Showing posts with label Big Planet Comics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Big Planet Comics. Show all posts

Monday, July 11, 2016

Joel Pollack on 30 years of Big Planet Comics stores

by Mike Rhode


Thirty years ago today, Joel Pollack opened Big Planet Comics in Bethesda, Maryland. I became a regular customer soon afterwards. I'm glad to count Joel as a friend and to be able to run this 'thank you and congratulations' interview with him all these years later.

MR: When and where did the first BP store open?

JP: My first business partner, Gene Carpenter, and I opened the Bethesda Big Planet Comics on July 11, 1986. Our first location was on the second floor of 4865 Cordell Avenue, just 100 feet from our current location (at 4849). After one year, I decided that Gene's focus on back issues/collectibles was incompatible with my vision of what a modern comic shop should be, and I bought him out. It was an amiable split, and Gene and I remain friends.

MR: Why did you decide to open the store?

JP: I had worked in my father's drapery business since the age of twelve, and when he retired I found myself unemployed. I had toyed with the idea of opening a comic shop for at least ten years before I made my move.

101_9088 Dave Lasky and Martha Burns at Big Planet Comics
Dave Lasky and Martha Burns at Big Planet Comics Bethesda, 2014.

MR: You'd been active in fandom and publishing before that. Can you tell me about some of your work, like selling Bernie Wrightson's original art?

JP: I became a part of "organized" comics fandom as early as 1963 when I discovered my first fanzine, "Rocket's Blast". I was a charter member of Biljo White's "Batmania." In 1965, I had my first letters published in Detective Comics #342 and 343. That same year, My aunt Kitty Goldberg introduced me to her friend, Ira Schnapp, who was a letterer and designer at DC Comics. Ira invited me to visit DC's offices (twice) and I met Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson. It was those visits that made me determined to work in the comics field.

I attended my first convention (the first major comic convention) in 1968. Phil Seuling ran that convention and many subsequent July 4th conventions. At those conventions, I met many of my artistic heroes, as well as several up-and-comers who were my age. I became friends with several, including Bernie Wrightson, Jeff Jones, Michael Kaluta, Howard Chaykin, and Walt Simonson. I dabbled in publishing, first with Bob Lewis on "Colour Your Dreams," a fantasy coloring book, and later, the ill-fated "Wet Dreams" portfolio.

In the early 1980s, I started reselling original art and published four "Fantastique Illustration Catalogs," selling art by Wrightson, KaIuta and Jones, as well as by younger artists like Charles Vess and Jon J. Muth. I sold at least a dozen of Bernie Wrightson's original Frankenstein illos, none higher than $2000. Those same pieces now fetch tens of thousands. A lot of great art has passed through my hands.

Richard Thompson &Joel Pollack

MR: How did the decisions to eventually expand to four stores happen?

JP: It started when my protege, Greg Bennett, graduated college, and we opened the Vienna store together in 1992 (still in its original location). I mostly acted in an advisory role, while Greg did all of the hard work. In 2001, when it looked like an existing Georgetown comic shop was going to fold, Greg and I decided the time was right to make our foray into DC (I was born in DC). After years in our charming old rowhouse location in Georgetown, the building was sold, and we decided to move the shop to U Street for better Metro access and a younger population demographic.

The now-defunct Georgetown store
Our long-time store managers Jared Smith and Peter Casazza bought Liberty Books & Comics in College Park and turned it into the fourth Big Planet location, and now own the Vienna and U Street shops as well, allowing Greg to focus on Bethesda as I have been approaching retirement age. College Park is the only one I had no hand in, other than giving moral support, and licensing them the Big Planet Comics name.

MR: How have you survived the ups and downs of the comic book market?

JP: By mostly ignoring the collector in favor of the reader. Early on, we saw the future of contemporary comics in the collected editions, the so-called graphic novels/trade paperbacks. We eliminated 90% of our back issue stock, and gave over 75% of our rack space to collected editions. To this day, Big Planet Comics has the most comprehensive selection of comics in book form of any store in the area. The only back issues we carry in Bethesda are some vintage comics from the silver age.
Gene Yang & Joel Pollack in 2008

MR: How has the store changed over the 30 years? How is it the same?

JP: The main change is what I described above: a focus on collected editions and graphic novels. Our market has evolved from a primarily male collector-driven business to a much more diverse reader-driven base - especially with the tremendous growth in graphic novels for kids and young adults in the last decade.

Greg Bennett, Gary Panter, Steve Niles and Joel Pollack at Big Planet Comics, July 20, 2008

What has stayed the same is our focus on customer service. We constantly upgrade our inventory, and we're happy to fill special orders.

MR: What's next?

JP: For me, it's retirement. Even after retirement, I hope to continue in an advisory role, and spend a few hours weekly in the Bethesda store. I've made a lot of good friends there through the years, and I consider Big Planet Comics the high point of my life.

(Click here for more of my photographs at various Big Planet Comics stores and events)

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Big Planet 30th anniversary shirt/July 4 sale

Big Planet Comics celebrates its 30th anniversary with a new long T-shirt, which is currently available at its Bethesda, Md., store. On Monday, all locations hold their annual Fourth of July/30th anniversary sale, with everything 20 percent off.

Friday, May 27, 2016

June 4: 'Captive of Friendly Cove' signing at Big Planet in Vienna

June 4, noon to 2 p.m., Michael Short, Rebecca Goldfield and I (Matt Dembicki) will be signing our Eisner-nominated graphic novel Captive of Friendly Cove at Big Planet Comics in Vienna, Va. We'll bring some original art and some other cool things.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday, July 26, 2015

New Big Planet Comics t-shirt (UPDATED)

Big Planet Comics Bethesda has a new retro t-shirt, designed by Joel Pollack after an old DC Comics logo. Joel says, "I'm guessing Ira Schnapp did this logo originally. Martin Pasco put this together for me. We initially printed 72, and we're going to print another 72 next week. I've been wanting to do this design for years.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Q&A: Jared Smith of Big Planet Comics/Retrofit Comics

Jared Smith is one of the owning partners of Big Planet Comics, which almost two years ago dipped its toes into publishing by taking on some of the duties of Retrofit Comics. We thought it'd be interesting to check in with Jared on how that partnership with Philadelphia-based comics creator Box Brown is going.

Big Planet Comics has been publishing and distributing Retrofit Comics since about mid-2013. How have things been going?

Smith: I think really well. Box Brown, the founder of Retrofit Comics, has a great artistic vision, so working with him as editor and with Big Planet covering the rest of the publishing has been a good team.

What has been the biggest challenge so far? How are you tackling that challenge?

Smith: Distribution is tricky. It is very depressing to see the same few stores that are interested in carrying small press comic books (I'd say only about 20 in all of the US.) And some areas of the country are well served, like the major cities, but whole other areas have no stores that are interested. We've been reaching out to stores directly and trying to get more reviews and general awareness. We also distributed our first big graphic novel, FUNGUS: The Unbearable Rot of Being, through Diamond Comic Distributors, which has the best reach into comic stores here and internationally.

Big Planet Comics has several shops and locations, each with a different owner, correct? Was everyone initially on board with starting a publishing/distribution venture?

Smith: There are four stores, and there are four co-owners. We work together on most things though. Everyone was interested and supportive, but it was my idea and passion so I handle most of it, with help from various members of the Big Planet team like Kelly and Kevin and Peter.

How have you been getting the word out about Retrofit Comics?

Smith: We send out a lot of copies to reviewers, and of course the internet is huge for letting people know about your work. But we also go to a lot of conventions to reach people directly. It helps we publish such a wide range of artists of different styles and nationalities. I think it makes us a more appealing package, and when fans of one of our artists are directed to us, we have a lot of other things to appeal to them.

Several other retail shops around the country have also dipped their toes into publishing — such as Bergen Street Comics with Copra and Desert Island with Smoke Signal — though on a smaller scale. Do you think this is the start of trend? What makes publishing appealing to some retailers? 

Smith: Yes, there are about 10 retail stores who are publishing as well, such as Floating World, Locust Moon, Kilgore, and Secret Headquarters. I don't know if it's a trend, but it is just relatively easy for retail stores to support some of their favorite artists in a new way, by publishing their work. Most artists who are just starting out do it for the love of creation, and aren't making much money (if any). Plus many prefer to focus on the artistic side, the business side is a distraction from creating more comics! So if we can handle some of that, it works out well for everyone. Publishing also distinguishes your store and it helps gets better comics out into the world.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Big Planet Comics 20% off everything New Year's Day sale!

Jared Smith invited you to Big Planet Comics 's event   20% off everything New Year's Day sale! Thu Jan 1, 2015 at 12:00pm to Fri Jan 2, 2015 at 5:00pm   Join     Maybe     Decline   It's time for our annual New Year's Day sale! 20% off everything! Extra bonus sales! All 4 Big Planet stores! One day only! Big Planet Comics of Washington DC Big Planet Comics of College Park Big... Joel Pollack and 11 others are also in the guest list.             Pending Invites (2) Block invites from Jared?    

20% off everything New Year's Day sale!
Thu Jan 1, 2015 at 12:00pm to 5:00pm
It's time for our annual New Year's Day sale!

20% off everything! Extra bonus sales!

All 4 Big Planet stores! One day only!

Big Planet Comics of Washington DC
Big Planet Comics of College Park
Big Planet Comics of Vienna
Big Planet Comics of Bethesda

Start 2015 off right with a pile of comic books!



Sunday, November 30, 2014

Dec. 14: Keatinge, Duca at Big Planet

Joe Keatinge and Leila Del Duca, co-creators of the series Shutter from Image Comics, will be signing at Big Plant Comics at College Park from noon to 2 p.m. on Dec. 14. The store will also have an exclusive Big Planet Comics variant of the next issue, Shutter #7.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Impressions and photos of Baltimore Comic-Con day 3, Sunday

Gerhard and the Little Nemo book from Locust Moon
Sunday was a nice quiet day at the con. Plenty of energy, but it wasn't so crowded that you couldn't see the guests, or run into friends (such as Heidi MacDonald who requested this photo of Gerhard from Friday (Day 1 is here)). I bought the only print Gerhard brought (by accident) of his Little Nemo art. I'm not sorry.Gerhard's finishing work on Cerebus made Dave Sim's artwork sing.

My daughter and I cruised around and I got my Team Cul de Sac book signed by Rob Harrell and Jay Fosgitt. I saw two other Little Nemo-related modern items (by Fosgitt and Joel Gill) - it's odd how the character is making  a comeback.

Here's some shots. A few additional pictures can be seen on Flickr.

One joy for me was meeting Fred Hembeck and getting a Shadow sketch for him. I've loved his skewed take on comics history for thirty years.
Little Nemos by Gill and Fosgitt
Mike Rhode and Dean Haspiel

Denis Kitchen and Fred Hembeck

Rafter Roberts covers X-O Man-o-War

Big Planet Comics owners Peter and Jared

Fulcrum's Jess Townsend with books edited by local cartoonist (and ComicsDC'r) Matt Dembicki
Andy Runton's booth babe, AKA "Mom"

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Big Planet Comics has Doctor Who special covers

from their Facebook page...

Out today! The adventures of the 10th & 11th Doctors... with a custom cover as they hang out at Big Planet Comics!  
(Uhhhh not due to any strange customers we have, we promise...) 

Big Planet Comics's photo.
We will be having writer Nick Abadzis and artist Simon Fraser for a special event on Thursday, Sept 11!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Dave Lasky at Big Planet Comics

Dave Lasky and Martha Burns were at Big Planet Comics Bethesda this week, with Dave signing his graphic biography on The Carter Family and Martha Burns performing their songs. Since she was performing, I didn't get a chance to talk to him and ask about the book, but I did get the only copy of Oregon Trail they had in the store.

Afterwards I stopped across the street at South Street Steaks and avoided the Misteak Challenge. My Italian sub was just fine though.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A few more photos...

Becky Cloonan and Shaun Simon at Big Planet Comics Vienna.

Becky Cloonan and Shaun Simon at Big Planet Comics Vienna.

Claire and Mike Rhode wearing t-shirts from Joe Sutliff's Master Jeffrey webcomic which has a Kickstarter campaign now.

And here's pictures from the exhibit of original artwork at Art-Enables by five artists who contributed to the new graphic novel Wild Ocean: Sharks, Whales, Rays and Other Endangered Sea Creatures (Fulcrum Publishing).  Artwork by: Brooke Allen, Matt Dembicki, Andy K, Steve Loya and Steven Russell Black.

Art by Matt Dembicki, that I think I now own.

Steve Loya and his art.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

May 7: Becky Cloonan & Shaun Simon Signing - Killjoys & By Chance Or Providence

Big Planet Comics is proud to welcome Becky Cloonan and Shaun Simon for a signing of the collection of their series, The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, and Becky's self-published collection, By Chance Or Providence!

The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys is a scifi adventure where the Killjoys lost their lives battling against a controlling megacorp, and now their followers carry on the fight.

By Chance or Providence is a compilation of Becky's self-published minicomics of fantastic adventures of magic and horror!

Becky's website:
Shaun's website:

Monday, May 05, 2014

Free Comic Book Day photos

Victory Comics in Falls Church:

Tangent cartoonists

Monica Marier

Big Planet Comics Vienna (Curls Studio aka Carolyn Belefski and Joe Carabeo):

Big Planet Comics Bethesda (with Joe Sutliff):