ABINGDON, Va. — For Shelton Drum, heroes truly are not hard to find.
Why, all Drum has to do is leaf through the inventory of his "Heroes Aren't Hard to Find" comic book store in Charlotte, N.C., where he maintains an inventory of nearly 1 million comic books.
There, Drum can see the faces of the Fantastic Four, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man and Captain America.
"I buy big chunks and sell big chunks," he said. "We maintain a big inventory."
But, Drum does more. He has become a consummate collector of comic commissions — including many privately-ordered paintings of superheroes by famous artists.
Now, through June 29, visitors to the William King Museum of Abingdon, Va., can view many of Drum's favorite pieces on display in "Heroes Aren't Hard to Find: The Comic Art Collection of Shelton Drum."
"This is different," Drum said. "This is production art from comic books. It's some pretty cool comic book history, and I do like to share my enthusiasm for the industry and the art form."
'My favorite stuff'
The exhibit showcases key artists from the 1950s and 1960s — up to the modern day.
"It's kind of a timeline of Shelton Drum's history and comic book history," said Callie Hietala, the curator of programming at the William King Museum.
Among the treasures are proof pages that show stories behind the ink - including notations that never made it to print.
"You can kind of see the process of creating and telling," Hietala said. "So you kind of get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what was going on while these things were created."
Like original drawings for the Fantastic Four or Conan the Barbarian.
This show also includes a 1990 portrait of Spider-Man in "Spirits of the Earth" by fantasy artist Charles Vess, who lives on the outskirts of Bristol, Va.
"It's my favorite stuff and things that I've collected on purpose over the years," Drum said.
And, he added, “I think they're a good representation of the artist and the characters from the book that they're from."
'Looking for the best'
Drum, 59, has collected specific pages from comic books.
"Every comic book has 20 or 30 pages of art," Drum said. "And not all of the pages of art are great."
"I guess the pages that are the more desirable ones picture the main character in action," he added.
Since the 1960s, when he started collecting comics and selling extra copies at flea markets, Drum has purchased art for his own collection.
"I was always looking for the best example from either that artist or that comic book that I was choosing from," Drum said.
In turn, what you see in this show "represents some pretty nice points from the history in comics," Drum added.
Besides Vess, the roster of artists included in this exhibit includes Steve Ditko, Phil Noto, David Williams, Jack Kirby, John Byrne, Jeff Smith, Gil Kane, Joe Rubinstein — and more.
'Not just pieces of art'
Neal Bramlette, the founder of Bristol's Out of Step Arts Collective, made the connection between the museum and Drum, who stages an annual "Heroes Convention" each year for comic enthusiasts.
"To Shelton, these illustrations and paintings are not just pieces of art. Each of them has significance be-yond the border of the frame it’s in or the comic book, newspaper, poster or convention booklet in which it was printed," Bramlette writes in an introduction included with the exhibit.
Hietala echoes such sentiment, as she recalls seeing various visitors react to what's on the walls.
"Parents are coming in here with their children and looking at these comics that have been passed down through the generations," Hietala said. "That's the most important thing about this exhibit. It gives those people a chance to connect over generations of comics."
You Should Know
» What: "Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find: The Comic Art Collection of Shelton Drum"
» Where: United-Legard Galleries, William King Museum, 415 Academy Drive, Abingdon, Va.
» When: Through June 29
» Info: 276-628-5005
» Web: www.williamkingmuseum.org
» Christopher Irving, a historian of comic books and popular culture, presents "Leaping Tall Buildings: The Origins of American Comics" on Thursday, April 3, 7 p.m., at the William King Museum. The free presentation features a slide show of comic book creator portraits - including Stan Lee (Spider-Man), Frank Miller (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns), Art Spiegelman, (Maus), Chris Ware (Building Stories), Harvey Pekar (American Splendor) and Dennis O’Neil (Batman).
» The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund presents "The History of Censorship in Comics" on Saturday, May 24, 2 p.m., at the William King Museum. This free show features a discussion that ranges from Fredric Wertham’s infamous "Seduction of the Innocent" as well as why comics are censored and the impact censorship has had on the comic industry.
If You Go
» Heroes Aren't Hard to Find, 1957 E. 7th St., Charlotte, N.C., 704-375-7462, www.heroesonline.com
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