This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on January 25, 2017.
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.
For many readers comics are just something that come out every Wednesday, whether there’s snow, rain, heat, or gloom of night. They’re part of a reliable cycle of entertainment that always delivers. Once you dig into the industry though, you learn that the seemingly effortless arrival of comics requires a lot of work. If you want to make comics work, much less work in comics, you have to be scrappy. There are few local comics shops that show off their hustle quite as well as Jetpack Comics in Rochester, New Hampshire. Quite frankly, they deserve more hype.
Jetpack Comics has been around for just over a decade now. They missed out on the bubble of the 90s and have been part of the rising tide of the current revitalization of the medium in America. However, the store’s owner and manager Ralph has been part of the comics game for much longer than that. He started working with comics by buying and selling books at a flea market in the late 1970s. What some might describe as his “big break” came in 80s though.
Two of his frequent customers at that flea market were young men by the names of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. If you don’t recognize them, then you’ll surely recognize their best known creation: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Ralph became friends with the pair of ambitious young artists and eventually found himself organizing the show where they debuted the first issue of their new comic book. That’s how Ralph wound up with 500 issues of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 (worth thousands of dollars today depending on quality) and two lifelong boosters for Jetpack Comics.
A long history of selling comics, organizing fans, and working with talented new creators is what led Ralph to found Jetpack Comics in 2007. He had the knowhow already, but there was still a long hill to climb in order to find success. The store began with list of customers from a local shop that had just failed and support from Larry’s Comics in Lowell, MA to obtain their early order. Despite that ominous bit of news, Ralph was not deterred. He says, “I approached it from the ‘’if you build it they will come’ attitude.” Having watched other shops fail in the area, he used that experience to avoid pitfalls and give Jetpack Comics its best possible shot. It began with just Ralph and a teacher-friend off for the summer. From there it has grown significantly.
Everything about the current format of Jetpack Comics shows where its attention lies: on the passions of its customers. It is a store in the midst of growth, having just added 1,200 additional square feet at its newest location. Ralph says there are “mis-matched fixtures, taped together and handwritten signs everywhere.” The focus isn’t on crafting a corporate image. This is a home and a refuge, unique to anywhere else. Walk in and you can recognize what Ralph’s message to customers is without asking: “Come, have fun with us and be a part of our community.”
That image shouldn’t make you think of this place as being unprofessional or unwelcoming though. To the contrary Ralph has grown his store by growing his customer base, and that begins by making sure everyone feels safe and appreciated when they come inside. Battling the stereotypes of comic stores, like those found on The Simpsons, isn’t easy, but Ralph has three key rules that have led to the success of Jetpack Comics.
One: “Make it brighter.” Dim is how you describe a basement, Jetpack Comics and other great stores ought to strive to shine a light on comics.
Two: “Neat and organized should be a store’s mantra.” Ralph pays close attention to every retail store he enters to learn new lessons. Aspire to greatness, not good enough.
Three: “Engage.” This is clearly the rule that Ralph values the most. He prides himself on the lessons learned from his wife, a teacher who provides him with an outsider’s insight. Listening to him explain customer engagement will remind business majors of significant collegiate lessons. He views everyone who walks in as a potential recurring customer who will recommend the store and knows any bad experience will lead to a repeated bad story. Each customer matters.
This is where Ralph summons the pride of a father too. These rules and the success of Jetpack Comics don’t belong to Ralph alone; it’s really all about his staff. They are the ones who bring back their own lessons, ideas, and recommendations. They are the ones who keep customers returning. They are the ones who fuel Ralph’s passion.
He speaks of them the way a chef might of the secret ingredient that boosted him to fame. No matter how many accolades are provided, he clearly does not believe they are enough. He says, “The one thing that will always make or break a store is a dedicated and selfless staff. Treat them right and they will repay you one hundred fold.” They are smart and enthusiastic people who make the shop their home, and transform it into the home of customers as well. Each bookseller sets the tone of Jetpack Comics and it’s clearly a tone that comics fans in New Hampshire adore. There’s no doubt that for all of the smarts, wisdom, and great choices Ralph has made, his hiring choices tower above all the rest.
Visiting Jetpack Comics, you need look no further than Ralph and the staff at Jetpack Comics to understand why comics continue to survive in America. With hustle like this, the hype is bound to follow.
Name: Jetpack Comics
Address: 37 North Main Street
Rochester, NH 03867
Phone: (603) 330-9636
Website: Jetpack Comics
Facebook: Jetpack Comics