Call them comic books, graphic novels or sequential art--whatever the name, the form has matured over 25 years into the Modern Age of Comic Books, with more publishers and a bigger fan base than ever.
It’s become a well-respected “visual literary medium” with emphasis on intricate art and original storylines.
The current spectrum of genre-derived stories shows its thematic roots largely in superhero, fantasy and horror, but has expanded into urban angst, history, memoir, biography, science and feminism.
Some universities use comic books as learning tools in their liberal-arts curricula, such as California State University, Long Beach, and the University of Florida. The California College of the Arts in San Francisco even offers an MFA degree in comics.
But let us not forget that comics are about entertainment. In celebration, May 5 marks the 17th annual Free Comic Book Day, during which 2,300 “comic book specialty shops” in 65 countries will hand out 6 million free special-edition comic books to whoever walks in.
“We asked publishers to put their best foot forward for their special editions,” said Joe Field, founder of Free Comic Book Day and owner of Flying Colors Comics in Concord. “Once people come in to get their comics and see what the shops have, they’ll want to come back.”
There will be 50 free commemorative titles, from action-adventure-sci fi (“Avengers,” “James Bond,” “Invasion”) and children’s (“Pokemon,” “Comic Friends Forever,” “Street Angel’s Dog”) to cutting-edge and noir (“Barrier,” “Berlin,” “The World’s Greatest Cartoonists”).
For Jacob Rubinstein of Auburn, the timing was ideal to piggyback on to the event to introduce his debut comic book, “The President’s Guardian” ($3.99). It pits one sister’s super powers against the other’s, with the first female president of the U.S. caught in between.
Unlike most comic books, which are specifically created to be just that, he spent months adapting it from one of the dozen (unproduced) screenplays he’s written over the past 30 years. For the visuals, he turned to illustrator Beth Varni and her Telempathics Studio in Washington, D.C.
“Beth lives where the story takes place and is very familiar with the city,” said Rubinstein, 48. “I’ve already written volumes 2 and 3 and will release them if volume 1 is successful, but I’m hoping it will be made into a movie first.”
Rubinstein fell in love with comics at his elementary school’s library, discovering bound original copies of “Flash Gordon,” “Superman,” “Batman” and other titles from the 1930s into the 1970s.
That was the spark that led him into movie theaters, where he quickly became enthralled with on-screen superheroes. To the extent that he joined hundreds of other fans in 2012 at a six-movie marathon in Sacramento.
“I’d done a marathon of three superhero movies, but not six,” he said. “It was great because the audience was so into it. They cheered every time (Marvel Comics chairman emeritus) Stan Lee was onscreen in a cameo.”
His fandom has also taken him to comic conventions around California, including “a few in Hollywood, where I met the casts of ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Superman.’ I’ve lost count of how many conventions I’ve been to, but it’s at least 50. “
Surprisingly, he no longer has a comic book collection “and I’m fine with that. I collected a few here and there, mostly comic-book movie adaptations like ‘Conan the Barbarian,’ ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Blade Runner.’”
His all-time fave comic book movie? “I have a top 10 list, but it’s the landmark ‘Superman: The Movie’ with Christopher Reeve and Marlon Brando (1978),” he said. “It’s the grandfather of them all. If it wasn’t for its success, we wouldn’t be seeing all the Marvel and DC superhero franchise movies now.”
Those franchises comprise a multi-billion-dollar industry that Rubinstein hopes to crack with “The President’s Guardian,” hoping the comic book will ignite interest in his screenplay.
Without giving away too much, the story focuses on two sisters whose parents brought them to Earth as infants from the planet Juba. Now in their mid-20s, Malia is a superhero while Isabel is a super-villain.
Enter the first newly elected female U.S. president, Jackie Grant, who is in dire need of protection from Isabel. Who better in that role than Malia? There are plot twists and surprises along the way, including a pregnancy and the partial destruction of Washington, D.C.
Rubinstein got the idea two years before the 2016 presidential election. “I just liked the thought of a woman being president,” he said. “The movie script covers a lot of women’s issues in great depth, but unfortunately we weren’t able to get all of that into the comic book.”
Still, when he tells his female friends about the story, “their faces light up,” he said. “The concept wins them over.”
Meet Jacob Rubinstein
Jacob Rubinstein will sell and sign “The President’s Guardian” at these venues:
10 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 5 at World’s Best Comics, 2608 Watt Ave., Sacramento; 916-973-8973, www.matsune.com
1 to 3 p.m. May 6 at Dimple Records, 2433 Arden Way, Sacramento; 916-925-2600, www.dimple.com
1 to 3 p.m. June 2 at Comic Comix, 230 Palm Ave., Auburn; 530-887-1147, follow on Facebook
3 to 8 p.m. June 22, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. June 23 and 10 a.m. to 4 p..m. June 24 at Fandemic Tour Comic Convention at the Sacramento Convention Center, 1400 J St.; 916-808-5291, www.fandemictour.com
Free Comic Book Day
To find out which stores are involved in Free Comic Book Day in your area, go tofreecomicbookday.com, click on “Find a Participating Comic Shop” and type in a ZIP code. For the list of free titles, click on “Comics.”
Some stores will host special events, including creator signings, appearances by costumed superheroes and/or comic book characters, and sales.