POW! ZAP! BLAM! ERT! KABLOOIE! WHAMMO! BIFF! ZOWIE! HIKEEBA! TETSUO! Oxnard man reads comic books, brings shame upon family

§ December 9th, 2005 § Filed under Uncategorized Comments Off on POW! ZAP! BLAM! ERT! KABLOOIE! WHAMMO! BIFF! ZOWIE! HIKEEBA! TETSUO! Oxnard man reads comic books, brings shame upon family

Most men in their thirties find excitement in traditional, manly ways: sports, hunting, rock-climbing, hiking, sailing, hang-gliding. These activities all test one’s mettle, and get the heart pounding.

But for Oxnard resident Mike Sterling, 36, he finds all the excitement he needs in one place…between the covers of a comic book.

“I’ve been reading them for about as long as I can remember,” Sterling says. “I was a voracious reader almost from the get-go, reading anything I could get my hands on. Books, magazines, newspapers, college textbooks, and comics too. It was just one more source of entertainment for me.”

However, like most people of his generation, his taste for quality entertainment was forever marred by the 1977 theatrical release of “Star Wars,” causing him to prefer flashy lowbrow amusements over more intellectual pursuits. “I discovered that the ‘Star Wars’ story was actually continued in comic book form,” Sterling recalls. “Prior to that, comics were just an occasional thing. It was following the ‘Star Wars’ comic that got me checking out the comic book racks on a regular basis.”

From these tragic beginnings was Sterling’s comic book collection (which he sadly and continually refers to as “the vast Mikester Comic Archives”) born. His collection, which numbers in the “tens of thousands,” is made up of thousands of titles from dozens of companies, dating back to the 1940s. That would be more than enough for some people, but for Sterling, his obsession requires constant feeding.

“Every week, I get another dozen or so comic books, plus a few for my girlfriend.” (Sterling’s girlfriend, currently “visiting relatives out of the country,” was unavailable for comment.) “I enjoy lots of different types of comics, such as ‘Eightball’ and ‘Palookaville’ and ‘Love & Rockets,'” Sterling states, though the comics he showed this reporter seemed to be primarily about flying men in tights who punch each other and shout a lot.

Sterling’s compulsive collecting behavior doesn’t stop there. He also takes great pains to ensure his comic books are stored properly. “After reading each comic book, I gently place it into a protective comic book sleeve, sealing it with a removable adhesive sticker – not tape!” he’s quick to emphasize. “I then put the bagged comic in yet another comic book bag, with a stiff backing board, then place it in a comic book box, which is then placed on a metal shelf in a temperature-controlled environment. Once the box is full, I then seal the whole box in a larger plastic bag for maximum protection. On the floor, I circle the shelves with salt to keep ants away.”

His more valuable comic books are treated with greater care. “My most expensive comics, on the rare occasion that I must remove them from the safe, are borne aloft upon silk pillows carried by virgins, and the comics themselves are only handled by my gloved hands…each pair of gloves only being used once, then discarded.” When questioned about where he would find virgins for this task, Sterling simply blushed, giggled, and hid his face behind a silk pillow.

On the topic of comics as investment, Sterling scoffs at the idea. “I buy comics because I like to read them. Why should every unusual hobby be justified to ‘normal’ people by telling them how much money can be made at it? Surely money is not the be-all end-all of human pursuit?” When then asked about his copy of the “35th Edition Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide,” Sterling replied “I need that for reference” and quickly changed the subject.

As if all that weren’t enough, Sterling makes his living by actually selling comic books at a “comic book specialty store” he manages: the Ventura Fun Time Comic Book/Magic Card Store and Video Deli. Sterling claims that there are thousands of such stores across the United States and other less important countries that, as hard as it is to believe, actually are able to keep their doors open by selling new comics and dealing in old ones. “It’s a fun job,” he says, “though sometimes people unfamiliar with the hobby treat ‘comic store manager’ as being about one step below ‘drug dealer.'” Sterling then adds, “by the way, do you know about ‘Free Comic Book Day?’ That’s where we give kids comics for free, in the hopes that they’ll like ’em, and that they’ll come back with money to buy more. ‘The first one’s free!'” he says, laughing.

Comic books apparently don’t occupy enough of his life, as Sterling also maintains a “weblog” — sort of like a personal diary, except kept “online” on the Internet where anyone can read it — on the topic. His weblog (sometimes referred to by expert users as a “‘blog” for short) can be found at “Progressiveruin.com,” which he updates daily. “I just like to talk about comics, whenever and wherever I can, with other like minded people.” Sterling says that there are literally dozens of other comic fans on the Internet, using this space-age technology to discuss this mundane subject.

“I realize it’s a peculiar hobby,” Sterling admits. “It’s an even stranger job. But I’ve always loved comics, have always had the support of my family…” (family too embarrassed to comment) “…and, what the heck, it’s a living.”

If you can call that living.

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