By Joseph Kyle Schmidt
It's always painful to hear a comic book retailer closed its doors. No matter the reasons or circumstances that force the shutdown, there's always a sense of dread that lingers. Whether it was the only shop in your neighborhood or just the closest one doesn't matter. The Wednesday Warriors know that familiar feeling, a homecoming of sorts.
Hero Comics in Phoenix, Arizona, closed last week after over 20 years of serving comic book, collectible and gaming fans. The store opened in 1993 under then-owner Hubert Gwan. Erin Barragan purchased the shop in 2002 and operated it with his girlfriend, Lisa Hudson, up until Sunday, June 22, 2014.
Hero was the third shop that I frequented to close its doors, like Stalking Moon and Atomic Comics before it. But Hero was more than just a weekly stop. While I do miss those other shops and their staffs, the people at Hero Comics were family.
Like I said, a shop closing on me isn't anything new. The closing of Atomic Comics came at a time when college work was starting to kick my ass. Internships and coursework left me little time or money, and my "frivolous" expenses had to be cut back. And while I would browse the burgeoning Comixology from time-to-time, Atomic's close allowed me to cancel my pull list with little fuss or muss. But there was one comic that I absolutely could not quit, no matter how hard I tried: Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma's Morning Glories.
I love the intrigue, the dynamic, and the sheer sense of dread imposed within the pages of Morning Glories, and while I didn't have a comic shop to claim I still had a comic that I needed to read. My collection could not suffer. I would not miss an issue. I needed Morning Glories.
My then-girlfriend (now-wife) worked for the Boys and Girls Club and looked after the children of Hero Comics' owners, Lisa and Erin. I'd never met them at the time; I would only stop into Hero when I was looking for specific back-issues because they had a respectable inventory for one to peruse. But my girlfriend told them I was a comic fan, that I shopped at Atomic Comics, that I was a Morning Glories fan and wanted to continue collecting that series.
That's when my girlfriend began surprising me once a month, bringing with her the latest issues when she'd come to visit. The folks at Hero would give her the comic when they would pick up their kids without charging her a single cent. They just wanted to make sure I didn't miss a floppy.
It doesn't seem like much, but that simple gesture kept me *in* comics. I'd fallen out before, and it took me a decade to fall back in, and I could have just as easily quit the hobby once Atomic closed. But Hero Comics kept me hooked.
Once I graduated and found a stable job, I decided to stop in, introduce myself, and thank the staff for their generosity. Soon it became my weekly pilgrimage.
Erin and I shared an appreciation of esoteric titles that weren't from Marvel or DC, books such as Girls, Revival, the Massive, Storm Dogs, Atomic Robo, and more. He would throw the odd recommendation in my box, such as Shaolin Cowboy or God is Dead. We'd argue over Morrison's X-Men and whether it made any sense, discuss the nuances of Hickman's character and plot development in Fantastic Four, and we'd nerd out over Geoff Johns deft combination of mythos and innovation.
And then there's Lisa. Lisa, who would tell me how much she hates Cyclops (*shakes fist*) at the same time that she'd be handing me a birthday present. Lisa, who would pull aside variants by Frazer Irving because she remembers how much I love his work. Lisa, who purchased my son his first pair of Batman light-up shoes.
Hero Comics was more than the sum of its parts. It was a second home and a place to lose yourself for hours. Whether you played card games, collected, had a box of pulls or had just seen a movie and wanted to start reading, you were welcome at Hero. And while the doors might be closed, I'm glad that I was able to shop here for even a fraction of its lifetime. I didn't just make a few memories; I made some great friends, too.
If you're one of the customers who shopped at Hero Comics, fear not, for Phoenix is home to many great stores. Bleeding Cool regular Jesse James of Jesse James Comics has taken over Hero's subscriptions, located at 43rd Ave and Peoria Ave. All About Books & Comics on Central Ave and Camelback Road boasts a huge inventory of back issues. And Drawn to Comics on 58th Ave and Glendale Road is home to some extremely friendly and knowledgeable staff.
I'll be going to Dr. Fantasy's Comic Books & More, a relatively newer shop with a great selection of collectibles and toys, on 75th Ave and Bell Road.
Thank you to everyone who has ever helped out at Hero Comics including Todd and Corey, and thanks to Erin and Lisa for all of the memories. We'll share a beer or two in San Diego later this month and toast to the good times, I'm sure.
Joseph Schmidt is a sad little boy. Cheer him up on twitter @woeisjoe.