Mike Sagert, Syracuse's First Comics Retailer, Has Passed Away

Ahoy Comics publisher Tom Peyer and venerated Avengers scribe Kurt Busiek are among those mourning the loss of Mike Sagert, the first comics specialty retailer to open a store in the Upstate New York college town of Syracuse. A social media post by Sagert's sister indicates that he passed away on April 14. Sagert, who sold his store Dream Days in 1990, remained a vital part of the comics community in Syracuse for the rest of his life, attending (and organizing) conventions and trying to bring the comics community in town closer together. While Dream Days itself is long closed, the greater Syracuse area is now home to a half-dozen comic book specialty stores, and many of those stores' proprietors knew Mike and shopped at Dream Days.

“I wouldn’t be a comic shop owner if not for Mike Sagert,” Jeff Watkins, the owner of Cloud City Comics & Toys in Syracuse's Armory Square, told ComicBook.com. “Mike ran the kind of store that, when you were a kid, you went and got a paper route, or you shoveled driveways, or you mowed lawns to get a couple of bucks, to go and see him in the store. His store was the reason you did those things. A lot of kids got better grades in this city, worked harder in this city, and became better people in this city, because of what Mike offered. I think Mike’s true contribution to Syracuse will always been underestimated, but it will be years before we’re done feeling the impact of it. He was a sweet, gentle man, and he was truly a pioneer, taking a chance on comics in a decade where there just weren’t comics stores. I don’t know what my life looks like if I don’t know Mike Sager, but I don’t want to know.”

"Mike Sagert owned the first comic store I ever visited, and hosted the first comic convention I ever attended," tweeted Sean Howe, author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. "I'll always remember Dream Days as a magical place." Howe, along with Peyer and Busiek, shared memories of their time with Sagert on social media today. "Just heard today that Mike Sagert, the affable owner/manager of Dream Days in Syracuse back when [Scott McCloud] and I were in college there, has passed away," Busiek tweeted late last night/early this morning. "I’ve got a lot of great memories of Mike, that tiny shop and our weekly travels there. RIP Mike, and rest well." McCloud added, "Thanks for offering us a mecca in the snow."

Busiek told The Daily Orange in 2010 that his college years were shaped in part by going to Dream Days every Thursday, walking a mile to the shop as soon as classes were done. "The store was a welcoming environment for comic book fans," Busiek said. "If you had a tough week at school, it was an oasis." In that same article, Peyer argued that Sagert's store had been less about making money than about building a sense of community and sharing Mike's love of comics with his customers. On Facebook and Twitter, Peyer directed fans to a 2012 blog post that he said described Sagert perfectly:

"Growing up in Syracuse in the 70’s and 80’s, there was one place to go to for comics: Dream Days," wrote Todd Panek of TMP in SYR. "Run by Mike, an aging John Lennon lookalike, Dream Days was the place for comic book lovers. Mike was everything positive that pop culture says about the 60’s: optimistic, community-minded, and welcoming. When my brother Matt was in the hospital for a pretty serious surgical procedure as a young boy, Mike showed up at the hospital with a massive stack of comics for Matt to read while convalescing. I think Mike’s instructions were to read them, enjoy them, bring back what he didn’t want, and get better! Mike seemed to live at the store and the positive experiences talking to him there probably cemented my love of comics."

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(Photo: Joe Orsak)
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"Back in the old times I once had a dream where I found a store that sold back issues of comics… any comic I could think of was in that store," recalled Joe Orsak, a Syracuse-area artist who once depicted Sagert in his local Captain 'Cuse newspaper strip (you can see them above and below; Orsak notes that Sagert owned the original art for the entire 9-part story). "I thought I was in heaven. Not long after that dream, Mike Sagert came along and opened the first comic book shop in Syracuse. He appropriately named his store Dream Days, after a Maxfield Parrish painting. I got to know Mike well as I became one of his first and frequent customers. Over the years I would work with Mike, creating store signs and animated TV spots for the shop. I also helped when Mike started doing conventions. His big convention at the Landmark Theatre became a story arc in Captain 'Cuse. We actually staged the major battle between the Captain and the Phantom of the Landmark during the con with live actors doing cosplay. Mike was always a great guy, helpful with his customers. Unfortunately after the store closed we lost touch. I did see him at a recent show in Liverpool last year."

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(Photo: Joe Orsak)

Sagert launched his store in the early '70s, at a time when comic book specialty stores were not particularly common. Sagert reflected in the 2010 profile that in the early days, he had to convince parents -- particularly parents of girls -- that comics were not going to rot their kids' brains. Decades later, Watkins told ComicBook.com that the decision to move his store to Armory Square was, in part, to plant roots for Cloud City down the street from "what Mike was building years ago."