This Saturday is National Free Comic Book Day. In preparation for the events of this Saturday I sat down with Richard Neal, Owner of Zeus Comics & Toys to see what inspired him to start up one of the best comic book stores in the nation and to see what kind of festivities he has planned for NFCBD.
Geek Speak: Tell me a bit about Zeus Comics, what got you to want to open up your own comic book store?
Zeus: Zeus comics is 8 ½ years old, we opened back in July of 2000. We first opened up on Oaklawn in the Turtlecreek Village Shopping Center but that is getting a major renovation, the building we were in is getting torn down so we’ve moved to Lemon Avenue. It’s a lot more visible space for us. For me, what I discovered, because I was a comic book collector before the store opened up. I discovered that there were multiple stores I was going to for different reasons. I’d go to this store for new releases, I’d go to this store for back issues, I’d go for this store for toys, I’d go to this store because they had a better selection of new releases… It was just, you know… My weekend jaunt would be spending 6 hours going to different comic book shops finding what I wanted. So, I decided to open one that kind of encapsulated a lot of those elements. The other thing is that I thought was common among all of them was that they were of fairly poor design. They hadn’t changed. You looked around and you’d see some innovated retailers like FAO Schwartz or then at the time Warner Bros Store that were very, very sophisticated and yet the comic book shop still looked fairly the same. Just cardboard boxes on tables and wire racks, and I thought, you know what we’ve all grown up now; we’re all professionals, we’re all in IS, we’re all in creative, we’re all in graphic design, we’re all computer programmers… The comic book stores need to look like what we would normally shop at not just because they have comic books but something sophisticated that would appeal to all of us.
GS: That does seem to be the trend these days with newer stores going for a more aesthetic approach as well but I was up in Amarillo and it was just racks with no music and your typical “Comic Book Guy” behind the counter. Are you trying to buck the trend of “Comic Book Guy Worse Issue Ever” kind of guy?
Zeus: Hah ha hah, well yeah, comic book stores have been getting a wrap. You have the Comic Book Guy off of The Simpsons and it becomes this stereo type and this stereo type exists I guess because there is a little bit of truth in it but it gives everyone else this bad feeling because they assume that is what a comic book shop is like when that isn’t necessarily the case. Definitely by tricking out the store and making it more sophisticated it you can appeal to more people. One of our biggest sellers is the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic book and a lot of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans have been coming into Zeus to pick it up and I think our aesthetic makes it a lot more comfortable for people who are not use to going to comic book stores. They can walk in here and feel relaxed and I like that.
GS: What are you looking forward to coming up most in the comic book world?
Zeus: For me right now it’s DC Comics’ summer event of Green Lantern, The Blackest Night. It’s something that they have been building for this last 3 or 4 years and it’s this phenomenal concept that there is more lanterns out there than just the green ones. There are yellow which is fear and orange which is avarice (greed) and so forth. And it’s being well written. It’s being written by one of their best writers, Geoff Johns.
GS: I saw that you won a Will Eisner Award. How did that come about?
Zeus: Oh yeah! In 2006 we won the Will Eisner Spirit of Retail Award. Our good friend David Hopkins, who you’re familiar with, there are these forms where you can nominate a store for the Will Eisner award and one year David got together and actually filled it out. I think he made it a part of a class assignment – I could have that wrong – but he made it a part of a class assignment so they go this nomination for the store and they sent us this packet in the mail and we made a five minute video which is up on YouTube and made a nice presentation about the store and what we do and what we do different. We went to San Diego with 10 other stores to see if anybody would win and we won!
GS: I was wondering how that could come about, if you would need to do a big national campaign for your store or a smear campaign against Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash…
Zeus: Well one of the great things about the Spirit award is that you can only win it once. It’s like a lifetime award. That way one store can’t continue to get it every year and lock it up. This way somebody different can be spotlighted each year, it’s a great system. We’re the only store in Texas to ever win it and usually its stores on the coast so it was great to bring the award here.
GS: That’s really impressive. Tell me about Free Comic Book Day.
Zeus: Free Comic Book Day is a national event. It’s been going on for….This would be the sixth year. Basically the publishers offer us certain titles at a heavily discounted rate for the hopes for us to buy them and then give them away. So the free comic book days… the misconception is that free comic books are not free to the retailer so that is why you see a mix level of participation from retailer to retailer. Not everybody jumps full on board, some people just do a limited number some limit the number of whatever. So we’ve been participating for each year that they’ve been doing it. This year we have a few guests such as: Scott Kurtz of PVP Online, James O’Barr creator of the Crow, Matt Sturges writer of Blue Beetle and Jack of Fables, and Kristian Donaldson of Supermarket and DMZ and we’re giving out 4,000 of the free comics and it’s from 10-6 on Saturday (May 2nd)
GS: What kind of crowd are you expecting?
Zeus: I don’t know, we’ve definitely thrown bigger Free Comic Book Day events in the past where we’ve had a few thousand people show up so since we’re doing something a little bit smaller this year inside the store as appose to out of the park I don’t know if we’re just going to get over run or if we’re just going to open up a case of beer and have a good time. Hopefully both!
GS: What would you recommend for parents who don’t know anything about comic books looking to purchase something for their kids to get them into reading?
Zeus: DC does a line of comic books based off of their animated series. Such as Batman: The Brave and the Bold, there is a comic book based on that. Marvel does a line called Marvel Adventures that has super heroes involved. You have the more traditional Betty and Veronica and Archie’s. One of my favorite books, however, is a book by Brian Vaughn, who is currently a writer on Lost, and it’s about a group of kids who discover their parents are super villains and how they handle that. It’s very kid-centric so the kids can get into it and have this fantasy of “Oh what if my parents aren’t who they say they are.” Boost Studios just picked up the Disney/Pixar license so they will be releasing original stories with The Incredibles, Toy Story, Finding Nemo and so forth. They also picked up the license for The Muppet Show so they have some comics out that are very, very good. Surprisingly.
GS: That’s good because I know comic books aren’t quite as tame as parents might remember them, GI Joe over there isn’t exactly explaining that “Knowing is half the battle” anymore.
Zeus: We definitely separate our comic books from what would be, 4 o’clock TV and what would be 6 o’clock TV. So that when parents come in there is a safe place to go and just pick up The Incredibles, Archie, Marvel Adventure Spiderman… and so on.
Join Zeus comics this Saturday from 10-6 for Free Comic Book Day at 4411 Lemmon Ave
Dallas, TX 75219. Visit www.zeuscomics.com to see the latest releases and to hold any new releases you are wanting to get before you get there!