The digital age revolutionized the way most people consume print products. But for comic book enthusiasts, the comic book business has remained relatively untouched by the swing toward digital products, said area retailers.
The Sacramento Press hit the streets to sneak a peek at Sacramento’s comic book industry- visiting six stores. Each business has carved out its own niche – as part of a community of stores that support each other – in a city with a surprising number of comic book retailers.
5361 Auburn Blvd.
Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Sunday noon – 6 p.m.
A-1 Comics has been in business for nearly a quarter of a century. It’s Sacramento’s largest comic book store, said Manager Jared Rudy.
The store specializes in hard-to-find classics and back issues, but also sells tabletop games, graphic novels, anime and manga, toys and figurines. The store is housed in an old bank building, and the bank vault is used to store the most valuable comics.
“We have a terrific back issue section, and everyone here is a specialist in something different,” Rudy said.
The clientele is primarily male, but Rudy said he sees more females in the store than ever before. They are mostly interested in anime and manga – both types of Japanese comics.
One customer travels from Reno each month, because he said he can’t find any good retailers in Nevada, said Rudy.
A-1 also has an online eBay store where it sells a number of rare collectibles, including a “Fantastic Four” comic featuring the Hulk from 1971 that is listed for $2,750 and a “Turok: Son of Stone” book, printed in 1954, for just under $5,000.
Store management uses a pricing guide to determine the value of a single comic or a collection, and Rudy said the store is successful because of a reputation for being honest and fair.
Big Brother Comics
1722 J St.
Monday through Saturday 11 a.m – 8 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m – 6 p.m.
Big Brother Comics spent its first year in the K Street Mall but made the move to J Street approximately five years ago. The store focuses on graphic novels, Marvel and DC comics, but also has a significant following from customers who play “Magic” – a card game most often compared to the “Dungeons & Dragons” fantasy role-playing game.
Manager Christopher Alvarez said recent superhero films have revitalized the industry and have developed a curiosity for new comic book fans.
At 32, Alvarez said he’s a good representative of their average customer. The comic book business hit a boom in the ’90s, and that generation continues to support the business. Alvarez added that for many young people, it’s a great way to spark an interest in reading.
Alvarez said digital comics are relatively new and have yet to be embraced by comic book enthusiasts, but they can be purchased for e-readers.
“Our customers are interested in a physical product,” Alvarez said, adding that they receive new books each Wednesday, and that brings regular customers in on a weekly basis.
Empire’s Comics Vault
1120 Fulton Ave. Suite K
Monday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Tuesday 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Wednesday 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Thursday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Friday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Saturday 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Sunday noon – 5 p.m.
Empire’s Comics Vault, owned by Ben Schwartz, offers an opportunity for local artists and comic book writers to break into the comic book business. In addition to his storefront that sells mostly modern, American comic books, Schwartz operates a small publishing company, ECV Press, that prints comic books created locally. The website offers information about how to become an artist or writer with the company as well as links to free digital comic books.
“He draws together the local community of artists and writers because he’s very passionate about it,” said Ronnie Ledesma, marketing consultant for the store.
Ledesma said Schwartz sets his business apart from others through a podcast about comics, pop culture and comic-related films. Schwartz also hosts the Sacramento Comic Book Creators group every Tuesday at his store, where artists and writers can hone their skills.
The store carries a large stock of back-issue comics and graphic novels, but staff refer most tabletop gamers to Great Escape Games.
Empire’s Comics Vault has an interesting mix of customers. Mick Martin, a Sacramento blues musician, is a frequent customer, and members from the local band Seeker are regulars as well. Film students from Natomas recently covered the relaunch of DC Comics – and it’s all because of the the community Schwartz has created with his business, Ledesma said.
For Ledesma, his favorite comic book series is “Fantastic Four.”
“When I started reading, it was very accessible,” Ledesma said. “ ‘Superman’ was too cheery, and ‘Batman’ was took dark. ‘Fantastic Four’ was just right.”
World’s Best Comics and Toys
2608 Watt Ave.
Monday and Tuesday noon – 7 p.m.
Wednesday 10 a.m. – 7 pm.
Thursday through Saturday noon – 7 p.m.
Sunday noon – 6 p.m.
World’s Best Comics and Toys, has been in its current location since 1999. The store has been in two other locations. The original downtown location, opened in 1985.
"I have always liked reading, and I always liked artwork," store owner Dave Downey, 49, said. "This is a combination of the two."
Downey said that when he was an 8-year-old kid reading comic strips, he would get impatient because of the short stories in the strip, which prompted him to transition to reading comic books.
He said that in his store, Marvel and DC comics are the bestsellers. Marvel comic titles such as “Spiderman,” “Fantastic Four” and “The Avengers,” and DC comic titles such as “Batman,” “Superman” and “Wonder Woman,” which are all superhero stories, are some of the titles from the two main comic book publishers.
A lot of people, he said, know the characters of the DC and Marvel comics because of the movies made about them. Despite the popularity of the superhero characters in mainstream movies, people who do not read the comic books are often surprised to find that comic books are still in print, Downey said.
"You do yourself a disservice if you just zero in only on Marvel and DC," Downey said. "You get a lot more variety if you also read independent."
The store also carries comic books from independent publishers such as Image, Darkhorse and IEW, and since they are creator-owned, produces very individualistic styles of art and storytelling, Downey said.
Kathleen Partington, a 26-year-old customer at the store, said she reads mainly titles from DC comics and independent titles from Vertigo and Image. “Wonder Woman” was the first comic book she read. Partington said that she likes the store because it focuses mainly on comic books and keeps back issues of old titles.
"A lot of the unique things laying around here jar people’s memories, (and) give people a tinge of nostalgia when they come in," Downey said.
Besides comic books, the store sells Japanese-imported toys, action figures, classic lunch pails and vintage toys.
The oldest of the vintage toys he has for sale is a Felix the Cat toy from the 1920s.
The store also buys used collectible toys and comic books.
He said that although he carries a lot of other items in the store, it focuses on the comic book collecting community. It also carries graphic novels.
Although superhero-themed comic books are the type of stories most of his customers buy, Downey said he also sells action and adventure, western, romance, comedies and horror-themed comic books. He said the “Sonic the Hedgehog” comic is very popular with his younger audience.
"There is something for everybody," he said.
Manga, Japanese comic books, are also available in the store, such as “Naruto” and, “Sailor Moon I.”
He said that although most of his customers are mid-20s to mid-40s men, 50 percent of his customers who buy Manga are women.
The store also offers a comic saver service, where customers make lists of comic book titles they like, and when those titles arrive at the store, they are tagged with the customers’ names and are ready to be picked up every Wednesday at 10 a.m. The store will also order a comic book for the customer if it is not in stock.
Comic book collecting supplies are also available, such as bags, boards, boxes and title dividers.