Interview: ‘Comic Book Men’ Highlights Friendship, Small Business

Cast member Ming Chen talks to LifeZette about season six of AMC series

by Zachary Leeman | Updated 10 Feb 2017 at 7:48 AM

Reality television doesn’t have the best reputation. The first “unscripted” shows that typically crawl through people’s minds when the subject is broached are “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” or the thankfully long-gone “Jersey Shore” — shows that promoted a vanity and talentless level of celebrity that hinged on people’s “branding” of themselves and acting out in outrageous fashion.

Other reality shows like “Survivor” or “Big Brother” work off of gimmicks and games that push the limits of people’s physical and mental boundaries.

It’s about four friends running a small business — a comic shop called Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, located in Red Bank, New Jersey.

Not all reality television is like this. About to premiere the second half of its sixth season on AMC (“The Walking Dead,” “Better Call Saul”) this Sunday at midnight is “Comic Book Men.”

The series is simple when compared to other reality shows. It’s about four friends running a small business: a comic shop called Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, in Red Bank, New Jersey.

The store was originally opened by filmmaker Kevin Smith (“Clerks”), who makes appearances on the show when he asks his good friends Bryan Johnson, Walt Flanagan, Mike Zapcic, and Ming Chen about their daily lives buying and selling comic books and vintage toys.

Cast member Ming Chen took some time to chat with LifeZette about what makes the show different and what has led to its long-running success with viewers.

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"It's pretty insane," Chen told LifeZette of the show's popularity — it's one of AMC's longest-running shows.

He chalks the popularity partly up to the authenticity of "Comic Book Men" when compared to other, more shallow unscripted shows.

"All five of us get to be ourselves," he said. "A lot of people can relate to that." Being "themselves" includes having conversations deeply rooted in pop culture about comic books and films and going on outings together, such as when they visited a "Jaws"-themed museum in season five, or when they made their way to a KISS concert with painted faces in season four.

In other words — at the heart of the show is friendship. Whether they are playfully insulting each other or making each other laugh, "Comic Book Men" is all about four guys with a genuine connection.

"I think everybody has a group of friends like me," said Chen. The other side of the show is the actual business. Keeping a comic book shop alive in 2017 is no easy task, and watching the crew master the niche market is a wonderful nod to small businesses everywhere.

Related: 'Lego Batman' Goes Light, Superhero Genre Goes Dark

Chen said it's also the rare items that come in that can be appealing to viewers. "We'll at least have one or two toys you owned back in the day," he said. Seeing the vintage toys can bring back fond memories for many viewers; however, "if you want that toy back, instead of being $10 or $20, it's going to run you $200-$500."

"Comic Book Men" is also known for its major guest stars. "Spider-Man" and "X-Men" creator Stan Lee has stopped by the shop multiple times, and actors like Dean Cain have made sure to head to New Jersey to meet the guys in past episodes.

Upcoming guests include "The Karate Kid" actor Ralph Macchio, and "Arrow" actress Katrina Law.

"We're just lucky," said Chen. "We're lucky to have these cool people come in."

While some reality shows use shock value to find viewers or arguably lower the standards of what qualifies as entertainment to nab ratings and headlines, "Comic Book Men" finds success through highlighting a small business, displaying genuine friendship — and topping it all with an extra helping of nostalgia.

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