Comic Shops Can Still Happen If You Want Them

Android's Dungeon!

Here’s something you don’t see every day: a brand new comic book shop.

The Android’s Dungeon has operated as an online store since 2009, but this year its owners saw their long-standing dream of a brick-and-mortar storefront come true. After months of searching and hoping for the right combination of location and timing, they planted stakes, opened their doors to the public in March, and made history as the first official comic shop in the ever-expanding town of Avon, Indiana.

Such a move would seem to defy current quote-unquote “wisdom”. Just as hard-copy books, newspapers, and magazines fight for relevance and survival in our increasingly paperless society, all the internet hubbub nowadays among comics fans is about digital comics as the wave of the future. All the major publishers have made long-term investments in a number of enticing digital initiatives, from online exclusives to discounted back issues. The premier independent digital comics distributor, comiXology, was acquired earlier this year by Amazon, so someone in Jeff Bezos’ chain of command apparently thinks there’s potential in the field.

Meanwhile in the physical shopping world, America’s comic-shop count is a fraction of what we had twenty years ago. Most small towns and a few major cities have nowhere within fifty miles where they can walk inside, browse new titles at random, and spend a few bucks on an impulse purchase for themselves and/or their kids. I’ve been frequenting Indianapolis shops since I was thirteen and have fond memories of many of those locations that would become casualties in our somewhat temperamental hobby. The list of the dead includes but isn’t limited to:

* John’s Comic Closet, the very first shop I ever entered, which was on the other end of town.
* Comics Unlimited, near the low-income neighborhood of Haughville.
* Blue Moon Comics, also owned by John of the Comic Closet, but on our side of town.
* Comic Carnival West, Comic Carnival East, Comic Carnival South, and the original Comic Carnival in Broad Ripple. (A single north-side location remains their last stronghold.)
* Range Line Comics, which began in Carmel but had at least one other location I visited before they vanished.
* A comics/skater shop down the street that had the misfortune of opening a few months before the infamous Heroes World debacle.
* When Indy’s downtown Union Station was rebooted as a shopping mall for a while in the late 1980s, one of its first stores was a short-lived comic shop.
* A couple of tiny, nearby used bookshops that ordered new comics on the side.
* All our long-gone Waldenbooks, B. Dalton Booksellers, Media Play, and Borders Bookstores.

It’s into this historical minefield that the Android’s Dungeon now marches forth, waving their banner high, spreading word of all that’s great about our beloved medium, and determined to avoid the fates of their predecessors. They’re located in a heavily trafficked commercial area with no shortage of consumers, but tucked away in an older strip mall so modest that their section doesn’t have rooftop signage. The strip mall’s collection of aggregated roadside signs out front only has enough room to list their name as “COMIC BOOKS”. Fortunately when my wife and I dropped in to check them out, none of the neighboring businesses had enough customers to create any parking issues.

Inside the store was, in my amateur opinion, a healthy crowd for a Saturday. The owners were friendly, the customers were happy, there were kids enjoying themselves, and even I was pleasantly surprised in the diversity of new-comics offerings. It’s been my experience that smaller stores tend to function basically as narrow-minded Marvel/DC outlets, but the Android’s Dungeon proudly carried series from all the major companies and even some of the indies, even titles such as Lumberjanes or Bee and PuppyCat that aren’t aimed at super-hero-lovin’ macho dudes. They have a discount program in place, they cheerfully add freebies to your bag, they have monthly giveaways, and they’ve even launched a reading club. This is a comics store that’s primed to explode from trying to contain so much love for the medium.

Lord willing, maybe they’ll see more readers lining up at their doors over the days and months ahead. It’s worth noting that, setting aside big-box joints like Target or Walmart, the only other bookstore in Avon is a Half Price Books. The Barnes & Noble closed a few years ago over a lease dispute with their allegedly miserly landlords. Even the lone Christian bookstore in town ended its run last month. Avon fans of the printed page don’t have many places to turn unless they’re up for a drive out to the Barnes & Noble in Plainfield, unless they’re willing to settle for corporate-approved big-box options, or unless they keep ordering online and killing local retail jobs dead. To assist us all with our reading plans, the Indianapolis Star just posted an article about the Android’s Dungeon that will be featured in their June 29th edition, which is probably rolling off the presses as I’m typing this.

Curiously, the Android’s Dungeon isn’t the only new shop to open in central Indiana this year. I’m aware of two other newcomers some forty-odd minutes away from us. At a recent event I heard a sales pitch from one store owner who made sure I knew up front that he doesn’t order shelf copies of smaller titles. I didn’t have the heart to tell them those are about 85% of my monthly reading list. I know little else about the other new shop except that their name bugs me.

I’ll be curious to see if the Android’s Dungeon can compete in this tough climate and carve out a niche for itself in the Avon community. My initial experience was positive across the board, especially the part where I found an issue of The Royals: Masters of War I’d been missing for months that I couldn’t find at four other shops. For that I owe them my gratitude, and they have my fond wishes for their success.

Also, I love that their store’s symbol (at right in the photo) is an homage to a classic Steranko Incredible Hulk cover, a simple image of Our Hero straining against a massive weight that’s threatening to crush him, but obviously won’t because he’s the strongest one there is. Nice touch.

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