Interview: Michael Carbonaro

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Big Apple Comic Con founder Michael Carbonaro gives us an inside look at his life which he has dedicated to the world of comic books and collectibles.

While wondering the aisles of Wizard World Philly late Friday afternoon I came across a table that sold Barbie dolls, one of my many weaknesses. The vendor at the table was very nice and complimented me on my Zatanna costume. He also mentioned that I looked like a real life Lois Lane. I revealed to him that I was indeed a comic reporter but the greatest shock was when he told me who he was; Michael Carbonaro, the founder of the Big Apple Comic Con! We instantly hit it off and arranged a trade; one doll in exchange for an interview with Mike and I promised visit his table at the upcoming San Diego Comic Con. How could I refuse? Sunday afternoon I returned to interview Mr. Carbonaro. Read on to find out more about this intriguing man who has dedicated his life to comics and collecting.

Victoria: Can you tell us what your name is?

Michael: Michael Carbonaro, Mike Carbo for short.

Victoria: Mike Carbo? I like that, that’s cute! What can you tell us about yourself? What is your position in the industry?

Michael: My position here in the comic book world?

Victoria: Yes.

Michael: Well, it’s far reaching. Kind of like one of those old villains like Doctor Doom! I started comic books when I was ten years old, many moons ago, forty plus years. At a convention in the 70’s I bought and sold comic books, paid for my way through high school and college. I had a comic store in Manhattan in the late 70’s. I went to New York University in the morning and comic book school by afternoon. Then I opened a comic store in the 80’s in Queens and had that for a dozen years. Then I kind of laid low for a few years. Then we started in the convention world in New York. At the last minute one of the promoters that had been doing conventions couldn’t make the show so myself and a couple of my friends at the last minute we kind of saved the day and ran a convention that was being canceled that weekend and we called it the “church con” because it was in the basement of a church.

Victoria: Really, in a church? Wow!

Michael: Have you been to New York?

Victoria: I haven’t been to New York. I’ll be going for the first time this year in October. I’m looking forward to it.

Michael: You might have to visit the home of the first Big Apple Convention which was St. Paul’s church. Beautiful church on the west side of Manhattan, 59th Street and 9th Avenue. We did that and then I ended up doing that for a dozen years, all kinds of stories along the way. Sold that (Big Apple Comic Con) to Wizard about a year ago and now they’re running an even bigger Big Apple Convention. About ten years ago I joined up with some friends of mine at Neat Stuff Collectibles and we formed a company. I’ve been traveling around the country buying comics.

Victoria: So you are in fact the founder of the Big Apple Comic Con?

Michael: Yes, I am the founder. I love that word! *laughs*

Victoria: That is amazing especially because it’s turn into this huge thing. It’s one of the biggest conventions out there.

Michael: Like this show here today, here in Philly, Wizard’s convention, it’s going to be as big as in New York.

Victoria: What do you love most about the convention circuit?

Michael: A couple of things. When I ran shows I think I liked most was when someone would come up to me and shake my hand and say: “That was a good show. I had a good time.” The fact that someone enjoyed it and had a really nice time is important to me. When I’m at it (attending) I like the idea of finding stuff. Getting a new deal, find a collection, find something that you can make money out of it because you found it. The knowledge I’ve built for comic books over the years has given me the ability to [inaudible] stuff and see what I can buy and sell. Buy for one price, sell for more or put away or invest. Maybe have a costumer order and all that. That’s fun, the fun of just being together in one room with all this stuff.

Victoria: I have to say that these conventions are kind of like Disney World for me. I’ve been reading comic books since I was nine years old.

Michael: Really? What comic books did you read?

Victoria: It actually started with the fact that I wasn’t allowed to see the Tim Burton Batman movie because it was too violent so my classmate snuck in the Batman comics for me. I read it and I loved it. The only Batman that I was allowed to watch was the Adam West version but eventually my parents gave in and I saw the Tim Burton film. I loved it and have been reading comic books ever since.

Michael: Really and Adam West is here today!

Victoria: He is here today!

Michael: Are you going to go over?

Victoria: I saw him and I’m like “I can’t say anything. He’s Batman!” I’m just too shy!

Michael: So the fact that you couldn’t get into the movie kind of got you excited about comics?

Victoria: It did and years later I’m still a fan and now I’m a comic book reporter which is a dream come true!

Michael: A comic book reporter! That’s how we met, you told me you were a reporter and I said that’s the greatest thing in the world! I love it. “Comic book reporter”, that’s really cool!

Victoria: It is very cool. Thank you very much. So what does your comic book collection look like?

Michael: *motions to the booth* This is it! What I buy is what I collect. Let’s take a quick look *takes out book*. This is the key book in the world of comics. This is the reintroduction of the superheroes in the 50’s. The superheroes from the 40’s were selling millions of copies but when the war ended, the comic book superheroes kind of lost fashion with things and the comics went back to horror, humor and other things. In the mid 50’s they reintroduced and brought The Flash back and reintroduced him into showcase comics. Five years later they started the Marvel Age of comics which was the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, all that stuff so that’s part of my collection. This here is a chopped up or a bastardized version of the first Batman issue. It’s missing the first page but it’s a million dollar comic book in high grade. This is maybe 75% of the book and this is worth maybe six or seven thousand dollars as it is. This Flash is about a five thousand dollar comic. These are the new things in my collection until I sell them and then I’ll buy something else. Actually I just started doing something; I invested in Jack Kirby art.

Victoria: Really?

Michael: Yeah, original art from the Marvel comics. I just bought the original page from Thor #112 which is a Thor/Hulk battle issue. I just bought the page so that’s part of my collection.

Victoria: So who is your favorite superhero?

Michael: Wow, they asked me that way back when I was like 12 years old at a comic convention actually and I remember I said Reed Richards. He’s smart; he could stretch to the top of the Empire State Building. I’ll stick with Reed Richards as my favorite superhero.

Victoria: While we’re on the topic of Reed Richards, how do you feel about all of these comic book movies?  Some of them are good while others are bad…

Michael: Well, I kind of like them all in some way or another. I kind of find something to like about them. I think it’s great. We just saw Iron Man 2 which was so good but not as exciting as number one but it was a set up for the rest of these comic movies, for the Thor movie for the Avengers movie and for the next Iron Man movie. I’m enjoying it, this whole thing. Next year I think there’s Captain America and Thor and the year after that will be the Avengers.

Victoria: How did you feel when you heard the news that Disney bought Marvel Comics?

Michael: That’s interesting. Disney buying Marvel comics, I don’t think we’ll really see the effects of that for a few years to come. I think it will change certain things. I don’t know how Disney will change the characters or how they will reorganize them or portray them, re-brand them. I’m not sure. I’m hoping that Marvel gets to keep some of its integrity, if that’s the right word for it but we will see. Right now I know that there’s a whole bunch of contracts and things that they’re just going to let stay for the next five years until they run out. It will probably make the stuff bigger in the long run cause Disney brands span all around the world. We’ll probably see Iron Man and Thor all across the world. How the comics will be marketed and all that. I don’t know exactly but it will be interesting to see.

Victoria: What has been your favorite part of the Wizard Philly show this year?

Michael: Actually yesterday, Saturday because it was just so crowed. There were so many people. Everywhere you walked somebody is doing something, there’s a different costume. Did you see the crazy costumes yesterday?

Victoria: I did, I was actually at the costume contest. Everybody was there!

Michael: How big was the contest?

Victoria: They said it was the biggest turn out they ever had (at Philly). One of my friends, she won first place in the comic’s category.

Michael: She won first place? Who was she?

Victoria: Harley Quinn! She was awesome.

Michael: *laughs* She’s a real popular character these days! Did she have the hammer?

Victoria: Oh yeah, she had the mallet and she can imitate the voice to a tee. It’s like Bruce Timm created her himself. She’s awesome.

Michael: Cool! Yeah, yesterday was great. That was the most fun to see all the people roaming around. It was packed!

Victoria: Are you going to all the conventions this year? What other shows will you be attending?

Michael: Every single convention! Every one! I reenergized, am refocused and ready to buy comics at every convention. Now that I sold my convention business to Wizard I’m able to spend more time collecting and/or buying things that I always sell which is my collection.

Victoria: Have you ever attended a convention outside the U.S.? I know there’s a few in Canada.

Michael: As a matter of fact I was just invited to a convention in Canada, in Montreal. I want to start a class on the Marvel Comics. I want to start teaching on the mighty world of Marvel Comics and I want to start doing a thing all about the Marvel superheroes and maybe in each class I will focus on a different superhero.

Victoria: Would you say you’re more partial to Marvel characters than any other?

Michael: Yeah, definitely. Those were the ones that I grew up with and had the passion for. I mean, I read Green Lantern and Flash too. I love that stuff. I do want to travel to some shows. I hear in France and in Germany that they might have them. So I’m thinking about that for next year.

Victoria: Wow, that’s cool. So do you like seeing people in costumes?

Michael: Yeah, I love it. It’s gotten to a point that it’s fun. I saw a guy yesterday; he was Kato from the Green Hornet. He was big and very cool. I saw him walking around. And Thor, did you see the Thor guy dressed up? He was really good. The guy had the hammer and the outfit and the Norse god thing going on with the hair wrapped around.

Victoria: No, sadly I missed him. So I take it since you’re a collector/dealer you collect anything and everything?

Michael: Yes, that is one of the things I do. I travel around and I kind of get into every part of it even old postcards of Coney Island, amusements parks and all kinds of cool stuff.

Victoria: So a lot of vintage things.

Michael: Yeah, so much vintage. I’m vintage, the stuff is vintage….

Victoria: *laughs* So you said you have a store?

Michael: I had a store. We have a warehouse in New Jersey. North Bergen, New Jersey.

Victoria: Do you have a website that people can visit?

Michael: We don’t have a real fully functioning website. We sell most of our stuff online at Neat Stuff Collectibles on eBay so they can go to that.

Victoria: Thanks you so much for talking with me!

Michael: Nice to talk to you, Victoria.

Victoria: Is there anything you would like to add?

Michael: Leave some words of wisdom for the collectors in the world? Gee…

Victoria: What advice would you give?

Michael: Buy Kirby art! *laughs*

Check out the Neat Stuff Collectibles eBay store at the following link: http://stores.ebay.com/Neat-Stuff-Collectibles