Comic book store franchise aims to expand the passion for comics

FREDERICK, Md. (Associated Press) — When Emily Kerr walked into Beyond Comics to pick up her subscriptions for the past two weeks, her order was waiting for her before she even made it to the counter.

Store owner John Cohen greets her by name and asks her how the kennel she works at works.

“It’s amazing that he can just keep all that information about his returning customers,” Kerr said.

After 25 years in the business, Cohen knows his bones but aims to be welcoming and helpful to first-time visitors. The store is all about spreading the passion for comics and graphic novels as much as possible – for curious beginners, long-running fans, and serious collectors alike.

Cohen opened his first Beyond Comics branch in February 1997 at Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg. The store was 920 square feet and in a funky location for a comic store. Most comic book stores, Cohen added, are in “dungeons behind corners” – locations that offer the cheapest possible rent. Cohen wanted a site that would help “legitimize” his shop, as he put it.

Cohen noticed that many of his customers were driving from Frederick, so he opened Frederick’s store in 2007, which became the main location.

To celebrate the store’s 25th anniversary, Beyond Comics has worked with Marvel to release two different covers for the first edition of the “Daredevil” reboot and the first edition of the “Edge of Spider-Verse” mini-series.

Cohen put his own twist on the covers: They connect to create a single image. He hopes to expand this image to a total of six comic book covers with different publishers, and the covers will all come together to make a poster.

Cohen had been in the comic book industry for 16 years when he opened his shop. While working at a different store, he realized that the industry was missing out on stores that focus more on comic and graphic novel content.

“My vision was greater,” he said. “We called it Beyond Comics because we wanted people to understand that there’s more to comics than just what you think there is. We felt comics as a medium had way more than just collecting comic books.”

His shop was one of the first to sell graphic novels, which Cohen said he recognized as a rapidly growing market in the 1990s.

The comics are usually released periodically, with a new issue released on a regular basis – weekly, biweekly, monthly, or anything in between. A subset of these comic books will be subject to a full story, Cohen said.

Take the movie The Sandman adapted from the recent Netflix series comic book series. The series has 75 issues released over 75 months. If someone wanted to read the whole story, they would have to find every issue from 1989 to 1996.

However, graphic novels combine one story into one book, rather than a series of issues. Graphic novels may also be entirely original stories, including Raina Telgemeier’s “Smile” and Sissy Bell’s “El Deafo.”

The graphic novels bring together some of the issues in one book that includes one of the story arcs in the series. Instead of searching for all 75 issues, some of which are likely to be sold out, the reader can purchase 10 graphic novels.

Graphic novels are also useful for collectors, who may not want to pull out and read their expensive or rare comic books. Many comics collectors will buy expensive comics and store them in filing boxes or cabinets.

Newmarket resident Brian Alt started reading picture books when he was young and his grandmother bought them at flea markets. He said he started collecting things at the age of 13 but took a break for a while when he closed the store that used to close during the 1990 market crash.

When Cohen opened his store in Lakeforest Mall, Alt started buying from him. In 2012, he returned to the world of collecting. Since then, he’s been in the store every Wednesday, which is a new comic book day.

His collection has grown to between 35,000 and 40,000, and he stores it in a spare room in his house. To preserve old comics, especially those on newsprint, Alt also purchased graphic novels.

“The damage can be done, and these things are becoming more and more rare, and more valuable…so oftentimes I have graphic novels of my entire collections,” Alt said.

Beyond Comics sold $20,000 worth of comics, Cohen said. However, it does not meet the needs of the store for collectors. Instead, it focuses on the average customer.

Cohen believes that women’s passion for graphic novels was integral to the increase in popularity of his store. Only 20 or 30 years ago, Cohen remembers shopkeepers who would get angry if a woman came to their store.

When the store opened, he said, women would go to bookstores and read much more novel-length content than they would comic books. He decided to design the store to look like a bookstore, with several graphic novels in the front of the store.

Robert Slick, who has collected picture books since he was a child in the 1970s, said he loves to walk into Frederick’s store. “It’s great – just walk in and look at its walls and enjoy what it has, like the statues and everything else,” Slick said.

Cohen wants the store environment to be inviting to everyone. He joked that he didn’t want “anyone to get testosterone on their face” when he walked into the store.

Comic book culture has grown to include all kinds of people. He said that if Cohen had worn a superhero shirt when he was in high school, he would have spent the day in his wardrobe. Things have changed because superhero stories have become mainstream.

“You don’t have to be an outcast or introvert to read comics (anymore),” Cohen said.

He said that TV shows and movies don’t help sell comic books and graphic novels because most of the time the content doesn’t match the comic book story, but they do help legitimize the product.

When newcomers to comics-based content come to his store in search of a comic story based on a Marvel movie or TV show, Cohen or one of the other employees tries to recommend something they might enjoy. They aim to cater to everyone, not just hardcore collectors.

“If you (want) to make money and buy back expensive versions, that’s great,” Cohen said. “But we’re just as happy, if not more so, when you come over and buy your stack of comics and read them and come back and tell us, ‘They were really good. “

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.