Rosemont under siege by Comic Con fans

Arlington Heights collector displays vintage comics

  • Comic and sci-fi fans crowd a previous edition of Wizard World Chicago Comic Con. The 2011 edition makes a stop this weekend at Rosemont's Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.

    Comic and sci-fi fans crowd a previous edition of Wizard World Chicago Comic Con. The 2011 edition makes a stop this weekend at Rosemont's Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.

  • Arlington Heights resident Gary Colabuono is a super collector of old and rare comic books.

      Arlington Heights resident Gary Colabuono is a super collector of old and rare comic books. Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • It took Arlington Heights comics collector Gary Colabuono decades to acquire this rare Supergirl ashcan.

    It took Arlington Heights comics collector Gary Colabuono decades to acquire this rare Supergirl ashcan. Photo courtesy of Gary Colabuono

  • "Ashcan" comics like Colabuono's Superman issue were prototypes not meant for public distribution. Only a handful of copies were made.

    "Ashcan" comics like Colabuono's Superman issue were prototypes not meant for public distribution. Only a handful of copies were made. Photo courtesy of Gary Colabuono

  • A painting of Prince Valiant was done in 1947 by Ted Colabuono, father of Arlington Heights resident Gary Colabuono. He credits his father for his business and hobby of collecting comic books.

      A painting of Prince Valiant was done in 1947 by Ted Colabuono, father of Arlington Heights resident Gary Colabuono. He credits his father for his business and hobby of collecting comic books. Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • Arlington Heights resident Gary Colabuono has comic books that are hermetically sealed and graded by CGC Universal Grade. He said that way a collector can be sure of the condition when making a purchase.

      Arlington Heights resident Gary Colabuono has comic books that are hermetically sealed and graded by CGC Universal Grade. He said that way a collector can be sure of the condition when making a purchase. Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • Arlington Heights resident Gary Colabuono is a super collector of old and rare comic books. Behind him is a painting by Greg Theakston of Betty Page being attacked by a Martian. It was based on the gum card series "Mars Attacks" which became a feature film.

      Arlington Heights resident Gary Colabuono is a super collector of old and rare comic books. Behind him is a painting by Greg Theakston of Betty Page being attacked by a Martian. It was based on the gum card series "Mars Attacks" which became a feature film. Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • Characters from the comic strip Pogo, one of his favorite comics, sit on a shelf at the home of Arlington Heights resident Gary Colabuono.

      Characters from the comic strip Pogo, one of his favorite comics, sit on a shelf at the home of Arlington Heights resident Gary Colabuono. Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • Fans of superhero comics will find plenty for sale during the Chicago Comic Con in Rosemont this weekend.

    Fans of superhero comics will find plenty for sale during the Chicago Comic Con in Rosemont this weekend. Bob Chwedyk/Daily Herald file photo

 
 
Updated 8/12/2011 1:01 AM

Arlington Heights resident Gary Colabuono hopes he can spread a little comic-book love inside the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center this weekend.

That probably doesn't seem like too hard a task, given that the Rosemont convention hall will be hosting the Wizard World Chicago Comic Con, an annual gathering of comic-book, sci-fi and pop-culture enthusiasts.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But Colabuono believes he has something extra special to show to the thousands of fans in attendance.

Colabuono, a lifelong comics fan and collector, will be displaying his collection of super-rare comic "ashcans" -- black-and-white prototypes created solely to protect legal claims on a character or property. These books, all of which date back to the 1930s or '40s, were never meant to be distributed publicly, and only one to three copies were made of each issue.

"They really are unique items," Colabuono said. "You look at these and you see something special. I hope people come away feeling a little bit of the love I have for these old comics."

The Chicago Comic Con opens on the night of Thursday, Aug. 11, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 14. A full lineup of stars from genre movies and television will be on hand -- Patrick Stewart ("Star Trek: The Next Generation"), Bruce Campbell ("The Evil Dead") and Peter Tork ("The Monkees") among them -- along with dozens of today's most popular comic-book creators. And of course, vendors from across the area will set up shop on the main floor, selling comic books of every vintage.

Colabuono will be displaying his five ashcans on Saturday. The ashcans come from DC Comics' family of Superman titles: Action Comics, Superman, Superboy, Superwoman and Supergirl. All were challenging to acquire, especially Supergirl.

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"I found out that another collector had gotten that one, and I called him every three months for 27 years," Colabuono said with a laugh. "Then once I called and he told me he'd sold it to someone else. Hearing that was like a knife in the chest. But eventually I was able to track it down."

Colabuono, 60, started reading comics when he was a child growing up in Joliet. He began with Little Lulu and Archie, and then got caught up in the superhero revolution that transformed American comics in the late 1950s and early '60s.

In the late 1970s, he turned his love of comics into a business by opening the first Moondog's comic-book store in downtown Mount Prospect. The store grew into a chain that included additional suburban outlets in Schaumburg and Buffalo Grove. The chain continued until the mid-1990s, when a comics-industry slump put scores of retail stores out of business. Today, he works for a video-game manufacturer in Arlington Heights.

The ashcans could bring Colabuono a nice bit of change should he decide to sell them -- he said a Superman ashcan like his recently sold for $90,000 -- but he's not interested.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Not for a million dollars," he said.

Colabuono attends the Chicago Comic Con every year because he has a special connection to it: He owned the convention in the early 1990s and moved it from Chicago to Rosemont.

While the event has changed -- celebrity appearances and autographs now play as big a role at the convention as comics do -- Colabuono still enjoys it.

He still reads comics, too, even though today's superhero books don't thrill him as much as the old stuff.

"I lived through that moment in the '80s when the comics got dark and gritty, and I loved most of it," he said. "But today it's pretty much all they do. You don't even see primary colors on the covers anymore. I went into a store recently and blurred my eyes and the covers all ran together in black and brown.

"That's another reason I'm excited to show off these ashcans. There's so much charm and energy in them. I hope some younger fans take a look and see what made people fall in love with this stuff way back when."