For the past decade, “nerd culture” has made a steady and prolific rise into the mainstream. Today many of our most popular movies and TV shows — like The Avengers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and even The Walking Dead — were all originally brought to life on the pages of comic books.
This rabid transition has been experienced firsthand by John Cameron, owner of JC Comics & Cards in Cuyahoga Falls.
“[When] you walk into my store, all you are going to see are the beginnings of what you have been watching for the last decade,” John says.
A lifelong comic book fan, John began reading comics books after struggling with reading as a child. “I think that helped bridged the gap,” he says. “[I] got into them, fell in love, stayed with them for a long time.”
While getting a degree in mass media from the University of Akron, John began working at Kenmore Komics and Games. When he finished school, he decided to take a big leap and open his own shop. He figured his work at Kenmore Komics had “basically served as an internship. How about I open my own store?”
John had no formal business training, but felt this moment was the right time to take this risk. At the time, he had no spouse or kids, and was beholden only to himself.
“So that is when you should go for it, basically,” John says. “Far too many people try and do that type of thing when they have a lot of responsibilities… So I kind of went for it right out of school.”
That was in 1990.
JC Comics will turn 30 in 2020.
“What’s weird about some of those things is the fact that you don’t realize how long you have been doing it, and how old you have gotten doing it. When you see someone who came in with their parents as a kid, and they were small, and they come back 10 or 15 years later, and they are taller than you are… that happens more often than I like to admit,” John says.
Selling comic books has not always been easy. JC Comics has weathered mistakes by publishers, several recessions and the rise of Amazon. But John says comic books have been more resilient than other mediums.
“To me, there has always been a tactile nature to comic books,” John says. “There is something about holding that comic book and smelling that comic book and seeing the ads, and it’s a lot more, for lack of a better term, antiseptic. Reading on a reader or your phone, it’s not the same thing.”
John explains, affectionately, that there is often a group of people waiting outside his shop on Wednesday mornings, the day of most new releases. “If you were here 10:30 am-10:45 am, there is a group of people, and they all know each other and they are always here, pretty much, on Wednesday.”
These devoted fans wait outside “like people around a burning barrel” and joke with one another, John says. Many of them go out to eat after making their purchases.
John knows his customers well and strives to continue doing so. He explains that he likes to think of himself playing a role similar to that of Sam Malone, the bartender from Cheers played by Ted Danson. “I know I have gone through weddings, funerals, divorces, retirements, you name it — I have been open long enough to have all those things affect me.”
John also works hard to help new readers, since he understands that the world of comics can be intimidating for the “newbie.” But he doesn’t think it’s any more overwhelming than exploring a bookstore or even browsing options on Netflix.
“I’ve got some basic questions I ask people, and then I just try and find you something that you are [into], a genre or something that I think you would feel comfortable with,” John says. “Most importantly, I want to give good stuff… I don’t recommend junk.”
And while he admits that publishers sometimes struggle to create new content, often reworking old standards instead, John says now is a great time to get into comics — particularly if you are looking for stories that aren’t about superheroes.
“There are more good comics being published than there has ever been,” John says, “because there are enough good publishers willing to go beyond a cape and punching someone in the face to do a comic book.”