Remember 7-Eleven in the 1980s? The ubiquitous convenience-store chain was something of a temple of sorts for kids like me who grew up during the era of Pac Man and Reaganomics.
Was it the day-old hot dogs that lured me into the brightly-lit snack shack? Nope.
Was it the allure of icy smooth flavorful Slurpee’s that drew me back to the orange and green? Wrong again.
The thing that I saved my quarters for was not Big Gulps or Snickers bars (well, maybe a few Snickers bars). What I craved – even more than the sugar – was comic books. The comic book was somewhat of a deity to me back in the day.
And the spinner rack was a shrine.
Comics specialty stores popped up in the 1990’s and they quickly became the new destination for geeks to get their weekly fantasy fix. Though the comic industry peaked in the mid nineties, and independent comic book stores started to disappear, you could still find your favorite funny books in national bookstores like Barnes and Noble and Border’s.
However, it became harder for the loyal, die-hard comic book fans to locate a shop that understood them, attended to their nerdy needs and didn’t have associates that resembled ‘Comic book Guy’ Jeff Albertson from the Simpsons animated television show. A good comic shop needs to cater to that resiliently loyal fanbase who loves comics, yet still be inviting enough for the casual customers who don’t know the difference between Kryptonite and a cryptogram.
True believers, I have found such a place: Super-Fly Comics in Yellow Springs.
Thacher Cleveland and Anthony Barry, co-owners of Super-Fly, talked to DMM about their love of the comics medium, the mechanics of a good ( and bad) comic book movie and the future of the industry.
DMM: Tell me about how you got started selling comics?
TC: We both used to work over at Dark Star Comics and Used Books. We made the owner an offer to buy her new comic business –her subscription services and the stock — and move it over here into a separate store. She wanted to focus more on used books, and things of that nature. She accepted, and we brought it over here. It’s grown since then.
DMM: When was this?
Thacher Cleveland: This was August of 2007.
DMM: So, were you guys always comic book fans?
TC: Yeah, definitely.
Anthony Barry: I don’t even remember a time in my life when there weren’t comics around.
TC: We actually have what I am 98% sure was my first comic that I had ever got on display [in the store]: An issue of Batman that my mother had bought for me when I was home sick from school one day…I was probably 8 or 9 years-old. That’s sort of my first distinct memory of getting and reading a comic. It sort of grew from there.
DMM: When did you start working at Dark Star?
TC: I started working there in 2002, and began managing in 2004.
AB:  was when I got hired over there.
DMM: Is it safe to describe you guys as comic book geeks?
AB: Oh yeah! [Laughs.]
TC: Yeah, we’re pretty much into a lot of geeky stuff in general. When you’ve been around them and enjoy reading them as much as we do, it just becomes sort of a lifestyle.
DMM: Comic books have always had a stigma as being for kids. What’s the average age of the people who walk through your doors?
TC: It’s hard to say. I would say that a lot of our regulars are guys over 18. We don’t see as many younger kids as we would like. For the most part, its become less of a “Hey, comics are for kids” and more of the notion that comics are for people that enjoy reading them. Even a lot of our casual guys are of the older variety.
DMM: What was the concept for the store early on?
TC: We wanted a comic shop that was really inclusive for everyone. There’s a stereotype of comic shops as being, you know, dark and dungeous. It couldn’t be a comic shop just for “us” or people that weren’t willing to devote every second of their day to comics.
Comics aren’t just superheroes. There’s so much other stuff out there. There’s all kinds of fun genres being explored. There are historical stories being told. Autobiographical stories being told. It’s so diverse. We wanted a shop to be as diverse as the comics medium is. That was pretty much our goal going into it.
So far, people seem to be responding to that. And we appreciate it.
DMM: We’ve seen a lot of comic book movies, in the last decade or so. What’s your opinion of Hollywood’s love affair with comic book characters?
TC: I think it’s great when [the studios] treat the source material respectfully. I think a lot more movies, nowadays, are being made by people who understand and enjoy the comics. You have more people working in the entertainment industry that grew up on comics than the previous generations.
When they’re done well with a keen eye towards staying true to the source material, then it’s fine. In a lot of cases, it increases people’s exposure to comics. When the Watchmen movie came out, we had so many people wanting to come in and get the graphic novel to read before they saw the movie.
AB: It’s a mixed bag. We saw exponential sales with the Watchmen film. We don’t tend to see as much of a bump with movies like Iron Man. Those are characters that are already known. Sometimes, and I’m looking at the movie Wanted, for example, the movies can do a disservice when they change the story so much that it’s almost unrecognizable. People come in and go,”Hey, I want to read the book that the movie was about.” And, the movie was dramatically different from the book. That’s not doing anyone any favors.
DMM: With devices — like Apple’s iPad– distributing comics electronically, are there any concerns from you guys regarding the future of the bricks-and-mortar comic book retail store?
TC: That’s probably the number one question that comic retailers across the country are wrestling with. I think what it comes down to is this: If you have a good shop– a shop that people like coming to– then you’ll be fine. If you’re providing them a good experience, have a good selection of product and you’re friendly, then people will come back.
There are always gonna be people that want something for free…or for less. But I like to think that we provide a really good experience and a good environment. I hope that people browse through the free and cheap stuff [on the iPad] from the ‘Big Two’ (Marvel and DC) and see something they like and start looking for a good shop.
AB: I’ve yet to see a digital reader I’m satisfied with…although, it’s just a matter of time before that comes along. Also, a lot of comics readers are into the ‘collectability’ of comics and possessing [the books.] There’s really no replacement for coming into a store and talking to people who know what they’re talking about. They ability for someone to recommend books or just have someone to share your experiences with…you can’t replace that. The customer/shopkeeper relationship that develops over time is certainly better than any computer.
DMM: What, do you think, is Super-Fly’s competitive advantage over other comic shops?
TC: Again, I would say selection and customer service. We’ve also received a lot of feedback from our customers that they like the way our store looks; they like the way us and our staff treat them. We special order for people. We ship, for free, within Ohio for people who can’t make it to Yellow Springs. We try to put in as much effort as we can to making the entire experience really good. I hope that all shops are doing that.
AB: We provide a quality experience. The competition isn’t just other comic shops — it’s online, digital retailers and sites like Amazon. You really have to provide a unique experience. Like Thacher said, we special order things for people all the time. But even if we can’t get it for them, we’ll tell them where they can. We’ll at least make the connection for them. I feel, that’s what people value the most; we assist them in finding what they’re looking for.
Super-Fly Comics is located at 132 Dayton Street in Yellow Springs, Ohio. You can reach them at (937) 767-1445 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday & Tuesday Noon – 7pm
Wednesday through Saturday 11am – 8pm
Sunday Noon – 7pm
“Tell ’em DaytonMostMetro.com sent ya!”
The author wishes to thank these two gentleman for their time. He would also like to add that, despite his attempts, he has yet to successfully develop a method of irradiating spiders in an effort to gain super strength. He also believes that microwaving spiders was probably not a good idea.