Drawn to Success: Comic shops continue to thrive in digital age

Comics at Criminal Records (Photos by Isadora Pennington)
Comics at Criminal Records (Photos by Isadora Pennington)

By Isadora Pennington

Vinyl records are making a big comeback. Cassettes still have that “mix tape” nostalgia. The death of printed books was greatly exaggerated. While the way we listen to music and read stories continues to change and evolve, the affinity for comic books and graphic novels has not faded over time.

In fact, it would appear that as the average fan grows older, they often rediscover their passions for the comics that they grew up reading. There’s something that’s special about seeing and holding a physical, printed comic, something that just can’t be replicated with e-readers and tablets.

This month I was able to meet with the folks who run two popular comic spots – Criminal Records in Little Five Points and My Parent’s Basement in Avondale Estates.

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Zano Ludgood

Criminal Records, a staple of Little Five Points since 1991, is a laid back shop that carries an extensive selection of records, CDs and comics. Zano Ludgood, who heads up the comics department at Criminal, works at a small counter stacked high with comics that overflow into boxes on the floor and a nearby table. Posters and artwork plaster the walls, music plays over the sound system, and shelves are lined with products as far as the eye can see.

Ludgood has been working at Criminal for more than nine years, and is, as would be expected, a lifelong fan of comic books and comic culture. “I don’t even have a first memory of comics,” he said.

Criminal Records
Criminal Records

As a young man growing up in Acworth, he frequented Dr. No’s in Marietta, a comic shop established way back in 1977. When he later moved to Downtown Atlanta, he came across Criminal Records, and he quickly became a regular at the shop. “I started working here because I shopped here a lot,” he laughed. “When I found Criminal it was kinda like, ‘okay, this is my shop. When you shop for comics that’s a kinda big deal – finding a shop that’s a good fit for you.”

Indeed, the following at Criminal is almost cult-esque in their fervor for all things comic and vinyl. The subscriber list that numbers around 250 members is a solid endorsement for the lasting appeal of the shop. Being on the list as a subscriber means that the shop will pull and hold your desired new releases as they become available, and qualifies you for a discount.

Criminal Records hosts regular events that encourage the community to come out, meet one another, and discuss comic books. The shop currently has three clubs: one that features a different graphic novel every month, another called the #1 club that features the top single issues from the previous month, and an all-ladies club. You may even have a celebrity encounter in the store if you’re lucky, as Steven Yeun from The Walking Dead, comedian David Cross, and actor Sasha Baron Cohen have all been spotted perusing the aisles.

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My Parent’s Basement co-owners Dave DeFeo, Tim Ensor, and Lawson Wright

In addition to popular titles, Criminal also stocks small-scale and indie publications. Ludgood is thoughtful about the display and manner of presentation for these underdogs of the comic world, and by putting the independent works on the same display as the bigger name. he hopes to encourage sales of work by local artists.

“For someone who maybe has only ever heard of Marvel or DC, it puts them on an equal footing subconsciously, that way I can easily recommend it to them,” Ludgood said.

On the other side of town, My Parent’s Basement co-owners Dave DeFeo, Tim Ensor, and Lawson Wright have built something a bit different. The restaurant/comic shop/bar concept opened last summer in the building that was once James Joyce Pub. The space features a wood-paneled bar, internal dining space, an expansive and covered patio with two fireplaces, and of course, shelves packed with comic books.

Die-hard comic fans can revel in their selection of classics and new releases, and parents can bring their kids to enjoy a meal and a drink while little ones tinker on the row of free-to-play arcade games.

“The real thing that got us started is me and Tim [Ensor] both worked at Leon’s together,” said Dave DeFeo. “He came in one morning and said, ‘Man, I had this crazy dream last night. We owned a comic book store, and there was a bar in it. It was called ‘My Parent’s Basement’ and it was awesome!’

unspecified-5DeFeo agreed and shortly after that fateful conversation, a friend of Ensor from high school announced that his comic book store had gone under and he was left with boxes upon boxes of comic books in storage. “His comics, coincidentally, had just been sitting in his parents basement,” DeFeo laughed. “And they said, ‘if you guys come and get them, you can have them.’ So we went and picked up 110 long boxes of comics, about 25,000 comics altogether.”

My Parent’s Basement began as eBay store, and Lawson Wright was in charge of it. He found himself constantly on his phone and said he “giggled” at how successful they were just as online entity.

It wasn’t a quick transition from online to brick-and-mortar for the trio, however, and they spent three long years at pop-up shops and focusing on the web store as they built their brand and put together a business plan. Once the physical shop opened, My Parent’s Basement was embraced by the community and made it a mission to support local and indie works.

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Old-school video games at My Parents’ Basement.

However, it’s not only members of the immediate community that frequent the barstools of My Parent’s Basement; the shop has also brought in some high-profile guests. “There’s this whole scene of ‘nerd bars’ popping up,” Ensor said, noting that the fanbase for comics and graphic novels is mostly comprised of adults these days, as having expendable income is a must for making fun purchases like comics and collectibles.

While their extensive comic book selection, recurring nerd trivia, and community events are enough to garner some initial interest, the shop didn’t hold back on developing a killer menu to keep their fans coming back for more. Guests can enjoy bar food like Lawson’s nachos, a rotating selection of vegan/vegetarian options, and handmade hot pockets. Top those dishes off with a full bar and an array of 32 locally sourced taps including two craft sodas and one iced coffee and you’ve got a recipe for full bellies and business success.

Criminal Records is located at 1154 Euclid Ave. NE, and you can find out more information at criminalatl.com or (404) 215-9511. My Parent’s Basement is located at 22 N. Avondale Road, and you can find out more at myparentsbasementcbcb.com or (404) 292-4607.

 

More Shops to Explore

Oxford Comics
2855 Piedmont Road NE
(404) 233-8682 or oxfordcomics.com

Teahouse Comics
5920 Roswell Road, Suite #B-107, Sandy Springs
(404) 252-3994 or teahouse-comics.com

Titan Games and Comics
2585 Spring Rd. Suite C, Smyrna
(770) 433-8226 or titangamesandcomics.com

Book Nook
3073 N. Druid Hills Road, Decatur
(404) 633-1342 or booknookbookstoredecaturga.com

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley is the editor of Atlanta Intown.