To the Rescue – A Tribute to a Beloved Comic Book Shop

Over these decades, Carol & John’s has accumulated many mascots. By “mascots”, I mean cats. When the shop opened, in a small space in Kamm’s Plaza next to Gene’s Place To Dine restaurant, the role was filled by Oliver. He celebrated his 20th birthday there. When one day the store moved to another bigger location across the square, Oliver suffered a stroke. “We always say he felt like he knew who he was,” says Dudas. “He knew something was changing.” The store cat coat was taken by Cloak and Dagger, a black cat and a white cat, for a while.

Then, after the shop moved to its current space a few doors down, the shop’s cape and cat booties were passed on to Winston Zeddemore, a tabby named after the Ghostbusters character. Dudas, who also works as a Cleveland firefighter, brought it to the store after wandering around the fire station. With an attitude that’s a little more friendly than aloof, in the tradition of all the best shop cats, Winston greets shop visitors with a leg rub and is open to pets, even strangers.

Winston has appeared in several comics by local artists, and his fuzzy face adorns the shop’s buttons, stickers and coasters. He has his own Instagram account, @comiccatwinston, appears regularly on the shop’s Facebook page, and when he disappeared for a few days in 2015, he spawned a hashtag and made news. (He had just walked to a nearby road salt shed.) “People love the cat,” Dudas says. “If I hold the chat, the Facebook post gets about 200 likes.”

Aside from Winston, the store’s success can be attributed to its sense of openness and avoidance of the kind of off-putting nerd-culture gatekeeping that tends to alienate all but the mostly hardcore comic-lovers. masculine. A lot of that comes from Cazzarin, who, at a time when she was one of the few women in comics she knew, made sure the store would be friendly to women, kids, and people. of all ages.

Soon after the store opened, she noticed that many of her customers had children, so she handed out gift baskets to the children. She once held a competition for local artists to design a Green Arrow tattoo, which she eventually won. And from the start, she made sure there was enough space in the aisles for people to maneuver around and arranged the shelves so you could see straight into the back of the store from the before. Even the Shop’s Free Comic Book Day chat groups, parties, and festivities are set up to attract people of different backgrounds and ages. They’ve even been known to order prints from local comic artists and give them away for free. “We want people to feel safe,” Cazzarin says. “We want women to walk through the door.”

Over time, the staff also got to know the customers and often made recommendations on books they might want to read. John Saris, a longtime customer who has read comics since the 1960s, collects mainstream comics such as Batman, but also books featuring characters from Warner Brothers and harder-to-find Dell Comics magazines. the pulp era.

“They’re like ‘Hey Johnny, we just got a box of stuff and we’re putting it back here for you,'” Saris says. “They know what I like. They know what everyone else likes.

Dudas and the other employees also keep an eagle eye on every time a child walks into the store, especially when it’s their first time. They search for wide-eyed eyes, then direct them to something they might like. Sometimes they even pull out treats from the secret stash behind the counter. “If it’s a grandfather and a child, I’m sick of it all,” laughs Dudas. “I’ll give them whatever they want for free.”

After 30 years of bringing kids into comics, Dudas, 47, naturally did the same with the two daughters he shares with wife Apryl: Zoe, 9, and Luna, 5. They recently started watching CW’s Stargirl, and when Dudas and I met for a social-distanced interview in July, he was already working on a Starman Halloween costume to go along with his daughters’ Stargirls. Although retirement was still a long way off, he was thinking about how to keep the shop in the family.

“I don’t want to choose the fate of my daughters, but if any of them were interested, I would definitely encourage them,” Dudas says. “I think owning a comic book store is a great life. I consider it a good life.

Daniel K. Denny