This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 27, 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.
We love to discuss local comic book stores for their passion and creativity; it’s the fun stuff that makes us love these special places. However, it cannot be forgotten that every store is a business. They only exist so long as they manage to succeed. All of the passion in the world can’t pay bills, so there’s a necessary balance between a love of comics and business knowhow when it comes to creating a successful local comics store. It’s a balance that is shown off perfectly by Ultimate Comics, a shop able to share what it loves and make ends meet with plenty of creativity on display in both endeavors.
The business side of Ultimate Comics is something manager Jeremy Tarney isn’t shy about discussing. He’s proud of the accomplishments the store has made as a business. “Today, we’ve grown to the point that we our store are a viable business for Alan [the owner], dozens of employees, and myself,” Tarney says. In addition to supplying comics and a second home for many fans, they are able to take care of their staff and continue to build the Ultimate Comics brand. It’s a brand that has and continues to grow with a total of 3 stores in North Carolina today.
Ultimate Comics started much smaller though. Alan Gill, the owner, owned several other businesses as well when he opened his first comics store. It was his passion project and the success of other endeavors helped to fund the beginning. Yet the comics store was always meant to flourish on its own and that’s exactly what it did due to Gill and his employee’s passion. Even before opening the first store, Gill was building a customer base and getting to know the product. He would drive door to door in a van taking orders for new releases. That’s the gumption on which Ultimate Comics was built. “If that’s not an interesting way to get into comic retail, I couldn’t tell what one is” says Tarney.
Click ahead to learn more about what makes Ultimate Comics unique, like its unique cast of characters (a.k.a. the staff).
All you need to do is take a quick glance at the staff page of the Ultimate Comics’ website in order to get an idea of the store’s philosophy. Each person listed is given their own unique portrait or photograph along with alter-egos, superpowers, and descriptions that allude to jokes and funs at the shop. There’s a genuine sense that these people love going to work and that comes across when talking to Tarney as well. He is proud of the customer service experience provided by all 3 Ultimate Comics locations. “Our staff is always ready to help with anyone who walks in the door” Tarney says.
It’s not only about keeping a well stocked store (which they do) or being knowledgeable about comics (which they are), it’s also about caring for the people who make your business a success. Tarney says that the staff “remember to ask them about their brother’s birthday party that they mentioned, remember that their favorite villain is Batroc the Leaper, and hold a Tales 75 when we get one in a collection.” Each customer is a person and those who come back are remembered. It’s not just about comics either. They love to cheer on their readers other fandoms, congratulating someone on a Stanley Cup win when they walk through the door wearing a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey.
That devotion to the individual and positive attitude has helped to encourage a shift in readership over the past decade. Tarney shouts “Diverse!” when asked how the readership has changed. He attributes a lot of the new readers to the television adaptation of The Walking Dead. While the recent flurry of superhero films have helped, Tarney thinks The Walking Dead “opened up people’s ideas of what comic books could be, and that opened up the medium as a whole to a lot of different people.” Initial interest has been transformed into weekly readers, the Wednesday warriors of comics, thanks to the passion and pride of employees like those at Ultimate Comics welcoming everyone.
Sharing a love for comics is about more than offering the best possible experience to everyone who comes through the door. Gill, Tarney, and the rest of their crew also seek out opportunities to share their brand and what comics are all about. They aggressively target events hosted inside their store and elsewhere, including two team ups with NCComicCon each year. Tarney acknowledges a stigma surrounding comics, albeit a fading one, and by going out into the community the store helps encourage the curious to become customers. Once people walk through the doors of Ultimate Comics for the first time they stick around. When asked what’s important to the store, Tarney responds “establishing a real relationship with our customers.”
There’s an important lesson to be found within the walls of Ultimate Comics. Local comics stores can be successful and that success can be found through a passion for the medium combined with good business sense. It’s not a matter of one or the other; it’s a fusion of both. Success leads to new stores, more employees, and more comics readers. So when Tarney says the future goal of Ultimate Comics is “comically large burlap sacks full of money, with a dollar sign painted on the front” that sounds like a very good goal for comics.
Click ahead to see full details and photos of Ultimate Comics.
Name: Ultimate Comics
Address: 6120 Farrington Road
Chapel Hill, NC 67517
Phone: (919) 806-8282
Website: Ultimate Comics
Facebook: Ultimate Comics