During the week, Tim Kupin debugs lines of code for a living, but on the weekends he dons a Steelers jersey, loads up his red GMC work van with comic books, and becomes his alter-ego, Koop the comic salesman. As Koop, Kupin spends his off-time driving across the country, selling comics at conventions. He has been to Wizard World Chicago. He has been to Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find, in Charlotte. He has been to Comicon International in San Diego. Like Johnny Cash, he’s been everywhere, man.
Today, Koop is on his way to the Big AppleCon in New York City. It is eight in the morning on a Thursday and he is zipping up I-95, weaving through traffic, his van packed from front to back, thousands of pounds overweight with magazine boxes full of comic books. Full of focus and fire Koop is driving while drinking a coffee, smoking a cigarette, and scanning radio stations for football news. His phone rings.
“God damn it! Of all the times! People know that I am busy right now!”
He puts the lit cigarette between his teeth, switches the coffee to his left hand, and answers the phone with his right.
He is driving with his knee.
“I’ll be there in three hours if you stop harassing me! You’d better not give away my spot to anyone else. I have to go. I’ve got miles to make.”
He chain-smokes the rest of the way. Sometimes he talks about his favorite artists: Dan Decarlo. Steve Ditko. Frank Frazetta. The list is long but so is the drive so he has time to pontificate.
“This was back in the 60s and 70s, before all that digital art that they do now. You look at those old Heavy Metal covers, Frazetta is as good as any ‘real artist’ in any gallery.” You can hear the quotation marks around “real artist” in the way he says it.
After an extended bout of cursing inside the Lincoln Tunnel, Koop reaches New York and begins to bully his way through the Manhattan traffic.
“You can’t fuck around out here. If you use your turn signals it just advertises your moves. People just try to cut around, like this asshole here!” He lays on the horn and accelerates, blocking a little Geo Metro as it tries to get in front of him.
Twenty minutes later Koop pulls up beside the Hotel Pennsylvania, where the convention is being held. Several young men run up and begin to help him unload his van. They take boxes and boxes full of books and load them onto dollies, then ride them up a freight elevator and into the building. All afternoon Koop is running back and forth, yelling at people, directing his helpers where to place boxes, how to set up display walls, how the tables should be arranged.
Every few yards, a different dealer is making similar choices. Colorful banners are going up everywhere. The smell of capitalism at its most basic is wafting through the air. Walls and display racks are being covered in books illustrated with vivid cartoon heroes clad in capes and spandex; saving the world. Koop is frantic. His skin is as red as his hair. He is sweating profusely.
“Get that off of there, don’t you know how to alphabetize? Are you a moron? You’re a moron, aren’t you?”
He fumes and rages the entire set up. People who know him well enough laugh quietly, and say things like:
“Look at Koop, he’s Hulking out!”
“He becomes the red Hulk when he’s mad!”
And he seems mad pretty often. At last, all of the set-up is finished and Koop can check into his hotel room and take a shower before grabbing some food. He doesn’t want to sightsee in Manhattan. All he wants is a pizza and some rest before the show opens on Friday.
“I mostly do this as a hobby, but it is hard to turn a profit selling comic books. People try to act all buddy-buddy so that they can get a good deal, but if they got that price they would just turn around and try to sell it for the original price I wanted. I decide what the deals are around here. Anyone who doesn’t like it can go kick rocks.”
Big AppleCon will be a hectic three-day adventure. There will be panels where fans get to hear talks from the creators of their favorite comic books. B and C-list actors from the 70s and 80s will be signing autographed black-and-white glossy photos of themselves. In the Dealer room, crowds of people dressed as superheroes and carrying wish lists a mile long will totter up to Koop and ask something like:
“Do you have Incredible Hulk #181?”
To which Koop will respond, “The first appearance of Wolverine? Yeah, it’s on the wall over there. $450.”
“$450 for that beat up copy? It’s faded and has some kid’s name written on it. How about $275?”
“How’s about I set fire to it and then put it out with my piss? Then you can have it for $275. I’d feed it to my dog for $275.”
At the end of the show, Koop has made almost $8,000. It is a good sum, but he has to cover hotel bills, gas, food, and paying his helpers. And of course, buy more comic books.
“Look at this!” He reveals an issue of the Fantastic Four from the late nineteen-sixties. “Jack Kirby does the art and it has an appearance of the Silver Surfer, my favorite character.”
Packing up the remains of his collection, Koop almost looks pleased with the outcome of the show. When he has moved the last cart-full of comics from the freight elevator to the curbside and into his vehicle, he pays his workers and gets in his van. As he drives away you can almost see him turning back into his mild-mannered alter-ego, Tim Kupin.
Until next weekend, that is.