Comic books were a major source of family reading from the time our boys started school. During a parent conference, our son's fifth grade teacher suggested finding subjects of interest (even comic books) as a motivation for him to read. Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman and the Justice League became their Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn and Robinson Crusoe of classic literary fame. I have fond memories of our weekly trips to the local comic book store where both sons were rewarded for improved grades, or maybe because they wore me down with lots of pleading. The collections grew, and the boys took on the characters with their play and costumes. The Batman and Robin Underoos (70's superhero-styled underwear) were worn daily, usually on the outside of their clothes. Superhero figures became the "must have" purchases for birthdays, holidays or to add to their collections.
At some point in time, Batman went dark and was featured on the big screen as a complex super character. The Dark Knight has been played by a range of actors, including Michael Keating, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale and coming soon, Ben Affleck. This Batman is a far cry from the campy 1960s version starring Adam West as the masked crusader, and his sidekick, Boy Wonder Robin, played by Bruce Ward. The show took on the look of a comic book series with a technique called onomatopoeia. Superimposed, bright colored words like BAM! POW! and ZONK! flashed across the screen, replicating a comic book fight scene. The series attracted cameo appearances and reoccurring roles by stars of the era such as Julie Newmar as Catwoman, Cesar Romero as the Joker and Burgess Meredith as the Penguin. Holy movie stars, Batman!
Superheroes have found a home here in Benicia at Zeppelin Comics, which opened recently at 191 East H Street in the Powerhouse Building. Holy Superpower! Their location is significant, as the Powerhouse Building dates back to the 1890's where power was generated for the City of Benicia. The store is a comic book boutique with an industrial edge of steel and acrylic fixtures, high tech lighting, grey walls and dark grey hardwood flooring. The layout is cool with high ceilings and long windows housing not only an assortment of "must have" comic books, t-shirts, games and collectables, but a game room where clients can duke it out with their favorite villain. Local residents Natasha and Dan Curtis, along with their son Cooper, had been looking for the perfect space in Downtown Benicia to start their comic book company. Cooper is involved with the business and can be found most afternoons helping his Mom with the inventory or even writing reviews of a current series. Their logo is a hovering zeppelin, chosen for its combination of futuristic imagery/historic wonderment.
The dynamic Curtis trio has already developed a loyal following of comic book enthusiasts, both teens and adults, who stop by on a regular basis. A recent Gotham-styled grand opening with dramatic outside lighting washing over the brick exterior and parking lot attracted 100 fans, some of whom were in character. Natasha plans on doing more events that promote cosplay (costume play). She sponsored a Cosplay event with the Benicia Library in February, an opportunity for teens and adults to learn how to cosplay, arriving in character, and meet likeminded people. They are also working with the library on Free Comic Book Day, May 7, when events will be held at the store and at the library. The Curtis' plan to host book signings throughout the year with a dedicated area for showcasing clients’ costumes.
My boys still refuse to part with their original comic books, partly out of nostalgia, but secretly I think they still read them. Since superheroes are everywhere, at the movies, in video games and back on TV, it's comforting that they are appearing daily in Downtown Benicia.