This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on March 1, 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.
Washington, DC is a city of transplants. Walk down the street wearing a sweater from a midwestern university or college in the Pacific Northwest and you’re bound to hear a few shouts of recognition from alumni or fans. It is a place filled with residents from across America and the rest of the world. That means it has one of the most diverse populations of comics readers anywhere, and that requires a very special comic book store. Fantom Comics is that store.
When Fantom Comics was first opened in 2005 they had a very clear mission: to be a store for absolutely everyone. While that may seem like a good idea for any comics stores, actually implementing and promoting that goal is a very different challenge. It’s one that Fantom has tackled each year in business as they develop a variety of programs for readers who come from a wide range of careers, backgrounds, and areas of the world.
Jake Shapiro, the store’s new general manager, says, “Ever since we moved to our current space in 2014, that mission has extended into becoming a community space for people from all walks of life.” That concept can be seen in the very layout of the store. Even in the limited sorts of spaces available in Washington, much longer than they are wide, Fantom Comics has managed to make itself seem big and inviting. Wood floors and tall shelves leave the center of the store open with low tables that encourage movement and interaction. It’s easy for the staff to keep an eye on all customers, ready to offer help at a moment’s notice.
Among the current focuses of Fantom Comics are workshops and book clubs, encouraging both comics creators and readers to share their passion and ideas with one another. These gathering fit well in the store, although they are sometimes capable of filling it from front to back, and show off the diversity of the city. They are the foundation of Shapiro’s idea of creating a community space, building new friendships and collaborations within this very active community.
Diversity and inclusion within the DC community are not just buzzwords for Fantom Comics. Owner Matt Klokel just completed an annual analysis of the store’s patrons designed to both show off what is being accomplished and what new goals can be achieved. You can take a look at that analysis and learn more about the readers of Fantom Comics here. This data-driven approach to business and community embraces the best aspects of the city and has helped make Fantom Comics a home for so many of its inhabitants.
One of the most fascinating points in the store’s history came directly from its location during the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009. Marvel Comics put out Amazing Spider-Man #583 which featured the President on the cover and a story where he meets the beloved wallcrawler inside. Tourists from across the country in town to celebrate the big day created a line that went down the street in order to pick up the issue. Fantom Comics storefront offered a place for locals and visitors to discover comics together, adding one more great aspect to a very important day.
The success of Fantom Comics has not been built on big days though. Many new visitors may have discovered them during the inauguration, but the ones who returned came back for more than a single special issue. The wonderful storefront and events provide a lot of value, but it is all built on the enthusiasm and knowledge of Fantom Comics’ staff.
Shapiro says “the comics that sell best are the comics our employees are personally passionate about.” The store features an expansive recommendation wall right when you enter with each shelf tailored into one employee’s unique taste. However, there are also lots of indie comics that have found a new following based on the staff’s hard work. Self-published comics like COPRA sit side-by-side with best sellers like Ms. Marvel and Batman. It’s the love of the medium that helps customers discover the perfect comics for their own tastes in a store where quality drives sales.
Looking ahead Shapiro is interested in helping the store become more involved within the local arts scene of Washington. The array of talented artists, both inside and outside of the comics community, in the city is incredible and Fantom Comics could soon become a home for them as well. Just like with customers and comics, these initiatives will be about supporting the people and ideas that Fantom Comics and its staff are passionate about.
The beauty of Fantom Comics is that it reflects the city it occupies so well. Whether it’s in the opportunities for readers and artists or the incredible diversity of the staff and patrons, Fantom Comics embraces the best aspects of a Washington mentality. It is a store that builds community and is supported by its community in turn. So if you are visiting for a weekend, consider taking some time to see Fantom Comics along with the other tourist hot spots. Inside this comic shop you’ll likely discover much of what makes America’s capitol great.
Name: Fantom Comics
Address: 2010 P Street NW
Washington, DC 20036
Website: Fantom Comics
Facebook: Fantom Comics