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.
Success, experimentation, and change. None of these concepts are tied to age in a business, especially not for comics stores. Many of the most beloved and innovative shops in the American direct market are relatively young for retail outlets. That’s part of what makes comics exciting, and sometimes terrifying for retailers, though. It’s up to each individual store to discover what makes the medium work within their own community and help it to grow. Few local comics stores combine innovation and youth like Challengers Comics in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago.
Challengers Comics first opened its doors on March 31, 2008, established by co-owners Patrick Brower and W. Dal Bush. Since then it has accomplished more since than many shops intend to accomplish throughout their existence. Challengers has almost doubled in size, shifted its readership base, hosted an art gallery, created a room specifically for young readers, and won an Eisner Award. It’s no surprise that they’ve attracted so much attention in such a short span of time.
Brower and Bush’s goal from the outset was clear though. “[It was to] provide a comics-first retail experience, and keep providing it for as long as our neighborhood wants us to do so” says Bush. While Challengers includes a few things besides comics (e.g. a small collection of action figures and Magic cards), more than 90% of the shop is dedicated purely to reading comics. Bush emphasizes the importance of community support for their store and making a comics store that is dedicated to comics. He understands that without readers they would be forced to close their doors or move away from the medium they love. However, it appears the people of Chicago love comics just as much as Brower and Bush.
The pair wanted to expand their horizons very early in the stores existence. In 2010, only 2 years after first opening, they expanded into an adjacent storefront in order to open an art gallery. In that space they hosted collections from popular comics artists like Becky Cloonan, Jenny Frison, and Stuart Immonen. It was fittingly titled “The Rogues Gallery” and attracted talent and fans from across North America to appreciate the craftsmanship behind comics. It didn’t take long for the pair to innovate once again, and that’s how “The Rogues Gallery” became “Sidekicks”.
Click ahead to find out more about the Sidekicks room and Challengers Comics plans for the future.
“The thing I'd say we're most proud of is Sidekicks, our all-ages comics room” says Bush. There is a doorway between the two storefronts and it declares Sidekicks to be "A Place For Young Challengers". Rather than being filled with toys or other distractions to create a separate experience, Sidekicks is designed to be a smaller version of the main store. It provides young readers with their own space to browse new releases and flip through collections tailored to their own reading proficiency and interests. Sidekicks makes young readers feel comfortable both in a comics store and with the concept of being self-motivated readers.
The attraction of young readers (and their parents) to Challengers is only one shift the store has seen in its reader base. From the very first year they opened, Brower and Bush have noticed a shift in customers who purchase comics. The success of Saga has led to many new readers, a younger and more diverse crowd, entering the store. Bush notes that something like Saga has helped readers discover similarly offbeat series like Sex Criminals and Bitch Planet, then find their classic inspirations like Preacher and Sandman. It shows how one great comic can hook a reader for life. That applies to the young attendees of Sidekicks as well who adore classics like Bone and any new comic featuring the name of cartoonist Raina Telgemeier. “The breadth of great books currently being published has made serving diverse markets easier than ever” says Bush.
While Challengers has seen many successes to date and been rewarded for them with the most prestigious award in comics, their work is far from done. “We've changed emphasis on certain publishers, expanded our spotlight on certain creators, designed events around certain properties, all because we'd seen the response from our customers in the months and years prior” says Bush. One customer coming in to ask for a comic they do not stock is enough to get the staff at Challengers to investigate. They’re dedicated to keeping an eye on changing trends and staying on top of what customers want today. It’s not easy in the ever-fluctuating comics market, but they’re up to the task.
That doesn’t mean the market is without risks though. Bush points out that comics has never been a stable market and their aversion to collector’s items and variant covers leaves them with less room for mistakes. Challengers dedication to reading has created a dedicated fanbase, but also put them on a less-chartered road. The staff of Challengers is focused on offering their community a place to explore and enjoy comics above all else though, and believe that if they succeed it will be because of this. “A comic shop isn't a one-size-fits-all concept; it has to change and grow along side its community” says Bush.
While the future of comics may be unknown, these Challengers certain seem to be prepared for it.
Click ahead to see full details and photos of Challengers Comics.