In writing about the business and culture of comic shops, I went to many shops in many states, and interviewed the owners, managers and even some customers.
My book has 40 brief profiles of notable shops of the US and Canada, from Nova Scotia to Los Angeles.
People have asked me how I had the time and resources to do all that travel. The answer: I didn’t.
I did most of the reporting in three breakneck trips that hit several cities each, and through a few weekend day trips. And that left about a dozen stores that I couldn’t get to.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I could put together a travel schedule, I needed to know which stores to feature. To do that I reached out to many people, and I want to put a spotlight on one of them.
Ryan Claytor is the cartoonist behind Elephant Eater Comics, and a faculty member at Michigan State University where he teaches comics studio art. I met him when he was exhibiting at the Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo, or SPACE, in Columbus (a great show, by the way), and we got to talking about comic shops.
(Here is a recent podcast in which Ryan is interviewed by his college’s dean of arts and letters.)
Ryan loves comic shops, and he has been to more of them in more places than just about anyone I know. He has toured extensively to promote his self-published comics, and he has produced videos as many of his stops.
When I told Ryan about my book, I shared a list of the stores I was planning to visit and profile. My list had a lot of the usual suspects that often show up on “best of” lists, plus a few I had discovered on my own or had been suggested by others.
Ryan’s response was something along the lines of, “That’s a good list, but…” He then suggested many more shops that he said were worth a look.
I ended up including at least five shops that he suggested. Because of timing and location, I couldn’t visit any of these, but was able to write about them by interviewing the owners and getting background notes from Ryan and others.
Here are three of those stores:
Tate’s is one of the most innovative pop culture stores, with a mix of comics, toys, odds and ends, and an unmistakable vibe. The founder and co-owner, Tate Ottati, started when he was a teenager and has built his business into a destination.
First, take a look at Ryan’s video from his visit six years ago:
Tate was a great interview. He swears a lot, and has strong opinions about how a retailer should work hard to create a space that is fun and inviting.
His company, which he runs with wife Amanda Magnetta-Otatti, and a veteran staff, can serve as a model in many aspects of how it is run.
The comics business would be much better off if every small city had a shop like Southern Fried Comics in Hattiesburg.
Again, let’s start with a Ryan Claytor video:
This store is co-owned by Barry Herring and Jamye Foster, a husband-and-wife team. Jamye is active in the wider comics business as a board member of ComicsPro, the trade group for comics retailers.
Barry does most of the day-to-day work at the store, which emphasizes comics in book form and art. Jamye teaches full time at the University of Southern Mississippi.
The store looks great, with white walls and fixtures, and an uncluttered feel despite being in a small space.
One more time, let’s start with a Ryan Claytor video:
Alternate Reality is about three miles from the Las Vegas strip in a strip mall. It is an unlikely spot for a great comic shop with a deep selection.
For the book, Ryan wrote a testimonial about the store, which sums up its many virtues.
Alternate Reality’s store image is immaculately kept. It’s one of the (very few) stores my wife will request we visit. Patrons are greeted with organized areas, constantly curated shelves, and a clean, welcoming aesthetic. Last but not least, Ralph Mathieu is one
of the nicest guys I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. He also supports local artists by designating a section of his store as an art gallery and signing space. Beyond the gallery, which regularly rotates artist exhibitions, the remaining walls of Alternate Reality serve as a more permanent display for Ralph’s extensive personal original art collection, including work by heavy hitters such as Dan Clowes, Tony Harris, and J. H. Williams III, to name but a few.
Thank you, Ryan. I’ll see you at SPACE!