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More Than a Comic Shop: Building Community Beyond the Pages

With national Free Comic Book Day coming up on May 4th, I wanted to talk to a few local comic book stores that are participating in the event. In Lethbridge there are four comic book stores - Showcase Comics and Hobbies, Kapow Comics, Treasure Chest, and Pirates Cove. I met with Dylan Purcell, manager from Showcase Comics and Hobbies, and Wallie Desruisseaux, owner of Kapow Comics, to talk about the history of Free Comic Book Day and how each of their stores plans to celebrate in the event.

 “What you had was a bunch of old men like me reading comics and you hoped that we would pass it on to our children,” says Dylan. “This doesn’t happen very often. So, the person who started the event thought ‘Hey let’s do give-a-ways’. Once Diamond (the only comic book distributer in North America) got on board it started.”

Naturally I had to ask what kind of deals and promotions the stores would be doing in honour of Free Comic Book Day. “Showcase is smart; we roll a bunch of sales in with Free Comic Book Day. It’s our second busiest day of the year,” says Dylan.  “We get new customers interested in the comics and hope they take up a little more.”

Dylan went on to tell me that the event is great for their community as well. “We get cosplayers, we get the 501st Legion in. It’s a busy day at the comic book store.”

For those who are unfamiliar with these terms, a ‘cosplayer’ refers to someone who wears costumes and accessories to represent a specific character. The 501st Legion is an international fan-based organization dedicated to promoting interest in Star Wars through constructing and wearing accurate replicas of the movie costumes. They also do community and charity work.

Wallie at Kapow was eager to tell me what fun events he has planned for the day as well. “We will have free comic books of course; we always have cosplay contests, local artists and authors. Aside from that we are hoping to do some things outside and hopefully run a street party.” He went on to explain that for his store they use Free Comic Book Day as a way to celebrate comics. “It’s like a little Comic Con almost.”

Dylan had similar feelings about the day as well, saying “It’s an excuse to have a fun day.” When I asked Dylan how he got into comics in the first place he explained how he fell in love with them at a young age, especially with Robin from Batman. “Robin is your favourite super hero as a kid because you find yourself in him. You see yourself in it, and you want to get more of it. The only way to do that was to go to the comic book store and start a file.”

 Throughout our interview, Dylan kept coming back to the fact that, no matter whom you are that relatability with comic book characters and their stories is what builds the community. “It’s like being a part of a book club,” he explained. Wallie’s comic collecting experience was a little different than Dylan’s. Having grown up in a small town, he explained that it was a little harder for him to get a hold of them, other than the few issues found at grocery stores and such.

 I myself am an avid comic book reader. As such, I have spent many hours in comic book stores, and I’ve noticed that they become way more then just an ordinary store. When you find “your” comic book store you become a part of the community of people that love the same things you do; whether it’s comics, card games, board games or table top games, you find yourself becoming friends with fellow shoppers (or even the owners). It becomes a haven for people from all walks of life - lawyers play games like “War Machine” (a table top strategy game) with starving students who spend all the pennies they have to play the game.

My fiancé and I know all too well how much a comic book shop can mean to a person. We were kids who had both moved from home straight out of high school to attend the University of Lethbridge, and honestly the community at Showcase is what has helped us an incredible amount. Whenever we have news to tell it is always Bobby Hoff and Dylan Purcell who are the first to hear it, sharing advice for our problems, or smiles and laughter when we have something to celebrate. We even got engaged at Showcase; to us they are our family.

If you have any free time on May 4th, I recommend checking out a comic book store. Go in and see the smiling faces, the cosplayers eager to share their months of work, and even though the owners might look stressed out I know they would love to say hello and chat with you about your favourite comics.
Engagement (Photo credit to Jayme Javier Photography).jpg
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