.

Adding the second night has not been without its challenges. It seemed that no one in the Athletic Department at the middle school had any idea what volleyball equipment was there. One person said there were poles, but no nets. Another said there were nets but no poles. A third insisted there was nothing, that it was all stored at the high school.

For the first night of play, I went to the high school and picked up two extra nets there, which turned out to be a good thing because there were only poles at the middle school. The poles, which are fairly heavy, stand in specially-made holes in the gym floor. As you might imagine, there are covers on these holes when volleyball is not being played. What we did not expect that first night was to find that when they last polyurethaned the gym floor, they effectively glued the four covers in place. It took us a good fifteen minutes of scratching, scraping, and prying with a heavy-duty screwdriver to get them open.

Once we had the poles in place, it took a bit of creativity to get the nets set up. Because we were using leftover "hand-me-down" nets, we were missing some of the necessary hooks. But were are a determined group and we made it work. For the second week, I had gathered a few more pieces and set-up went more smoothly.

Last night, however, presented a new challenge. I went to get the poles from the locker room and they were gone. I called the Adult Ed office in the high school, but they had no idea. We searched the other gym, the rest of the locker rooms, and anywhere else we could think of, but there was no sign of the poles. The head of the custodial staff suggested that they had been taken to one of the other schools; he offered to get us some basketballs if we wanted to play that instead.

We are a determined group of volleyball players, however. First, we located the poles on movable bases that are usually used for the badminton nets and rolled them into place. Then we came up with creative ways to attach the volleyball nets. Finally, using an assortment of ropes and rock-climbing belts that various players had in their cars, we fixed the poles in place by attaching them to the basketball backboards and the walls of the gym. It would not have passed muster in any official volleyball tournament, but it was good enough for us.

I'm hoping the poles find their way back from wherever they've gone, but at least we've worked out "Plan B" if they don't. Of course, who knows what new challenge will face us next week?

Friday, October 15, 2010

No Sign of The Times

Once upon a time, shortly after dinosaurs ruled the earth, newspapers were delivered to our suburban homes by boys on bicycles. Usually, it was one of the kids from the neighborhood, earning his spending money after school. I knew a couple of boys who did it and they used to say the thing they hated most was somebody cursing them out because the newspaper was late or not put exactly where they wanted it.
When the local papers either switched to morning editions, the after-school job became an early-morning task and those kids were replaced by adults, in many cases a parent who didn't want Billy out riding his bike at 6 in the morning.
Somewhere along the way, the parents and kids were replaced by delivery service companies who have contracts for large areas.

Doing our best to keep the print media alive, we get three daily newspapers delivered: Newsday, The New York Times, and USA Today. Newsday is delivered by one company, while the latter two are handled by another. And, other than on a morning of terrible weather, we would awaken to find the newspapers in the driveway.

A few weeks ago, we got a note from the Times/USA Today guy that routes were being changed and he would no longer be delivering our papers. The following week, delivery was spotty, at best. One day we got the Times, the next we got USA Today, then both, then neither. One morning USA Today was on our driveway and the Times was two houses up and across the street. Presumably, we were not alone in making complaint calls, and the problems seemed to be resolved. Whoever the new delivery person was, s/he went so far as putting the papers on the front steps rather than just tossing them onto the lawn or driveway.

That person's tenure seems to have been short-lived, however. Last week, deliveries were once again spotty. On Monday, there was no USA Today. On Tuesday, there was no Times, but we did get Monday's USA Today. On Wednesday, there was no USA Today. Each time, we called.
On Thursday, Laurie was outside when the delivery guy came by. He handed her USA Today. When she told him that we also get the Times, he looked at his list and said, "No, you don't."
"Well, yes, since 1974 and except for a couple of days this week, we do!"
For the next few days, we got both.

This past Tuesday we got neither, resulting in yet another pair of phone calls. (Someone eventually delivered the papers, to our next door neighbor's house.)
On Wednesday, we got two of each, the sets being delivered about an hour apart.
Yesterday, we again got two of each.
This morning, I was about to leave for work when the delivery guy drove up. He said it was only his second day on the route and apologized for running late, but he knew which two papers I was supposed to get and handed them to me.
He also told me he had just been cursed at by one of the neighbors because he was late. I guess some things don't change...

Politics As Usual

With Election Day two and a half weeks away, it is not surprising that the airwaves have been filled with an assortment of political advertisements. And, as usual, almost all of them are the negative variety.

One Long Island Congressional race has a candidate whose ads proclaimed that he had created hundreds of jobs. His opponent has since countered with one saying that they were created in places like Korea and India, "at the expense of American jobs." As one would expect from a negative ad, the opponent's reason you should vote for him is only, "The other guy is a liar."

In an ad for a Connecticut race, one candidate is asked how jobs are created and he is shown fumbling through an explanation that makes no sense. His opponent belittles him for not having the answer, but does not offer one herself. "Vote for me because my opponent is a blatherer."

Another Congressional race ad here on Long Island sternly advises us that the incumbent "voted with Nancy Pelosi 97% of the time" as if that were an offense on par with worshipping Satan. Presumably, his opponent is promising to vote against anything Pelosi votes for, regardless of whether it is good or bad for his district.

And then there's the ad for a State Assembly race that tells us how the incumbent recently attended a special session that he proclaimed was a waste of time and taxpayer money. He supposedly paid for the trip to Albany out of his own pocket and then put in an expense report the next day. Once again, the campaign tactic is, "My opponent is a liar, so vote for me instead."

There is one arena for which I don't recall seeing or hearing any negative ads. Because Hillary Clinton resigned her Senate seat to become Secretary of State, we are electing two Senators in New York this year.
Chuck Schumer, who I have heard speak at enough college graduations that I can now recite his speech, seems to be a shoe-in. His ads run on TV fairly regularly, seemingly to remind us that he is up for reelection. I have no idea who his Republican opponent is, nor can I recall seeing or hearing an ad for whoever it is.
Kirsten Gillibrand is our junior Senator, selected to replace Clinton and now running for the remaining two years of the term. In one of her TV ads, she talks about how the government is broken and how she is working to fix it, specifically by voting against Congress' automatic pay raises. "The average worker," she says, "can't give himself a raise, so why should Congress be allowed to do it?" As with Schumer, I have no idea who her Republican opponent is.


You might recall that last year I wrote about local candidates who were campaigning that they would lead a "Tax Revolt" and had those words emblazoned on their posters. You might also recall that they were elected. I can't say that I know what they have done since taking office, other than showing up for photo ops for the Farmingdale Observer. I can, however, report that we just got our property tax bill for the coming year and it is still revolting.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


While many consider Labor Day to be the end of summer, I've always gone with whatever day I last go in the pool. For the past few years, since we added the solar heating panels and the pool has stayed warm much longer, Columbus Day has become the last day of summer. Or, as we've come to call it, Swimsover.

The three-day holiday weekend provided ideal weather -- sunny with temperatures in the mid-70s -- for sitting poolside and enjoying a few dips. The water was in the low 70s, according to the consensus our "Temperature Team" of floating thermometers, though Tommy Turtle, ever the slow one, said it was 48. Laurie called it "too cold" while I referred to it as "bracing." She got in up to her ankles while I swam the length of the pool more than a few times.

Today, with our "Temperature Team" out and stored away for the winter and the pool guys coming to flush the lines and put on the cover, we bid the Summer of 2010 adieu and look forward to First Dunk, sometime in April, 2011.

Kapow! From Pulp Fiction to Google Books (with Comic Books in the Middle)

Hofstra University Library
Presents a 75th Anniversary Symposium
Kapow! From Pulp Fiction to Google Books
Celebrating the evolution of popular culture from 1935 to the present

Friday, October 22, 2010
Sponsored by the Joan and Donald E. Axinn Lecture Series

RSVP for the KAPOW! by October 15, 2010, to Jolene Collazo at 516-463-5952 or

Pulps were the successor to the penny dreadful, dime novels, and short fiction magazines of the 19th century. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term “pulp fiction” had its first documented use in the Washington Post in 1935, the year of Hofstra’s founding. The morning session of KAPOW! will examine pulps, cartoons, and popular culture. After a complimentary lunch with a guest speaker, the afternoon session will focus on fan fiction, copyright, re-mix culture and the Google Book settlement. Join us as we celebrate the evolution of popular culture through literature, art, and film from 1935 to the present.

9:00 - 9:45 a.m. Registration and Coffee
Guthart Cultural Center Theater, first floor, Axinn Library

12:15 p.m. Guthart Cultural Center Theater, first floor, Axinn Library

WELCOME Daniel R. Rubey
Dean, Library and Information Services
Hofstra University

Keynote Speaker Michael Sharp, aka “Rex Parker,” SUNY Binghamton
Lurid Liberation: Sex and Social Change in American Paperback Cover Art, 1940-1970

Michael Sharp teaches English Literature at Binghamton University in Binghamton, NY. He has also taught literature classes in the New York State prison system, as well as continuing education classes for senior citizens in the Binghamton area. He has published articles on topics ranging from medieval literature to American crime fiction, and is the editor of the Encyclopedia of Popular Contemporary Writers (Marshall-Cavendish, 2006). Under the pseudonym "Rex Parker," he writes two blogs, one about the New York Times crossword puzzle, and the other about American paperback books of the mid-20th century. He has constructed crossword puzzles for the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, and is currently working on a book about the place of the crossword puzzle in contemporary American culture.

Hofstra Faculty Panel I
Moderator: William Caniano, Assistant Professor, Joan and Donald E. Axinn Library
Lisa Dresner, Assistant Professor, Writing Studies and Composition, ‘60s Pulp: The Cult of the Sexual Savior
Mary Ann Allison, Assistant Professor, Journalism, Media Studies and Public Relations, Picturing Pop Culture: New Media Academics
Richard Pioreck, Adjunct Associate Professor, English, Read a Few Books, Get More of the Jokes
Louis Kern, Professor, History, Uncle Sam, iconic embodiment of a nation
12:30 – 1:45 p.m. COMPLIMENTARY LUNCH
246 Axinn Library

Keynote Speaker: Bob Rozakis
“75 Years of Comic Books”

Bob Rozakis (BBA, ‘73) began his career in the comic book industry shortly before graduating from Hofstra and spent the next twenty-five years at DC Comics.

As a writer, Bob is perhaps best known as the co-creator of ‘Mazing Man, but his credits include more than four hundred stories featuring Superman, Batman and virtually every other DC character. He recently completed "The Secret History of AA Comics," an alternate history of the industry that appeared in Alter Ego and Back Issue magazines. Outside the comic book business, he has written storybooks for educational publishing projects and co-authored The Complete Idiot's Guide to Office Politics with his wife, Dr. Laurie Rozakis (BA, ‘73, MA ‘76).

During his seventeen years as head of DC's Production Department, Bob guided the company (and, eventually, the entire industry) into previously unexplored areas of computerized color separations and typesetting, electronic page preparation, and computer-to-plate printing. These efforts earned DC Comics over one hundred awards for printing excellence and resulted in Bob twice being profiled and cover - featured in Publishing & Production Executive.

Currently, Bob is the comptroller for Combined Resources Interiors, a drywall construction firm, utilizing the accounting degree he earned at Hofstra. He annually teaches a creative writing course for the Johns Hopkins University / Center for Talented Youth summer program for gifted students.
2:00 – 4:15 p.m. SESSION II: … TO GOOGLE BOOKS
Guthart Cultural Center Theater, first floor, Axinn Library

Keynote Speaker Kevin Smith, Duke University
Joseph G. Astman Distinguished Symposium Scholar
Copyright, Creativity and Incentive: the Problem of Fan Fiction

As Duke University’s first Scholarly Communications Officer, Kevin Smith’s principal role is to teach and advise faculty, administrators and students about copyright, intellectual property licensing and scholarly publishing. Kevin began his academic career with graduate studies in theology at Yale University and the University of Chicago, and then decided to move into library work. He holds a Masters of Library Science from Kent State University and has worked as an academic librarian in both liberal arts colleges and specialized theological libraries. His strong interest in copyright law began in library school and he received a law degree from Capital University in 2005. Before moving to Duke in 2006, Kevin served as the Director of the Pilgrim Library at Defiance College in Ohio, where he also taught Constitutional Law. He is admitted to the bar in Ohio and North Carolina.

Kevin serves on the Intellectual Property Board and the Provost’s Digital Futures Task Force at Duke, as well as on the Association of College and Research Libraries’ Scholarly Communications Committee and the faculty of the Association of Research Libraries’ Institute on Scholarly Communications. He has written several articles on copyright issues in higher education, and maintains a highly-regarded web log that discusses copyright and publication in academia, and he is a frequent speaker on those topics.

Hofstra Faculty Panel II
Moderator: Sally Glasser, Assistant Professor, Joan and Donald E. Axinn Library
Robert Leonard, Professor, Linguistics, Slang! What is it good for?!--The utility, motivation and poetry of slang in pulp fiction and other popular literary genres
Kathleen Wallace, Professor, Philosophy, Mashups, mixups, wikis, blogs – when is it creative use and when is it plagiarism?
Kevin Esch, Assistant Professor, Radio/TV/Film: Fan-Made Movie Trailers and the Power of Disappointment
Leon Friedman, Professor, Law, The Google Books Settlement

Ground Floor Lounge, Joan and Donald E. Axinn Library