This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on March 22, 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.
How do you change a stereotype? That’s a challenge most comics stores face, at least all of the ones that don’t actively perpetuate the misperception of comics shops as basement-like dwellings filled with knick knacks and boxes of comics exclusively for social outcasts. It’s not the truth of the medium or many of its purveyors, but it’s what is shared in the zeitgeist. This is the issue that Richard Neal, owner of Zeus Comics and Collectibles, was forced to confront when he first opened his shop in 2000.
Neal says that at the time many of the direct market stores had “morphed into places that fit the stereotype mocked on the Simpsons.” That’s not what he wanted from his own place of business though. The storefront that Neal imagined was something more like that of the Disney Store where anyone could pass by, become interested, and feel welcome to walk in and explore. “I envisioned making comic shops look and feel modern” says Neal.
This was the foundation that built a store which which would win an Eisner Award less than a decade later in 2006. While Neal is proud of the recognition brought by Eisner and notes it as a highlight of his time running Zeus, it’s not the only thing he is proud of. In the 10 years since they received the award the store has continued to evolve, as it tried new things in order to benefit comics fans both new and old.
At some point along the way Neal’s approach to running the store changed. He stopped using the phrase “my customer” and began to look at everyone who entered the shop as part of a shared community of friends in fandom. He subscribes to the maxim now printed on t-shirts from Image Comics that “Comics are for everyone” and carries ensures that this is apparent every day Zeus is open to the public. Neal says, “Every day at the comic shop is like throwing a party and I’m the host.”
Zeus Comics and Collectibles has attracted the eyes of its community and fans through more than its well-maintained storefront and welcoming staff; it also supports a variety of videos on YouTube. Neal says the store’s comedy series “The Variants” was a “real standout”. That series allowed the staff at Zeus to reach thousands of viewers on a regular basis, offering them both laughs and some insight into comics culture. What would have been impossible purely behind a counter was accomplished through innovation, some clever scripting, and hard work with a camera.
Even though “The Variants” has come to an end, the store continues to support a wide array of multi-media efforts. The popularity of their first show led to new opportunities with the local CW affiliate in Dallas: CW33. They currently support weekly recaps of the many CW shows about DC Comics characters, as well as Riverdale, and are preparing to launch a new show titled “How to Train Like a Superhero”. These shows help make the community surrounding Zeus more aware of the availability of comics and provides a regular dose of entertainment.
Community involvement doesn’t begin or end with a video camera for this store though. Neal is proud of several current programs the store supports, including LGBTQ mixers. The store is currently preparing a new program, a comic book workshop that will help teach young readers how to read and make comics. This workshop will debut when the North Texas Girl Scouts visit the store in a few months to earn their own “Comic Book Badge” for participating.
Looking at the variety of programs sponsored by the shop, it’s easy to see how Zeus has helped to grow interest in comics far beyond what most people might expect. They’ve gained an audience as wide as Dallas, Texas and encourage people from all backgrounds to come check out comics. Neal says this growth and diversity can all be brought back to a single principle. “I’m proud of our customer service compared to my competitors but when you really drill down it’s about being active.” For Neal a smile, good advice, and a well-maintained store is the start of a great comics shop experience, but it’s not everything. Finding new opportunities and continuing to do more is what makes it stick.
That forward-looking mentality and everything accomplished by the staff at Zeus Comics and Collectibles is because they have been active. It would have been easy for Neal to rest on his laurels after winning the most prestigious award in his field in 2006, but the past decade has been filled with innovation and experiments. Video, mixers, and workshops have made Zeus an indispensable part of their community and a beloved fixture in Dallas. The way you overcome stereotypes is by creating an even more attractive idea, and that’s something Zeus Comics and Collectibles does every day of the week.
Name: Zeus Comics and Collectibles
Address: 1334 Inwood Road
Dallas, TX 75247
Phone: (214) 219-8697
Website: Zeus Comics and Collectibles
Twitter: Zeus Comics and Collectibles
Facebook: Zeus Comics and Collectibles