The foundation of ComicBook.Com is comics. While we love to cover all aspects of pop and geek culture, our roots lie in the comics community and the plethora of characters and stories that have sprung from it. If you speak with anyone in the comics community about what has made the medium successful in North America, you’ll quickly discover one answer that stands far above the rest: local comics stores. They are the bedrock of comics in the United States and Canada, supporting fans, communities, and conventions with open doors and a dedicated staff.
This year on ComicBook.Com we are highlighting this important aspect of comics and culture by taking a look at one local comic store each week. These are stores that embody what it means to support culture and community. We hope you can visit some of them throughout 2017.
Comics and comic book stores are not two separate entities. If you want to look at how one has changed across the decades, then you have to understand something of the other. That’s true in both matters of business and art. There are few shops in the United States that express this relationship as clearly as Comix Experience in San Francisco. The store was opened in 1989 and has been a notable party to various shifts in the industry throughout its 29 years in business.
When you ask owner Brian Hibbs about the store’s goals, he is plain spoken in stating the goal in 1989 and today has always been “make it to the end of the month." That frankness may stem from having tackled the immense challenge of running a business at the age of 21. Hibbs has now spent more of his life owning a comic store than not, and so far Comix Experience has always made it to the end of the month. It’s no longer the sole goal of the store either. He now envisions his stores (there is a secondary location on Ocean Ave) as places that can push talented creators and help introduce outsiders to the comics medium. The years have added some humor and poetry to his outlook as refers to the staff of Comix Experience as “sherpas through a vast and ever-changing landscape of choices for the customer."
Opening when it did in the bustling Bay Area, the store was well-suited to engage with what would later be known as the Vertigo Revolution. Sandman was becoming a force of change within American comics, and Hibbs was an early fan of the series. His enthusiasm helped to shape Comix Experience into a “Vertigo store," one that would pull in an audience far beyond the monthly readers of Spider-Man or X-Men comics. It’s a choice that has served the store and its readers well as the American comics market has continued to morph and grow beyond the capes stories of the Big Two.
Comix Experience hasn’t just sold media-altering bestsellers like Sandman though. The staff at this local comics shop have often been the tastemakers who helped to encourage the early success of these books. “I feel like we have part of the shared responsibility for breaking books as varied as Sandman, Strangers in Paradise, and Saga,” Hibbs said. While almost no individual series' success can be linked to a single shop, it’s places like Comix Experience that have created the boom surrounding many popular creator-owned comics.
Click ahead to learn more about how Comix Experience has changed and been changed by the American comics industry across almost 30 years of business.
Comix Experience hasn’t just served as a promoter of positive changes in comics art. The store possesses some degree of national name recognition for leading a class action lawsuit against Marvel Comics. That successful suit led to approximately one and a half million dollars in damages being provided to retailers and the institution of a major change in Marvel’s distribution process in the early 2000s. While we don’t have the space to get into the details here, it’s one example of how an individual shop can have an impact in a market filled with small retailers and much more powerful publishers.
When all was said and done with the class action lawsuit in 2005, Comix Experience had one of the most notable histories of any comics shop in the world. Yet in the years since they have shown no sign of slowing down. The drive to improve both the reading experience and business market for comics is constant.
The Graphic Novel of the Month program provides readers with a unique experience that encourages them to read a wide variety of new comics from many creators and genres. Each installment offers a unique bookplate and live-stream discussion with the creators of the comic. It’s just one example of how the passion for comics at this shop is shared with their readers on a regular basis.
Hibbs is particularly proud of his staff when discussing the store’s success and spreading the love of comics. “They're putting in the long hours making one-to-one connections with customers and always seeking to expand their horizons of what comics are and can be. I've got a superlative team around me, and would be nothing without them,” Hibbs said. It’s a unique role that requires each individual to be prepared both to share what they love and to carefully listen and understand what might spark the same fire in others. The staff of Comix Experience is every bit as diverse as the city they inhabit, and it is no coincidence that between their passion and experiences they’ve attracted readers from every sort of background in San Francisco.
If there’s one lesson to be taken from Comix Experience, I would suggest that it be this: everyone matters. One person can open a comics store. One comics store can open a community. One business can change a market. One employee can spark a fandom. In comics every person matters and can make a difference within the medium we all love. That’s not just a matter of opinion, it’s a matter of history at Comix Experience.
Click ahead to see full details and photos of Comix Experience.