WILDWOOD - If anyone thought Ken and Joe Navarro did not know their comic books, one look at their T-shirts - X-Men and Iron Man - might change that opinion.

The brothers from Doylestown, Pa., browsed through bins of $1 comic books, hunting for an underpriced gem at the Sports Card, Toy, Comic & Collectibles show at the Wildwoods Convention Center, hosted by RK Sports Promotions.

An artist, Joe Navarro, 30, appreciates the artwork in comic books but also the political satire and the take on world events.

"You can find a lot of political stuff reflected in the comic books. It's a media outlet for artists," he said.

The Wildwood show, which opened Friday and runs through Sunday, represents an industry still seeing the effects of a struggling economy.

Show organizer Rob Gomberg said the economy may affect what average people spend, but does not dampen their enthusiasm for collecting.

"People still enjoy collecting their favorite players and teams. There's high end and low end in this hobby," he said. "Of Michael Vick, there are $1 cards and $100 cards."

And there are some downright bizarre cards and collectibles too, such as "Flying Nun" trading cards signed by Sally Field, and a collection of "Planet of the Apes" cards. There were assortments of blue plastic Smurfs, including one using a rotary telephone.

Sports collector and businessman Mario Russo, 47, of Bound Brook, expects to sell $4,000 in sports cards and collectibles during the three-day show. Russo also owns a catering business, and he sometimes finds ways to merge both ventures.

Russo said the sports collectibles have not been attracting as many children as in the past, partly due to baseball games that start after 9 p.m., expensive decks of cards and players strikes.

One thing driving today's vintage, higher-end collectors is card condition. A highly graded card can still fetch a premium, he said.

Many who got into the hobby did so as children, as did Russo, whose mother was president of the local Little League and gave him a pack of cards for helping clean the concession stand.

He would call the sports collectibles a side business, but he jokes that he spends as much time with it as his primary occupation. "This is my retirement plan," he said.

Contact Brian Ianieri:

609-272-7253