By BRIAN BOHNERT
SENIOR STAFF WRITER
NOVI, Mich. — In 1996, Ming Chen attended his first Motor City Comic Con as a wide-eyed fan at the Dearborn Civic Center.
Twenty years later, he returned as a featured guest.
“About two months after I started getting back into comics, I heard there was this local comic book convention called the Motor City Comic Con,” Chen said to a large crowd Friday inside the Suburban Collection Showplace. “… The crazy thing is that was 20 years ago. Here I am back as a guest.”
Chen, a Euclid, Ohio native and graduate of the University of Michigan, costars on AMC’s hit reality TV series “Comic Book Men” alongside his real-life coworkers Mike Zapcic, Bryan Johnson, Walt Flanagan and director Kevin Smith.
But on Friday, Chen and Zapcic took a day off from their duties at Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash to host a special Q&A panel on the show, their SModcast.com podcast, “I Sell Comics!” and what it’s like to work with Smith and Jason Mewes — the stars of “Clerks,” “Clerks 2” and “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.”
Of all the questions posed to the duo Friday afternoon, perhaps the most insightful one came early on, when one woman asked Chen and Zapcic who got them their first comic book and if they remembered what it was.
For Chen, it was The Avengers #214 — a gift from one of his classmates when he was just 6 years old.
“Right on the cover there’s a picture of Iron Man being taken down by the Ghost Rider, and in the back are Captain America and Tigra looking shocked,” he said. “That cover blew me away. At 6 years old, I didn’t know what that was.”
Comics have always been a part of Zapcic’s life, but the earliest memory he has of reading one also goes back to his childhood when his father brought him a beaten-up, coverless copy of All Star Comics #60
“I’d been sick all weekend and my dad had gone to a flea market and bought me a stack of comics for $1,” Zapcic recalled. “None of them had any covers on them, but that got me hooked on comics. It was awesome.”
Zapcic’s father again contributed to his son’s love of comic books two years ago — this time, though, under rather tragic circumstances.
“My father passed away about two years ago, and he gave me and my brothers a little bit of money. I checked with my wife, because that’s what a good husband does,” he said. “I said, ‘Something came in the Stash that we personally wouldn’t have bought because it was a little too much money. But I want it.'”
The grab: One copy of Fantastic Four #1 and one copy of The Amazing Spider-Man #1 — both signed by Stan Lee, creator of Marvel Comics.
The duo also announced their show, which airs on Sundays after “The Walking Dead,” has officially been picked up for a sixth season with filming set to begin the week of July 4.