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Oct. 31--Richard Holland had the intensity of a crime-fighter seeking out the city's most treacherous villain.

The 34-year-old Chicago resident was crouched on the floor Sunday morning, his fingers feverishly flicking through boxes of comic books. His mission: to flush out all X-Men comics and related titles.

"It's a sport for obsessive compulsives," said Holland, who rekindled his love of comic books while studying for the Illinois bar exam.

Holland and other fans, some with shopping lists, came to the Chicago Comic Conventions show Sunday at the Embassy Suites with hopes of finding that elusive title or simply adding to their collections. While other similar comic book shows--including the multiday Wizards World Chicago extravaganza, which drew 56,000 in August to the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont--cater to fans looking to meet artists and find new books, Sunday's event was geared toward collectors.

"It's like a big comic-book store," said Raphe Cheli, organizer of Chicago Comic Conventions.

More than 40 comic-book dealers and artists participated in Sunday's show, the third event held by Chicago Comic Conventions.

Those who wandered through the doors were among the shrinking number of enthusiasts, a reminder of an industry struggling to stay relevant among adults who lose their childhood fascination with comic books or children who find other distractions. Fewer fans translate into fewer sales, a troubling trend for everyone making a living off of comic books.

"It's in a bit of a slump," said Don Kramer, a DC Comics artist. "I am hoping it will pick back up."

Oscar Martin of Chicago arrived with two firm directives: to find as many Amazing Spider-Man issues as he could to finish his collection, and to cap spending at $75.

"I want a complete run of Spider-Man from 1 to 100," said Martin, 31, a graphics student at the International Academy of Design and Technology. "Those are the ones I'm missing."

He found about 30 issues before running out of cash. Those will be added to his burgeoning collection of more than 600 Spider-Man issues and the more than 2,000 comic books he owns.

Not everyone rifling through boxes of books was looking to cross off items on their shopping lists.

Kristie McWilliams, 47, of Sugar Grove went from table to table with a discerning eye for design. She plans to paper one wall in her home with covers. Her hunt yielded more than 60 books, each selected for color schemes or graphics.

"I'm just looking for cool stuff," McWilliams said.

Neither do younger generations of readers, many whom, comic-book aficionados said, are being lured away. As with many comic book conventions these days, Sunday's attendance skewed heavily toward men ages 18 to 45.

For Holland, his Sunday hunt yielded a stack of X-Force comics, an X-Men spin-off series. He figured he would spend less than $100 in the end.

"It's not a title I particularly enjoy, so I'm glad they are three for $1," he said.


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