Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by retailer Steve Bennett of Super-Fly Comics and Games in Yellow Springs, Ohio.  This week, Bennett talks about news from the retail front lines, Arabian comics, and Mr. Freedom.

The cost of gas has been limiting my trips to Super-Fly Comics to every other week but there are plenty of good comic shops in the Cincinnati area.  Just three minutes away there’s the small but excellent Comics & Games, and when I feel like a drive just 20 minutes away in Florence, Kentucky there’s the spacious and well stocked Comic Book World.


Since I’ve been doing most of my retailing by remote these days Tad and Tony wanted me to pass along a couple of their observations from the frontlines:


1)  Secret Invasion may outsell Final Crisis but for us the Crisis spin-offs do much better than the Invasion ones, even though they cost a dollar more.  This is partially due to the fact that it’s easier to give the file customers getting Crisis all the related miniseries, which they generally buy without complaint.  But given their sheer volume, you really can’t do that with the Secret Invasion tie-ins…


2)  Given the number of times Spider-Man 3 (the first time I typed this I automatically put a # in front of the numeral) movie merchandise has been “offered again” by Diamond, there really must be a whole lot of unsold Spider gimcracks and knickknacks cluttering up the warehouse.


The United Arab Emirates now has its own superhero, Ajaaj (“sandstorm”), who looks like an ordinary UAE man who can control the size, shape and density of his sand form like Marvel’s Sandman.  There are a couple of interesting aspects to this story.  First, Ajaaj wasn’t created by artists and writers but rather a government development program attempting to promote Arab culture through a monthly comic book.  Naturally it’s also being turned into an animated series, stage show, movie, etc.

It’s an ingenious solution for nationalistic countries with international public relations problems who want to shore up traditional values at home while disseminating their culture as pop entertainment around the world.  China is already trying to do this by becoming a major player in the world of animation, but can you imagine what would happen if they put their considerable resources into producing comic books? 


Second is the format; each 44-page issue will be available online (in both Arabic and English) for free at the Ajaaj Website.  One is currently posted and while the writing and art isn’t nearly as sophisticated as what’s found in AK Comics (whom we haven’t heard from in a while; I checked their Website and it seems Joe Casey is doing some writing for them) or Teshkeel Comics' The99.  But given the quality of Ajaaj, it’s at least likely it was actually produced in the UAE, which can’t be said for the others.*


So their business model is to give their product away via the Internet then publish the individual comics in hardcover; I’ll repeat that, in HARDCOVER.  I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise given Dubai has always had a reputation for wanting the finest things without having to worry about the cost; but in the cheapjack world of American comic book publishing this is unprecedented.


I realize movie reviews are outside my purview, but for those jonesing to see  the Watchmen movie who are worried you might have to wait even longer to do so thanks to the lawsuit, allow me to recommend another dark, violent and political superhero film: Mr. Freedom. This 1969 movie by American expatriate photographer and filmmaker William Klein (best known for the documentary Muhammad Ali: The Greatest) has finally been released on DVD and concerns a racist, xenophobic superhero in a modified football uniform that’s a cross between Captain America and The Comedian.

When we first see him in costume he’s smashed into the dining room of a black family where he sings his theme song then indiscriminately opens fire.  His handler, Dr. Freedom (Donald Pleasance appearing via TV screens), then sends him to France to prevent it from falling into communist hands by any means necessary.  Its low budget “art” makes good use of a hodgepodge of stock footage and weird homemade looking costumes to create a unabashedly anti-American (at least anti-then current American policies), heavy handed Cold War satire.  But it’s definitely weird (at one point the American ambassador asks Mr. Freedom how Batman and John Wayne are) and we know weird usually gets you half way to good.


* Both publishers want to create “indigenous” Arab comics but have had to look to writers and artists from the West do it.  And while Googling, I came across yet another entrepreneur who wants to be the “Walt Disney of the Arab World” -- Suleiman Bakhit and his Aranim (an amalgamation of “Arab” and “animation”) Media Factory.  To find his artists he’s had to go as far as Germany, China and Japan.


The opinions expressed in this Talk Back column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of