It is a normal Wednesday evening at the University Town Center near UC Irvine’s main campus – except for the line of people stretching from Alakazam Comics past Britta Café two stores away, blocking the walkway. Passersby look quizzically around as they squeeze through.
The crowd ranges from very young to old, from Caucasian to black and from those who are comic book aficionados to those who are merely fans of the new president.
The comic of the hour, a special Inauguration Day edition titled “The Amazing Spiderman,” features a smiling portrait of President Barack Obama giving a thumbs-up. Spiderman hangs upside-down in the background, taking a picture.
At 5 p.m., the doors open and the store’s employees allow two people from each line inside. “Excuse me, what’s going on here?” a couple of girls ask. “Oh, it’s a comic book signing with some guys who drew a comic with Obama and Spider-man” is the quick reply.
“Some guys” is in fact a team of two young men, artist Todd Nauck and writer Zeb Wells. As an aspiring writer, Wells won Wizard magazine’s “Direct to Video” contest two years in a row. In 2006, he signed an exclusive contract with Marvel comics and broke into the comic industry. Now he contributes to “The Amazing Spiderman” series and his other work includes Spider-man’s “Tangled Web and Peter Parker: Spider-man.”
Todd Nauck has a similarly “lucky” story. Unbeknownst to him, a friend sent some of his work to Extreme Studios of Image comics. Founder Rob Liefeld hired him soon after. He has worked on series such as “Young Justice” and has even published his own, titled “Wildguard.” Although this is their first time working together as a team, Nauck and Wells have known each other for years.
According to Wells, the storyline of the featured issue is an adventure and spotlights Obama’s inauguration, which is almost ruined when a second Obama shows up. Spider-man must then figure out which of the two is the real Obama and battle Chameleon, thereby saving the day.
It is cramped inside the store. In order to reach Wells and Nauck’s signing table, one must weave past bookshelves and rotating cases, all filled with comic books. Shirts with superhero logos are displayed near the ceiling; one depicts Obama, in a classic Superman pose, ripping open his suit to reveal a tight spandex uniform with a red, white and blue, stars and stripes “O” on the chest.
The atmosphere is friendly; many seem to know each other already. Upon hearing that there are journalism students around, Wells quips, “So is there going to be a turf war between you guys?” Nauck meanwhile sketches furiously between signing covers and answering questions; his sketches range from portraits of Spider-man to one girl’s request for Batman “doing something crazy.”
Forty minutes later, Alakazam has already run out of the $3.99 cover and is only selling the $30 Limited Edition Variant cover. At 6:45 p.m., an Alakazam employee does a final count of those still in line and announces that there is just enough for everyone in line to buy one copy.
“Anyone who comes after…” she trails off, shrugging, “too bad.”