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The Life of a Comic Book Store

*One of the coolest courses I took in Grad School was Magazine Design. By the end of the semester we created an entire magazine and this was my Lead Feature story for my Magazine.*

Zeb Carbaugh

Magazine Design, Lead Feature

November 17, 2016

The Life of a Comic Book Store

Like the ancient Greeks with their stories of powerful gods, our society has created countless universes filled with great heroic tales in our comic books. And like the ancient Greek gods, the stories of valor and bravery that comic books have bestowed upon our culture for almost a century have shaped us as a people. The minds of our society’s children have been molded by these issues of mere ink and paper. Grown adults relive the magic of reading comics every day and there is a place we all anchor these character-defining tales. A comic book store is a place of wonder. Fans practically salivate at the very thought of going to the comic book store and flipping through those wondrous pages. But what really goes on in this magical place when you aren’t there? What kind of people go into this business? And what does it take to make a run of the mill shop into an amazing comic book store?

Captain Sweatpants

captain sweatpants

Most comic book stores can be found amongst the Panda Express, Auntie Anne’s, and Spencer’s Gift stores in malls. But that doesn’t mean you’ll find your typical mall patron inside the comic book store. Usually, they are filled with sweatpants wearing fanboys. Those fanboys might be there for a particular comic issue, to start up a nerdy conversation with the store owner, or even to play a board game that most people have never seen before. For everyone who has never gone into a comic book store but have peaked inside with bewilderment, keep in mind that most comic book store goers won’t bite. Head on in and start a conversation with someone. If that conversation is about some old cartoon show, a comic book you’ve heard of, or a board game your kid in college has played then you will be surprised at how talkative some of them can be. It is true, most comic book store goers love talking nerd with whoever will listen. They’ve spent a good portion of their lives understanding the complexities of different comic universes and are most likely willing to share their opinion on the matter. They also project an open and accepting atmosphere. Sure, having the 1985 series Thundercats playing on a loop and showcasing dozens of action figures around the store helps start that atmosphere, but it is the shameless comic book store goers that put the icing on the cake. It is hard not to get the totally laid back sense of the place with the Captain Sweatpants look-a-like in the corner reading a Japanese manga that has a scantily clad Asian teenager on the cover. It is important to keep in mind that not everyone in a comic store is a societal pariah. That is just the standard. Regardless, if you aren’t already a comic book store regular, head on down to that comic book store in your local mall, and when it comes to the people inside, remember that they are more afraid of you than you are of them.

The Dungeon Master

dungeon master

Not every person behind the counter of a comic book store looks the same. Just like potheads, comic book store workers are surprisingly from all walks of life. Some appear as if they dread life itself, but most are willing to lend a word of their expert advice. Matt Malkus is the co-owner of Comix Universe in Hanover PA and he is not your typical store owner. Matt fell into the business 10 years ago with experience in business management but little knowledge of comic books. At first, he didn’t particularly enjoy the job but it eventually grew on him. “There is a lot more inside these comics than more people realize,” Matt says. “One day I just decided to open up an issue and I realized that there was an entire universe behind it all.” Matt realized something later in life that most comic fans have known since childhood. Then Bob Brown, a Comix Universe regular, added, “I think being a fan as an adult is more special than when being a fan as a child. As a kid, you are attracted to the action but as an adult, you can understand and grasp concepts and themes they sneak in.”

 

The Fortress of Solid Dudes

Beyond the customers and the owner, there are not just four walls and a cash register. A comic book store, in order to be successful, has to have the right atmosphere. The meticulous placement of posters, enticing videos, collectibles and the comic book issues themselves is very important to creating that welcoming environment that comic book fans yearn for on a regular basis. The other side of a comic book store’s atmosphere comes from the players of Magic the Gathering and many other card and board games. These players flock to comic book stores all across the nation to enjoy a game they enjoy in a place they love. Most people that do not go to comic book stores probably do not even realize what is going on behind the scenes of the stores, but there are people plundering miniature military compounds, fending off demons, and battling other players in the hopes of card/board game victory! Next time you are in a comic book store, take a peek behind the counter for another room. Chances are it is filled with fold out tables, chairs and a couple people going nuts over whatever their game of choice might be.

The comic book store has been a safe haven for the nerds of the world since the comic book has been in existence. The people, the employees, and the atmosphere all come together to create a place that chronicles our society’s myths and legends. Such a large portion of our society’s values started with a kid making a trip to the comic book store. Maybe you should make a trip of your own.

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