The Great Comic Book Store Migration of 2002

Jim Lee penciled the story that got me hooked on comics. Oh I’d read comics a few times before to be sure — I had a G.I. Joe subscription one year, and I remember my grandparents buying me a few when I’d stay with them during the summer, but I was never hooked until the day I picked up that copy of Classic X-Men with the Jim Lee filler in the back.

I’d bought it in the airport on the way home from Huntsville, Alabama, on the eve of my junior year of high school. I don’t know exactly why I did it — maybe it was the cover, maybe it was fate, maybe it was that $2 in my pocket that was about to spontaneously combust.

Whatever the reason, I bought it. Soon afterward, after learning that a sequel to the classic anime import Robotech was being published in comic book form, my friend Dave Prudenti and I went in search of a comic book store, and found on in Hackettstown, N.J.

It was Dreamer’s Comics, and it was perfect. Or near perfect. The owner — Josh — was meticulous about pulling my comics each week. The store was clean, well laid out, and filled with back-issues. And Josh himself was too damn cool, wise in the ways of comics and always willing to talk for a few minutes (which could turn into hours). About the only thing it didn’t have was a role-playing game section, but that was ok, because at the time I wasn’t gaming.

Back then, I used to make mad-dashes to Dreamer’s on Thursday nights with my friend Ryan, eager to get to the store in time to pick up our new releases. With plenty of disposable income form a job at A&P, I easily spent $40, $50, sometimes $70 a week buying the back issues of my favorite comic book titles (traditionally the X-Men and their related teams).

It was a great store, and I went there for years. Then, after college, I moved away. I stopped going to Dreamer’s, which was now an hour from my apartment, rather than 5 minutes, and started going to a store down the street from the newspaper where I was a reporter.

The store — The Encounter in Stroudsburg, Pa. — was good. It had plenty of comic books and a healthy RPG section, but the conversation wasn’t quite the same as Dreamer’s. Time passed. I moved on to another job, and started buying my comics at a store in Easton, Pa., which was near my house: Dreamscape. Not bad, but it closed six months after I started going there, and it’s companion store in Bethlehem was too far away.

So I moved to another store, which I’ll call Store X. Store X was located — is located — in a nearby mall, and when I first started there, it wasn’t too bad. Oh, they had some baseball stuff for sale, some Beanie Babies, and the omnipresent (at that time) Pokeman cards. They had a few NASCAR shirts for sale, but for the most part, comics still dominated their store.

That would change.

I understand why they diversified beyond comics. It was a mall store, which mean they had to do their best to attract all kinds of walk-in traffic. But that didn’t make it any more palpable.

Over the years that I bought my comics there, the store was slowly overrun by NASCAR, sports paraphernalia, stuffed animals, and other assorted non-comics stuff. It was bad when I had to fight my way through the waves of 6-year-old Pokemon enthusiasts, but hell, at least they were gamers and future geeks. But when I had to fend off ever- increasing ranks of Beanie Baby addicts and dodge baseball fans hunting for cards, well, it rubbed me raw. It only got worse as the percentage of the store given over to comic books got smaller and smaller — folks, when you walk into a comic book store, and have a hard time finding the comic books, you know things aren’t going well.

The final straw was their haphazard respect for my pull (the comics I get each week). On average, I picked my books up about once a month or so (sometimes five weeks, rarely six). This hadn’t been a problem until one day I showed up to get my books and found that they’d been re-shelved. Seems the store had changed its policy about holding books for longer than three or four weeks. Now that’s fine — I can certainly understand having a policy like that. But they never called to let me know they were ditching my books, something they’d done in the past. As a customer for 2+ years, I thought I deserved more than that.

Beyond that, the pull was uneven. Oh it wasn’t as bad as some stores I know of, but it really annoys me when I pick up my comics and I find an issue or three missing. And it really, really annoys me when I don’t realize it until I get home, and find a massive hole in my storyline. It had gotten to the point where I was getting tired of comic books, and even contemplated — for a few minutes at least — giving up the hobby. Then I came to my senses, and decided to give up my store.

So I decided to go searching for another outlet worthy of feeding my comic book habit. and that’s when I found Dewey’s Comic City, which is a mere two blocks from my office at Drew University in Madison, N.J. Somehow I’d managed to work no more than a thousand feet from a comic book store for four years without every realizing it.

I headed down to Dewey’s on a lunch break, and was stunned to find a damn good store. A store that rivals — and even surpasses — my store from high school. And I don’t say that lightly.

Dewey’s is a clean, well-organized store with friendly owners who stock a solid mix of comic books, graphic design history books, figurines, collectible miniatures games (like HeroClix) and role-playing games. On the comics side, they’ve got all the major titles and — from what I’ve seen — the minor ones as well.

The RPG section isn’t huge, but it is current, and has a nice mix of d20 (D&D, AEG’s Spycraft, Chaosium’s Dragon Lords of Melnibone) and non-d20 titles (Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu, Decipher’s Star Trek). And they’ve also got in-store gaming, including a Friday night Magic: The Gathering tournament, HeroClix face offs, and in-store RPG campaigns.

When you buy your comics, they include a home-grown round-up of everything that’s coming out the next week. Imagine that — giving customers a reason to come back next week to pick up their comics! Plus, each week the guys at the store post their picks to their Web site (you can check it out at

It’s like comic geek heaven.

Within days after walking into the story I’d cancelled my old pull at my close-to-home-but-damn-crappy store and signed up for a pull at Dewey’s. Within two week s of picking up my comics, the guys there knew my name. And after having bought my comics there for two months, I can say that they have an efficient, organized and complete pull of each week’s comics.

It’s amazing what a difference a good store can make. I haven’t been this into collecting in years, and I’m actually excited about picking my comics up each week. I’d forgotten how nice it is to have an intelligent conversation about comic books. Now if I could just find a service that would file my comics for me…