To the rescue – A tribute to a beloved comic book store

During these decades, Carol & John’s has accumulated many mascots. By “mascots” I mean cats. When the store opened, in a small space in Kamm’s Plaza next to Gene’s Place To Dine restaurant, the role was filled by Oliver. There have been 20 human years. When the store one day moved to another larger location across the plaza, Oliver suffered a stroke. “We always say he felt like he knew who he was,” says Dudas. “He knew something was about to change. The shop’s cat coat has been cared for by Cloak and Dagger, a black cat and a white cat, for a while.

Then, after the store moved into its current space a few doors down, the store’s cat cape and slippers were passed on to Winston Zeddemore, a tabby named after the character in Ghostbusters. Dudas, who also works as a Cleveland firefighter, brought him to the store after he got lost in the fire hall. With a little more friendly than aloof demeanor, in the tradition of all the best store cats, Winston greets store visitors with a leg massage 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, which regularly appears on the store’s Facebook page, and when he disappeared for a few days in 2015, it spawned a hashtag and made the news. (He had just walked to a nearby road salt shed.) “People love cats,” Dudas says. “If I hold the cat, the Facebook post gets around 200 likes. “

Aside from Winston, the store’s success can be attributed to its sense of openness and its avoidance of the off-putting kind of access control in nerd culture that tends to alienate all comic fans except hardcore, mostly male. . Much 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 was friendly to women, kids, and people. of all ages.

Shortly after the store opened, she noticed that many of her customers had children, so she handed out gift baskets for children. She once held a competition for local artists to design a Green Arrow tattoo, which she eventually got. And right from the start, she made sure there was enough room in the aisles for people to maneuver and organized the shelves so you could see straight up to the back of the store from the front. Even the boutique chat rooms, parties, and Free Comic Book Day festivities are set up to appeal to people of different backgrounds and ages. They are even known to order prints from local comic book artists and distribute them for free. “We want people to feel safe,” Cazzarin says. “We want women to come in 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 been reading comics since the 1960s, collects mainstream comics such as Batman, but also books featuring characters from Warner Brothers and more hard-to-find Dell Comics magazines. the pulp era.

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

Dudas and the other staff also keep an eagle eye open whenever a child enters the store, especially when it’s the first time. They search for googly eyes, then point them to something they might like. Sometimes they’ll even take out treats from the secret stash behind the counter. “If it’s a grandfather and a kid, I’m completely crazy about this shit,” Dudas laughs. “I’ll give them whatever they want for free.”

After 30 years of teaching comics to children, Dudas, 47, naturally did the same with the two daughters he shares with his wife Apryl: Zoe, 9, and Luna, 5. They recently started watching The CW’s Stargirl, and when Dudas and I met for a socially distanced interview in July, he was already working on a Starman Halloween costume to accompany his daughters’ Stargirls. Although retirement was far away, he was considering how to keep the store in the family.

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

Daniel K. Denny