The Comic Shop, like most businesses, has a humble origin story. And like most stories, it grew and evolved with an ever-changing cast of characters to suit its audience.
As it celebrates its Golden Jubilee this year after five decades in the Fairbanks area, it has never lost its shine.
“It certainly has to be one of the oldest comic book stores in the United States,” said Kevin Collins, the Comic Shop’s longtime general manager. “Back then, you used to buy the comics from a newspaper distributor, but that’s all changed now.”
Fairbanks resident and artist Dave Mollett started the Comic Shop in 1972 as an extension of his record store. At the time, it was located in downtown Fairbanks at Sixth Avenue and Noble Street.
Mollett owned The Comic Shop until 1983 when he sold it to current owner Randy Ramuglia. The Comic Shop served as the root of what would become Anchorage-based BOSCO’S, billed as Alaska’s premier source for games, comics, and maps.
According to Collins, the Comic Shop then moved in 1988 to 10th and Cushman, then to Eagle Plaza Mall in 1994 on Third Street before landing at its current location in the same shopping complex, the site of Baker & Baker Books.
“The store has really grown over the years,” Collins said.
“It was ahead of the whole comic book boom,” Mollettt said as he perused single copies at the store on a recent Wednesday. “I thought the comics were going to be a big deal…they were just starting to be.”
Like the alter-ego of a classic superhero, his exterior seems humble, but his interior shines with a saga grown over the years.
The Comic Shop caters to most groups, from fans of comic books and manga graphic novels to card games like Pokemon and Magic: The Gathering.
The aisles contain resources for tabletop games, whether well-known brands such as Dungeons & Dragons or for Warhammer 40,000. The store also hosts gaming events, while adapting to the limited capacity guidelines strongly advocated during the pandemic.
Well-rendered murals and banners tastefully contribute to the shop’s tapestry, and glass display cases feature action figures — many from popular Japanese comics.
Collins said trends have changed over the years. Sports cards were a trend in the 1990s that eventually died out. The growing popularity of tabletop games and card games has created a whole new chapter for The Comic Shop.
“The demand for pop culture and ‘geek’ items is greater than ever,” Collins said. “Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon card games are our best sellers, board games are doing well and the demand for manga and anime is really strong.”
Collins took a break from the shop for a few years before returning, bringing new ideas with him.
Candice Carlo, co-manager of the boutique, was originally a customer when she visited 20 years ago.
“When I started coming, I had lists of things I wanted,” Carlo said. “Kevin came back with a list of magna I wanted and asked if I wanted a job.”
She added that the first few months she worked at the store “I didn’t make any money because everything was spent buying manga and anime.”
Carlo said that in those days the shop provided a place where she could connect with like-minded people.
“Coming here and being able to talk to like-minded people was pretty amazing,” Carlo said.
Aaron Karrick, now the store’s event organizer, grew up with the comic store and visited it just as Magic: The Gathering was becoming popular.
“My family was getting into Magic,” Karrick said. “The store at the time was small, but there wasn’t a lot of stuff I was interested in – just tons of comic books and sports cards. It was a quieter place.
Karrick said the store has evolved to meet the needs of new generations of customers, especially after Collins’ return.
“There’s kind of a stereotype of the Comic Guy from ‘The Simpsons,’ and the shop was like that at first, but when Kevin came back in 2001, there were a lot of changes,” Karrick said. “The biggest change was moving from a stereotype to a more diverse place.”
Changing comic culture
Collins said it’s hard to define “comic book culture” in 2022 — many niches split across generations and preferences.
“There are people looking for information on all the characters in the movies, and that has helped things, but the biggest comic book readers read them online,” Collins said. “The publishers compiled them into a graphic novel and we did very well selling them.”
Collins sees that future generations of readers will read through online subscriptions like Marvel Unlimited.
“It’ll be interesting to see what happens, but here we are 50 years later and we’re still getting new comics every week,” Collins said.
Either way, Collins said comics alone seem to be having a golden age because of the diversity that goes beyond superhero genres.
“People who get into comics may have never read a superhero comic but got into drawing or want to tell a story,” Collins said.
Mollett, the previous owner, said he still comes these days, often with his youngest son, Blake.
“I never imagined he would have gotten as big as he has,” Mollett said. “It really is a world-class comic book store, comparable even to those in big cities.”