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A Friendly Chat About National Geographic’s Comic Store Heroes

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It’s being billed as a subsititue for those who can’t make it to Comic-Con this year. National Geographic Channel’s Comic Store Heroes follows three staffers of Midtown Comics in New York as well as their customers and every day comic book fans, on their road to New York Comic Con. The comparison is evident – is this another Comic Book Men? Thor Parker, the Social Marketing and Events Director for Midtown, and I are here to tell you “no.” Why am I joining in the conversation? I’m one of the fans featured in the special airing tomorrow, July 13, on the National Geographic Channel. Hit the jump to hear what Parker and I have to say about the special, the evolution of geek culture, the comparisons with CBM, and lots more! 

First of all, check out the trailer for the show if you haven’t already.

Jill Pantozzi‬: Hey, Thor! So glad I could grab you for a few minutes to chat about Comic Store Heroes. Why don’t we start off by filling in The Mary Sue readers about the inception of the show?

Thor Parker‬: Thanks for having me! About a year and half/two years ago we were approached by a production company from the UK called Parthenon. They were interested in doing a reality show about our store. We’d been approached by other people before about it and it usually didn’t get very far. But Parthenon were very passionate about the project and were open to the ideas we had about the show. So they sent a one-man camera crew to New York to film with us for a couple days to test the waters. They really liked what they got and then decided to go full-steam ahead to try for a one hour documentary style pilot, which is what we ended up with.

Jill‬: It’s amazing how long a journey it’s been. I was asked to participate in the initial filming as well, not as part of the Midtown Comics crew per se, but as a fan. I imagine we both had quite different experiences with the filming considering mine was more of a personal story while yours was the entire team.

Thor‬: Yeah, for sure. We were really excited about bringing in stories from the customers point of view. We’ve got so many amazing and crazy people that come into our store how could you not want to know more about them?!

Jill : And that really seems to be what the show is about. I haven’t seen it yet but I believe you have, correct? What can viewers expect to see?

Thor‬: It really is. I have seen it and aside from a few bad hair days of mine, I love it! We’re hoping that people will get a sense of what the real world of comics is about. Comic stores aren’t pawn shops for your collectibles, they’re the central hub for a community where fans and creators can come together and express themselves.

Jill: And that brings up something the press, and fans, are likely to be talking about. What you just described is similar to what AMC did with Kevin Smith’s Comic Book Men. It had a mixed reaction in the community as to how it portrayed us. I know I certainly had a strong opinion on it. What are your thoughts on that and the inevitable comparisons?

Thor‬: We all watched Comic Book Men when it came out. We’ve got a lot of big Kevin Smith fans at the store. When I saw it I could help but want more out of it I guess. I know that Kevin Smith’s name doesn’t go hand in hand with highbrow entertainment, but I think, and I beleive a lot of other people thought, the show could be so much more. I don’t blame the show for not providing the things the modern comic fan is looking for. That’s where we’ll come in I suppose. We’re striving to show how positive comics and the comic community as a whole is and can be. I don’t think Comic Book Men had a mission statement, but that would be close to what ours is.

Jill‬: Right, and I’m in that boat. I expected CBM to be one thing and was let down when it wasn’t, and certainly thought it could have done so much more. They got a second season so obviously a lot of people liked what they saw but it wasn’t my cup of tea. And while I can’t speak to exactly what Comic Store Heroes will be, I know what the team and I discussed in my interviews, and they really got to the heart of comic fandom. I think people are really going to respond well to that.

Thor‬: Exactly. And I know since you dealt with both shows behind the scenes you’ve got a good idea of how our intentions compare. Would that be right?

Jill ‬: Sure, to an extent. I feel like the time I spent talking to the CBM crew was more about factual knowledge rather than just the fun aspect of comics.

Thor‬: Right.

Jill‬: But I think it will be interesting to have something on air in the same general category but with a different feel. Like I said, CBM wasn’t my cup of tea but a lot of people enjoy the show, I’m sure it will be the same with Comic Store Heroes. I’m just so happy there are shows about comic books on television at all!

Thor‬: Exactly! Look how far we’ve come! And that’s what we want to show the rest of the world. Comic fans aren’t just shady overweight guys sweating in their parents basement. We’re smart, talented, creative and passionate people!

Jill‬: Absolutely, and I think those of us in the community, which is still rather small when you think about it, take for granted that all types read and enjoy comic books. I still get people asking me all the time why I make it a point to say that women read, and make, comics. I do that because people outside the community really still don’t understand that.

Thor‬: You’re right about that. We’re hoping to be the place where people can learn about the real side of the comics world.

Jill‬: Let me ask you something. Do you feel the “geek community” is losing anything by gaining so much attention these days? There are a lot of folks out there who don’t like that geek is becoming chic.

Thor‬: It doesn’t bother me at all, especially when it comes to the talent in this industry. I think it’s great to have people recognize the fact you’re wearing a Green Lantern shirt or something. Comics are an important art form and they’ll only last as long as there are fans out there reading them. I say bring it on!

Jill‬: I couldn’t agree with you more. Making comics more visible only clues people into what we’ve known for so long is great. And that is only good for us because it hopefully means more people buying comics, or at the very least, going to see comic book movies so we can see more of our favorites come to life!

Thor‬: Absolutely! If you would have told the 11-year-old Thor that there was going to be an Avengers movie and it was going to be good and it was going to be the #3 movie of all time, I would have shot milk out of my nose laughing so hard. It’s amazing. We’re in a completely different world form that now.

Jill‬: If I went back to tell my 13-year-old, wannabe-news-anchor-self that I’d be writing about comics and pop-culture for a living I would have said, “WHATEVER!”

Thor‬: Ha! Exactly.

Jill‬: Because I watched Clueless too many times

Thor‬: Who didn’t?!

Jill‬: But here we are. Obviously you’ve been much more a part of the inner workings of Comic Store Heroes than I but how thrilled were you when you found out it would be having its premiere on National Geographic?

Thor‬: I was really excited. We’d been working on the show for so long and at times I can be a pessimist. I was genuinely surprised when I heard it was going to air. It was like a giant weight was lifted off my brain. I could stop going crazy about IF and start going crazy about WHEN.

Jill‬: It’s still kind of surreal for me. Having filmed with the crew for two years, I honestly had no idea what form it would all take in the end, let alone where it would wind up. And I’m at that point where I’m almost still in shock that it will be on TV, for everyone to see, this Friday. Very surreal.

Thor‬: I’m right there with you. I’d be a little more freaked out if I wasn’t so sure that people were going to love it!

Jill‬: That’s a good point. I think they will.

Thor‬: I hope so! I hope you like it!

Comic Store Heroes premieres at 8 p.m. eastern tomorrow night on the National Geographic Channel. You can follow the show on Twitter and Facebook, and check out their official site.

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Jill Pantozzi is a pop-culture journalist and host who writes about all things nerdy and beyond! She’s Editor in Chief of the geek girl culture site The Mary Sue (Abrams Media Network), and hosts her own blog “Has Boobs, Reads Comics” ( She co-hosts the Crazy Sexy Geeks podcast along with superhero historian Alan Kistler, contributed to a book of essays titled “Chicks Read Comics,” (Mad Norwegian Press) and had her first comic book story in the IDW anthology, “Womanthology.” In 2012, she was featured on National Geographic’s "Comic Store Heroes," a documentary on the lives of comic book fans and the following year she was one of many Batman fans profiled in the documentary, "Legends of the Knight."