spauff@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 19, 2012 

Mary Johnson learned to read from Wonder Woman.

“My dad was a big comic book collector,” she said. “I learned to read by reading comic books.”

Growing up in Marion County, she remembers visits to Columbus Book Exchange with her dad were “always a big deal.” Now in her 30s, she continues the tradition by taking her 2-year-old son to buy comic books on a regular basis.

But she doesn’t let him have all the fun. Johnson, assistant director of the Coca-Cola Space Science Center, still loves superheros and crime fighters -- especially Wonder Woman and Batgirl.

“They pick on me at work. I have a whole shelf of Wonder Woman stuff,” she said.

But a week from today, Johnson will be surrounded by people who share her enthusiasm for comic books, when the center hosts the Columbus Comic Book show.

The show, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 26, will feature comic book and toy vendors and costumed characters

For $4 a person, participants get entrance to the show as well as access to the center’s regular science exhibits and a laser show.

Think comic books are just for teenage boys? Johnson said the show attracts fans of all ages, including a fair number of female fans.

“I used to think I was the only one out there,” she said. “There’s a much larger audience of women interested in comic books and science fiction.”

Melanie Cummings always loved Star Wars growing up, but about 10 years ago she became a Spiderman fan as well, after a friend gave her the series to read while she was ill. She and her husband, Dutch, watch X-Men and Spiderman cartoons together and exchange comics.

“X-Men has such a diverse variety of characters and the story lines go so boldly between each character,” she said. “Spiderman has such a great moral compass and he’s always torn in his moral values.”

Cummings said she thinks comic books are becoming more mainstream too, with the popularity of TV shows and movies spawned from comics. She said several of her friends became interested in The Walking Dead after seeing the TV series. Cummings started reading Thor comics after the movie came out last year, and she’s also looking forward to The Avengers movie.

Johnson proudly proclaims herself a “geek,” but she said she’s come across her share of closet comic book fans.

“You’ll be at a professional conference and someone will see you have a Wonder Woman wallet and say, ‘Yeah, I read comic books, too,’” she said. “It depends on the environment.”

Cummings and Johnson said they’ve gotten frustrated in the past with the story lines of some comics and their portrayal of women. Cummings said since most female characters are busty and scantily-clad, it can be hard for the average woman wanting to dress up like her favorite character to find a costume.

“It’s kind of amazing. Even the Jedi can have skimpier outfits,” she said.

Johnson said she wasn’t a fan of the recent changes to Oracle, a character in DC’s Batgirl comics who used to be paralyzed from the waist down but was incredibly smart, she said.

“She was really a strong role model, especially for girls interested in science, technology, engineering and math,” she said. “They changed her and made her walk again, and now she’s no longer a mastermind of the computer world.”

But there are a variety of good comics out there for readers of all ages, Johnson and Cummings said. Comics are rated similarly to movies, and Cummings advises parents shopping for their kids to look at a comic’s rating before buying.

Johnson recommended Marvel Kids and Star Wars for preteens and the Owly comics by Andy Runton for young children. The comic about the adventures of a young owl tells its story mostly in pictures with minimal dialogue.

“It’s a different side of comic books,” she said. “It’s brilliant to be able to communicate like that without words.”

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