Southern California Fires' Effects on Comics

Tue, October 23rd, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Jonah Weiland, Executive Producer/Publisher

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The fires currently raging in Southern California continue to affect thousands of residents over a region that spans from Santa Barbara on down to Southern San Diego. The situation is dire and tragic, with hundreds of homes destroyed in the Lake Arrowhead region, numerous homes and businesses destroyed in Malibu and in the Santa Clarita Valley region just north of Los Angeles. The worst hit area of Southern California is San Diego, where more than 1,200 homes and business have been lost thus far to the wildfires. With many fires still out of control and no containment in site, the danger remains high in Southern California as many residents flee their homes for the safety of friends' and shelters throughout the region.

The Southern California area is also home to hundreds of comics professionals, publishers and retail stores. CBR News spent Tuesday afternoon getting in touch with many members of the comics community and will continue to check in with professionals and retailers as the situation develops.

Los Angeles

Comic Book Resources calls Los Angeles home, but most of the local members of the CBR staff live within the city limits or north of Downtown in the San Fernando Valley, which is not directly affected by the LA-area fires.

Google Maps graphic displaying all the fires currently burning in Southern California

The fires raging north of the San Fernando Valley in Santa Clarita Valley have affected the owners of popular retailer Brave New World Comics in the Newhall area of Santa Clarita. From its location on Lyons Avenue, flames could be seen but never threatened their store. Proprietor Atom! and his family were forced to evacuate their rural Santa Clairta home Monday, but were able to get back to it early this morning and were relieved to find it was spared.

"Our house was not burnt, but not ten feet from our house is a dog house and antique outhouse which did burn to the ground," Atom told CBR News Tuesday afternoon. "The fire seems to have shifted away from our home, but we'll see what happens. Really, it doesn't look like there's that much more fuel that could burn near our house, but driving up to it was scary as there were still embers falling on the road around us."

San Diego

While the situation in Los Angeles may be relatively calm right now, the fires in San Diego have wreaked havoc over the region with thousands of homes and business destroyed and an estimated 500,000 individuals on mandatory evacuations. Numerous comics publishers and businesses call San Diego home.

Fires currently burning in the San Diego area

CBR News spoke with IDW Publishing Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall, who said their offices in Bay Park, just down and across the Interstate 5 freeway - a major traffic artery in Southern California-is not at risk, but a number of employees of the company have evacuated their homes.

"The fire isn't too close to where I live, but it's also not that far away either," Ryall told CBR News. "We're gathering all our financial stuff together per the suggestions of the fire department and I'm heading home to give my wife some added piece of mind."

A call to the Comic-Con International offices in San Diego Tuesday afternoon was met with a recording announcing that due to the fires the offices would be closed until Tuesday morning at 9:00 AM. CBR News spoke with Comic-Con Marketing Director David Glanzer who said the offices remain closed due to poor air quality and will likely stay that way until Thursday.

"We're taking things day-by-day, assessing the situation as it develops," said Glanzer. "Some people with Comic-Con had to be evacuated and others are waiting to hear if they'll be evacuated. I do know that one person with Comic-Con has lost their home."

Glanzer said that while the individual who lost their home is safe, they had not been able to contact the individual at press time to get permission to reveal their name.

Glanzer himself lives in the South Bay region of San Diego County, near Bonita, which is under a mandatory evacuation due to the raging San Miguel fire that's affecting the Chula Vista area, one of the fastest growing communities in the United States over the last 10 years. "I live in a community that's about three miles from the fire and we're right now holding our own at home and are under a voluntary evacuation," said Glanzer. "I've been living in San Diego since I was a kid, but I've never seen anything like this."

"Supernatural Law" creator Batton Lash and his wife Jackie Estrada, the administrator of the Eisner Comics Industry awards, live in the middle of the City of San Diego, which is currently not threatened by the fires. Estrada told CBR News she was well and has heard that the La Jolla region of San Diego, home to the headquarters of Wildstorm, is also unaffected.

A Monday morning blog post made by former Wildstorm Executive Editor Scott Dunbier notes the fire came very close to his home in San Marcos, which has been evacuated, but that they're safe for the time being. "As of right now the fire is not coming closer to us; we've gotten no reverse 911 call that instructs residents to get out fast," Dunbier said. "The smoke is getting closer but the news says the fire in our area has 'calmed down.' We've packed up important papers, photo albums, artwork, external hard-drive, trying to figure out what are the most important to us. It's a very slow 'Sophie's Choice,' picking out what we love and need the most. One I hope we don't have to make."

The effects of the fire can be seen from this photo taken outside Dunbier's home

At San Diego's largest comic shop, Comickaze, located about 15 miles north of the downtown Convention Center that plays home to Comic-Con International, business goes on as usual. Store owner Robert Scott said he's not expecting any problems. "The winds have turned around, so as long as it doesn't switch again, it should stay away from us," Scott told CBR News.

Scott also noted that with the closure of the Interstate 15 freeway --a major artery that goes from San Diego to Los Angeles and then on to Las Vegas-- comics are not likely to be delivered to San Diego area retailers this Wednesday. A call to Diamond Comics Distributors Tuesday afternoon was not returned by press time.

Rob North of Pair A Dice Games & Comics in Vista, posted on the Comic Book Industry Alliance that their store is under an evacuation advisory, as is his home, with one fire only five miles south-east, although he's confident both his home and business are okay. North also said that at the moment, he doesn't believe any comics or game stores have been lost. "Rising Sun in Carmel Mtn and Artifex in Mira Mesa are under mandatory evacuation as they are closest to the fires and in the most danger," North said in his post. "Comic Gallery in Escondido and Sky High comics in San Marcos are both in the mandatory evacuation zone, but are relatively safe (knock on wood)."

UPDATE 5:30 PM 10/23 - CBR News spoke with three more members of the San Diego comics community Tuesday evening. Wildstorm founder and Editorial Director Jim Lee wrote to say that their offices aren't at risk and while about 15% of the company's employees have been forced to evacuate, everyone is safe and accounted for. "There was a big, but smaller fire, back in 2003 and the city and county learned from their mistakes and the evacs have gone pretty smoothly as the 911 reverse calling system calls people at their homes with notifications to move out as the fires change direction and threatens new neighborhoods," Lee told CBR News. "Shelters are well run. I saw on the news that there were as many volunteers at Qualcomm stadium as there were displaced people. I'm actually buying supplies to take down to the shelter. Apparently handi-wipes are a needed item as people don't have access to showers and need to clean off. Tons of people were forced out of their homes, but the losses have been primarily property with about 1000 homes destroyed. But estimates are still vague.

"I'm close to the ocean so we've been unaffected except for the smoke, heat and general bad air conditions. Eyes are perpetually raw etc., and the headaches from the poor air quality make working a bit more difficult," added Lee. "You can't get away from the smoke, even indoors."

Lee noted that despite the hot temperatures in the Southland, he and his family aren't running their air conditioning and they're trying to run as few appliances as possible to conserve energy - much of the Southern California power grid has been negatively affected and overwhelmed due to the fires.

Lee said the air quality on Sunday was so bad that he had to end his normal drawing hours early that night and laid down with water compresses on his eyes. "I'm sure it was made worse by the fact that I was at my daughter's riding event in Del Mar earlier that Sunday afternoon," said Lee. "That valley was sucking in a lot of hot air and smoke from the large fires due east and the skies were a dark gray with ash and leaves, with debris flying about from the heavy winds as the sun burned a dark red in the hazy sky. It started up fast and got bad quickly. I can't imagine how awful it would be to be closer and feel the intense heat and smoke."

CBR News also heard from Colorist Alex Sinclair, whose family went through this four years ago during the Cedar Fire. Even though the fire came within half a mile of his house in 2003, their home was spared, although many of his friends lost their homes. These current fires have been a very eery reminder for Sinclair and his family of what they went through in 2003. "These fires started Sunday with the exact same conditions as the Cedar Fire, so my wife and I kept the news on with the hopes that the fires would not flare up," Sinclair told CBR News. "We did pack up our pictures and videos that night just in case we got roused up in the middle of the night by the police. I had to stay up late finishing 'Superman' #670, going to bed at around three in the morning. When I woke up the next day, the sky was dark and the smell in the air brought back some scary memories. I had an issue of 'Wonder Woman' to get to so after packing a few more things into the car, I sat down to work, letting a couple folks at DC know that I may have to be evacuated. Around 3PM we got the evacuation notice, so we got all the kids and my computer into the car and took off for the beach. A friend of mine was kind enough to let us borrow a summer rental property he owns, which is where we spent the night. I had only completed five pages of 'Wonder Woman' #14, so the rest of the issue was reassigned. During the afternoon news conference, the mayor announced that Scripps Ranch was cleared and all residents of that city could return home. I am writing this to you from home, having just rebooted my machine. I have to say that these experiences do help place things into perspective. I left a ton of stuff behind in evacuating, but I had what really mattered with me - my family."

We also spoke with Scott Dunbier Tuesday evening, who provided CBR with an update on his situation. The San Marcos fire, where Dunbier lives, has been 100% contained and the threat has been neutralized and residents of the more than 4000 residences in his area have been allowed to return home. He noted that the Fallbrook fire, to the north-east of San Marcos, has grown, but the mandatory evacuation area is still about five miles away from their home. "The good news is, at least where we are, the wind has died down considerably," said Dunbier.

Dunbier also provided good news about another member of the San Diego comics community. "My good friend Scott Williams lives in an area evacuated yesterday. I spoke with him 20 minutes ago and he's back home. From what he said, his was one of two areas where people were allowed to return today."

The fires affecting the Southern California area continue to rage. As this is a developing story, CBR News will update as new information comes in and we encourage anyone affected by these fires to contact CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland at jonah@comicbookresources.com or by phone at 818-985-6688.

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