By JAN HOGAN
VIEW STAFF WRITER
DonKarter,64, grew up in an era without television.
"It was back when people sat down and read the newspaper," he said. "The comics would come inside them each Sunday. I remember my dad reading the comics to me as a little kid, before I was old enough to read. It's one of my earliest memories."
His fascination continued until he and his brother Tim, 51, opened Dreamwell Comics, tucked behind a 7-11, at 5706 W. Charleston Blvd. Come December, the store will celebrate its 30th year.
Tim Karter recalled getting a side job in case the store didn't fly.
"I thought maybe we'd be here three or four years. It was when comic books stores were pretty new and I wasn't sure there were enough people in Las Vegas to support it."
Don Karter also had another job for many years, working as a sports book cashier at the El Rancho. After the casino closed in 1992, he devoted his full time to the shop.
Dreamwell began with an inventory of about 4,000 comics, mostly titles like "Batman," "Superman," and war comics like "Sergeant Rock."
There were also Archie ones, Lassie comics and westerns like "Roy Rogers" and "Have Gun Will Travel."
Today, the 700-square-foot store has roughly 16,000 comic books, many of them in the dozens of long boxes on shelves which reach up to one's waist. Each long box holds 300 books.
The walls are covered with books attached to peg boards. No matter where they are located, each comic is in an acid-free plastic cover, often with a stiff card to ensure they are not damaged.
Robert Lewis, who works for the police department, is a dedicated customer and orders books almost every week. In his 20 years as a collector, he's amassed an estimated 200,000 comic books.
Lewis' 6-year-old daughter Emily seems to be latching onto the hobby.
"Every night, after her bath time, we'll sit down and read together," he said. "She likes Archie and anything Disney."
Although he's a dedicated customer at Dreamwell, Lewis said he sometimes toys with the idea of opening a comic book store himself.
"Most comic book collectors don't want to part with them, but it's easier to do, knowing you'll make money," he said.
While most of the comics at Dreamwell cost $2.99, those with a little history to them might run $10, $20, or higher. The most expensive one the shop ever carried cost $600, an issue of "Amazing Spider-Man."
Don Karter flipped open a catalog showing the going prices for old comics. The most expensive one was more than half a million dollars in near mint condition. In its pages was the first appearance of a new hero named Superman. The year was 1938.
"But Batman was always my favorite," he said. "Most superheroes had super powers but he was a regular person. Sure, he studied kung fu and stuff but he used his head to fight crime and he was against killing. He was more like a detective and I liked that about him."
He recalled being a little kid and grabbing a flashlight before going to bed. Lights out didn't apply to flashlights if you were huddled under your blankets reading a comic book, he said.
His first comic books cost 10 cents a piece, a stretch even with his allowance.
"When they went up to 12 cents, I said to myself, 'Omigod, how am I ever going to afford them?' " he recalled.
But somehow, he did, and they kept piling up next to his bed until his school ran a paper drive. Then his 100-book pile would thin out to all but the latest ones and his collection would begin all over again.
Even though television came to the Karter household when he was 13, the illustrated, fast-moving books continued to be his favorite reading material. When he left for Vietnam at 18, he gave his brother, Tim, who is 13 years his junior, all his comics.
These days, video games and iPods have replaced comic books for a lot of youngsters. Most of the store's clients are adults, who pre-order the newest editions. Dreamwell holds their selections in slots behind the counter, sort of like post office boxes.
"We had kids come in here starting when they were 4 or 5 years old," Don Karter said. "Now that they're all grown up, they bring in their own kids."
By JOHN PRZYBYS
It has been a boffo year at the box office for movie characters who began their lives as colored drawings on the printed page.
From the surprisingly solid "Iron Man" to the goofy charm of "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" and "The Incredible Hulk" to the record-shattering bottom line posted by "The Dark Knight," summer has been a banner season for cinematic stories of comic book-based heroes.
But that doesn't mean moviegoers who met -- or became reacquainted with -- Batman and Co. on the silver screen are searching out the comics that inspired them.
"It's not as cut and dried as that, what might stimulate (comics) sales versus what might not," says Jim Brocius, owner of Cosmic Comics, 3330 E. Tropicana Ave., who has not noticed any bump in sales from recent superhero movie adaptations.
Not Spider-Man. Not the Hulk. Not even Superman or Batman. Movie fans might enjoy their superhero movies, but they generally aren't compelled to then see what they've been missing on the printed page.
The last case of significant movie-to-comic crossover came with the 1989 release of Tim Burton's "Batman," which created off-screen interest in pretty much anything Batman, recalls Tim Karter, co-owner of Dreamwell Comics, 5706 W. Charleston Blvd.
One obstacle to movie theater-to-comic store traffic is a blind spot in studios' marketing that can prevent moviegoers from even knowing that the movie they're watching has comic book antecedents, notes Derrick Taylor, owner of Comic Oasis, 3121 N. Rainbow Blvd.
Often, Taylor says, the moviegoer will learn only months later, while watching the film's DVD extras, that, for instance, this summer's Angelina Jolie/Morgan Freeman "Wanted" film is based on a comic.
"I'd say at least once a week I'll get someone come in and say, 'I didn't know they made comic books anymore,' " Taylor says.
Another reason moviegoers may not seek out comic books is because they assume they already know everything they need to know about a Superman or a Batman.
Yet, fans still may opt to investigate characters they don't know as well.
Iron-Man, for example, always has been a B-list player compared to such Marvel Comics mainstays as the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. So, the Robert Downey Jr. film adaptation introduced many moviegoers to the character, and some followed up by checking out Iron-Man comics, notes Ralph Mathieu, owner of Alternate Reality Comics, 4800 S. Maryland Parkway.
"I get the sense that if people don't know of or never heard of a character and see the movie, then they become interested in the source material, the comic," Karter agrees.
That also goes for stories that don't revolve around superheroes. For example, "Road to Perdition," "V for Vendetta" and "Sin City" all were successful movies based on comics or graphic novels that, Mathieu says, did draw moviegoers into comic stores after the theater lights went up.
The situation may improve for comic book stores with the scheduled release next year of "Watchmen," based on a 12-part mid-'80s comics series that deconstructs the superhero myth. The movie is so avidly anticipated that the mere release of its trailer a few weeks ago was enough to prompt a spike in the book's sales.
" 'Watchmen' is a perennial best-seller anyway. I've always sold five a week, maybe three a week," Taylor says. "But the day the trailer ran we sold 20 copies."
"Watchmen" is "just such a well-regarded" book, he continues. "It's better than most comic books out there. It's better than a lot of books out there. I always say if I can get someone to read 'Watchmen,' they'll be a comic book person forever."
So the potential still exists that a film might lead moviegoers to discover that comics and graphic novels can be home to compelling storytelling and sophisticated themes.
"I think the good that comes from it is that it does wake people up to the notion that there are some really good stories out there," Brocius says. "And everybody likes a good story."