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A Tale of Two Comic Shops
by Mike Baron

Fort Collins is like a lot of college towns in that it has two dedicated comic stores whose clientele is mostly students. The two stores used to be located on the same block, one around the corner from the other. On toney Linden Street in Old Town, Marshak's Comics shared the block with martini bars, art galleries, and X-sports stores. Around the corner, the smaller Haley's Comics sits next to Goodwill.

Although Marshak was not a comic nut, he read the trades, he knew what was coming out, and he knew what his customers wanted. The store also sold games and had a large gaming area in the back. Around the corner, Haley's Comics was more traditional, comics-only, with an owner who loved them, knew them, and knew his customers. Haley's is also home to three formerly stray cats who have made it their own, including the overwhelming smell of cat spray. A person allergic to cats would go into instant shock if they entered. John the proprietor is crusty but lovable. Although I've never heard him say it, I can easily imagine him saying, "This ain't no liberry, kid."

Marshak sold his store to two terrific kids, Sherman and Leana, who are primarily gamers. They replaced the Marshak crest with one of their own design: Gryphon Games and Comics. Okay, so they're in the same place and renamed the store that thousands of customers knew as Marshak's. So far so good. Then, because of high rent and limited parking, Gryphons relocated to an invisible strip mall some three miles south off College, Fort Collins' main street.

Certain retail sites are the kiss of death. I remember a corner in Madison, Wisconsin on Mineral Point Road - one of the most heavily traveled. Whatever restaurant moved into that location was doomed. And it had plenty of parking. For whatever reason, the place was not conducive to retail transactions.

Alas, Gryphon's new quarters, while spacious and clean, are hidden from College by an intervening building. Their sign, a horizontal strip in a group sign with others, is illegible from a passing car. It is too small. Several weeks ago I asked the proprietors for the Paul Pope Batman. I didn't know the title, but really, there's only one: Batman: Year 100. The folks were flummoxed. They didn't use Google to type "Paul Pope Batman." That's where I found out about it. In the world of comics, Batman: Year 100 is a pretty big deal.

I went back to Haley's and asked that crusty old character if he had the Paul Pope Batman. He whipped out Batman: Year 100 in a mylar sleeve. "You mean this?"

Haley's is easy to find. It's on Walnut Street in Old Town. Gryphons is located at 2200 South College between the Dairy Queen and the Chicken Fingers joint. Just head for the blank spot that looks like commercial retail development. There's plenty of parking. Gryphons accomplished one thing by moving. They spread the comic shops out, possibly generating a whole new market from readers who don't venture into Old Town much.

Batman: Year 100 is a true graphic novel in the sense that it takes more than a day to read. Pope's Batman is a pulp blur, an atavistic throwback to the days of the serials. Pope's art is an intriguing, sometimes shocking mix of tabloid primitivism and underground angst. It's the antithesis of the tightly rendered Neal Adams or Jim Lee Batman, and it works. Pope's meditation on identity and privacy is well worth reading, in the tradition of Brave New World or 1984. The only problem I had was the motorcycle. What kind of motorcycle is that, Paul?

Mike Baron worked for the Boston Phoenix, Boston After Dark, and the Real Paper. He broke into comics with Nexus, his groundbreaking science fiction title co-created with illustrator Steve Rude. Baron has written Marvel's Punisher, DC's Batman, Deadman, and Flash. Nexus has garnered honors too numerous to mention, including Eisners for both creators. Baron has written Star Wars for Dark Horse, Turok, Dinosaur Hunter and Archer & Armstrong for Valiant, and has three issues of Legends of the Dark Knight in the works.

A prolific creator, Baron is at least partly responsible for The Badger, Ginger Fox, Spyke, Feud, and many other comic book titles. He currently has two new web comics up at Big Head Press. The Architect is a horror story based on the life of Frank Lloyd Wright. The Hook is rock and roll science fiction - think Farenheit 451 only instead of banning books they have banned music.
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