This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on January 4, 2016.
The foundation of ComicBook.Com is comics. While we love to cover all aspects of pop and geek culture, our roots lie in the comics community and the plethora of characters and stories that have sprung from it. If you speak with anyone in the comics community about what has made the medium successful in North America, you’ll quickly discover one answer that stands far above the rest: local comics stores. They are the bedrock of comics in the United States and Canada, supporting fans, communities, and conventions with open doors and a dedicated staff.
This year on ComicBook.Com we are highlighting this important aspect of comics and culture by taking a look at one local comic store each week. These are stores that embody what it means to support culture and community. We hope you can visit some of them throughout 2017.
Outsiders may wonder why the word “collection” is repeated on the storefront of Space Cadets Collection Collection in North Houston. Store owner Jen King says that it’s because a store like hers relies on collecting collections. Comics and gaming stores service such a wide array of interests and hobbies that it’s integral to her model that they have a different sort of collection for everyone to look through. King has been collecting something unexpected across the past few decades of running Space Cadets as well: people.
That’s not surprising if you speak with King though. She says the purpose of her store has not changed since it opened in 1995, simply put, it’s “to be a place where everyone felt comfortable and valued.” You can see the success of that goal in the many customers the store attracts today. Its clientele is evenly split between men and women. Men come from all ranges of age, but the women who come to the store for comics trend younger, between pre-adolescence and college, typically.
That speaks to a trend within comics as an industry too. During the boom of the 1990s in which Space Cadets was opened, most readers were male, and so was the readership that first visited the store. King suggests that many women may have stuck to mail order comics at this time, but it’s difficult to say. The slow shift towards more even demographics inside the store speaks to the hard work of building an accepting storefront and culture in which everyone can enjoy their hobbies.
While King may not have been the first female comics store owner in the United States, she was certainly one of the first. Starting out at only the age of 25 and in Midland, Texas, King’s passions were as important as her ambitions. The very first day at her first store, her total sales were only $12, but she went home smiling. King says, “I was living the dream and still am.”
Since that first day things have changed a lot for both King and Space Cadets. The store has moved across the state of Texas and become considerably more successful. It’s now a staple in its community and among comics retailers. King is known as someone who is dedicated to her work and willing to experiment with new ideas.
One of those ideas has gotten King branded as being “half crazy” by her peers. Space Cadets runs a drop-off day camp for kids. The programs allow parents to leave their children at the store (a nightmare for most comics shops) to be treated to educational programming fueled by nerd culture. King mentions that they use Pokemon to teach strategy and Minecraft as the base for crafty projects. In addition to these specific programs, the store is also regularly used as a classroom by homeschool classes and the Boy Scouts of America. It is a place of learning as well as a geek-loving refuge. King says, “If it benefits kids and families, we do it.”
Speaking to King it’s clear that this is the sort of programming and interaction that fuels her passion and, in turn, Space Cadets itself. The store is active throughout North Houston, working to support schools, libraries, clubs, and other events in whatever ways make sense. She strives to make the store not simply a business, but a participant in the city. Space Cadets promotes more than tournaments, pushing for clubs and events that don’t require a cash buy-in. In addition to regular events supported by staff, there are also special one-time events to offer weekend programming. For example, the store just hosted a pog tournament with 90’s themed decorations and prizes.
The commitment to community, family friendly events, and day camps have made Space Cadets a true all ages environment. King describes herself as “the Captain America of the industry” as she will not abide foul language. That sort of description characterizes her role well, as a leader and parental figure. Overseeing her store and its many, many aspects, she has established a “second family” for many of her customers.
That’s something that the very best local comics stores often do. King mentions that, “many people find themselves isolated or lonely, not knowing that so many people love the same things they do.” Space Cadets is a place of discovery where all of those people can embrace their interests and find others to share them with. It is a place where people create connections and know they will be treated well. King assures her customers they’re always welcome to a hug, after all.
Space Cadets already has a proud 26 year history and legacy, but it’s time is far from over. The store and its many programs are running strong today, and King has no plans to retire. Looking ahead, growth is still a major goal. There are plans to explore new programming options and forge relationships with other store owners. King also wants to diversify their comics content by working with independent creators and publishers. What’s most important she says, “we want to continue to be a positive impact on the comic industry and to see it thrive.” Based on the past of Space Cadets, there’s no reason to doubt King and her store will succeed.
Name: Space Cadets Collection Collection
Address: 27326 Robinson Road #117
Oak Ridge North, TX 77385
Phone: (281) 298-1111
Website: Space Cadets
Facebook: Space Cadets