This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on May 10, 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.
Anyone who loves comics knows that not all stories have happy endings. That goes for the comics themselves where tragedies and bittersweet conclusions comprise many canonical series. It applies to publishers where those with the best intentions and best product are sometimes swallowed by poor choices or politics. And it goes for comic book stores too. Even the very best store might close due to circumstances beyond the passion of their own fans or staff. While we try to promote great stores selling comics today in this column, it’s necessary to look at the stores who did a great job, but are no longer around.
That’s the story of Dr. Fantasy’s Comics ‘N More in Glendale, Arizona.
The Phoenix Valley has a thriving comics market with a variety of stores and conventions within driving distance. We’ve covered other areas like it in New York City, Omaha, and Washington. They don’t lack for comics, but the options also make the best stores stand out. Dr. Fantasy’s stood out to readers in Arizona.
Former staff member of Dr. Fantasy’s and new ComicBook.Com writer Joe Schmidt says, “The shop was very casual, only meant to cater to people who actually read comics and cared more about the content and less about collecting.” Almost any question you can ask him about the store comes back to this thesis. Dr. Fantasy’s was a store designed to help customers explore comics as a medium. Bags & boards and slabbed comics might have existed within it, but they were the furthest thing from the heart of this location. This was a store that wanted people to read comics. That’s it.
The store emphasized the variety of its comics above all else. “The shop had an amazing layout despite racks that didn’t lend themselves to keeping the comics in the best condition, but most of our customers weren’t collectors—they were readers” Schmidt says. Sometimes you’ll walk into a comics store and wonder whether you’re allowed to flip through a new issue or trade paperback. That was not an issue at Dr. Fantasy’s. Their displays of comics, along with an incredible collection of anime, invited customers to pick them up and see what they might enjoy inside. Each shelf acted as an invitation and combined the store could suck in any bookworm for hours.
Click ahead to learn more about Dr. Fantasy’s and what other stores can learn from what their great staff accomplished.
The shelves and selection of Dr. Fantasy’s invited anyone who entered the store, whether they were weekly regulars or folks curious to see what was inside, to stick around. However, it was the people behind the counter who kept all of them coming back. Schmidt, alongside other staffers like Matt and Nicole, were the people who engaged with current fans and transformed newcomers into comics lovers. “We always wanted the customer to feel like they were in a place where they could express their interests and talk with like minded people” say Schmidt.
Schmidt waxes poetic when he talks about how the staff at Dr. Fantasy’s would sell comics. He refers to it as an art, and he’s not wrong. “We never tried to sell an event book or something we ordered heavy on unless we were passionate about it, but we also didn’t shame people for buying what we liked” he says. That tact was key in helping people to explore the medium. The staff of Dr. Fantasy’s would carefully listen and try to help each individual find their own favorite stories rather than push their own. That style of cultivation created a community within the store. “Most of our subscribers and regulars stayed for hours not just to talk to us, but to talk to each other” says Schmidt.
The loss of that community is, perhaps, the single most tragic element of the closing of Dr. Fantasy’s. While there are still many shops in the Phoenix Valley area, none of them cater to the exact same area or offer the same experience. “I know a lot of people that used to come to our store just stopped collecting comics altogether” says Schmidt. The loss of a comics store often represents the loss of both a community and readers in the medium. In that regard, Dr. Fantasy’s represents both the importance and fragility of the LCS as a part of the comics community.
Schmidt and so many others are disappointed at the loss of their favored store, but that doesn’t mean there are no lessons to be learned. Elements like social media and EBay sales are pointed out by staffers as potential revenue streams that can help to keep a store afloat. Everyone agrees that comics retailing has never been a lucrative business. That’s probably why Schmidt emphasizes one element above all others when it comes to keeping a comics store open. “People can tell when you’re simply trying to run a business or if you’re passionate about comics” he says.
For those of us who are not from Arizona, Dr. Fantasy’s sounds like much like its name, a place we can only and will only ever be able to imagine. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t real or that we shouldn’t learn from it though. Like every LCS worth discussing it created a community, supported aspiring creators and writers, and offered people access to the medium we all love: comics. Its loss gives us some lessons on what to do (i.e. create community, focus on what you love, stay passionate) and what not to do (i.e. lose track of why you love comics). That doesn’t diminish the tragedy though. Schmidt, one of its staffers and most stalwart supporters, says it best, “Phoenix is a lucky market because there are quite a few comic shops sprinkled throughout the valley. And yet I have never loved any of them like I loved Dr. Fantasy’s.”
Name: Dr. Fantasy’s Comics ‘N More
Location: Glendale, AZ
Closed as of March 2017.