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Comickaze's origin story reveals how the San Diego shop survived the pandemic

Gary Dexter making purchase.jpg
Roland Lizarondo / KPBS
Comickaze store manager Lucky Bronson rings up regular customer Gary Dexter. Jan. 20, 2022. Dexter refers to his weekly visit to the store as his "adult day care" time.

To understand how a local comic book store survived the pandemic you need to look to its origin story.

Comickaze's origin story provides clues to its success

Comickaze's origin story

Comic books don’t always have superheroes but a look at the origin story of Comickaze: Comics Books and More, we find an unlikely hero in Robert Scott. He started the store 30 years ago, stocked it with diverse books from around the world, and made it a welcoming environment for customers. Scott was a champion of comics and the ability of comics to create a community. But in December of 2019, Scott died unexpectedly of health-related issues leaving the store in the hands of its two employees just as a pandemic was about to shut the world down.

"When everything is going well, you can talk about community, and we're a big community," explained Lucky Bronson, who was one of those employees. "But when faced with possibly closing our customers, our family and friends, they stepped up and started buying stuff and keeping us open. And in that that's when, you know you're a part of the community is when you're at your lowest and people show up and help us stay open."

RELATED: Comickaze's Robert Scott Had Passion For Pop Culture

Bronson now co-manages Comickaze, located on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard by the 805 with Didi T., who only goes by his first name. After Scott's death Bronson and Didi had to close the second Comickaze located at Liberty Station and they worked with Scott's widow to keep the original comic book store location open. So that was one of the store's recent challenges.

Then just a few months later, the pandemic hit and for a period of time the store had to shutdown completely and no new stock of weekly comics were being delivered. But that turned out to be a good thing.

"We were kind of in survival mode into the beginning of 2020," Bronson recalled. "At least the shutdown let us regroup, pull ourselves together as a store, and kind of bounce back because we didn't have to deal with new product and paying for new product constantly. And we could focus on selling on the product we have, which is a lot of stuff."

That's when the community Scott had built up over three decades came into play. And that's when the massive stockpile of books he had been accumulating proved beneficial.

"Because of all that product we have sitting around and our customers willingness to try something new during the pandemic, it definitely kept us afloat," said Bronson.

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Roland Lizarondo / KPBS
Meagan Masingill is seen shopping for comic books at Comickaze. Jan. 12, 2022. She has been shopping at Comickaze for five years and loves the act of physically shopping for books because you can literally stumble upon a book and discover something to buy.

A community of support

Meagan Masingill is one of those customers.

"During the pandemic, we read more, we tried to do pickup more … It's such a pleasure to have built a relationship, and that's what keeps me coming back and supporting them," she said.

That supportive community also unexpectedly extended to some of the small comic book publishers.

"For instance, Robert Kirkman's company, Skybound," Bronson noted. "They published a comic, sent it to us for free. A new 'Walking Dead' story that no one expected published it for free, sent it to us for free so that we could sell it and make some money while this whole thing was going on."

Gary new this week.jpg
Roland Lizarondo / KPBS
Regular customer Gary Dexter shops for comic books at Comickaze. Jan. 12, 2022. He refers to his weekly visits to Comickaze as "adult day care."

Now things are sort of back to normal. Regulars, wearing masks displaying their favorite pop culture obsessions, are now back in the store each week to pick up their comic book subscriptions. Gary Dexter dedicates one night a week to what he calls his "adult day care."

"I get here after work sometime around about 5:00 p.m., and I stay till closing time. And we just review the events in nerd-kind for the week and it's the highlight of my week. I really look forward to it," Dexter said.

Bronson and Didi provide the kind of customer service you won’t find online or at a big chain.

"They look after me every week," Dexter added. "They pull the books that I read. So not only not only is Lucky looking after your own subscriptions, but he knows what you like. He can recommend stuff for you, exposes you to stuff that you would otherwise miss. And I think that's important in the store of this type."

Masingill agreed: "I don't feel overlooked or looked down upon as a female identifying customer and comic book fan, I feel welcomed. I feel respected."

Alonso Nunez is executive director of Little Fish Comic Book Studio where he is helping foster the next generation of comics fans and creators.

"A comic store really functions as not just a place to buy comics and to get recommendations, but really as a kind of almost community center without overstating it for nerds, for geeks, for just fans of the comic medium of manga," he said. "And it's really important to have the opportunity, as I like to say, to find something completely out of the blue, depending on the comic store, to almost literally trip over it on the ground, pick it up, and find a completely new love in a random way that you just can't do online I don't care what the algorithm is."

And that’s one of the joys of Comickaze, now called Comickaze: Comics and Pop Culture Store, where not only are shelves stocked to the bursting point but there are boxes lining the walls also overflowing with books.

"And that's why I like physical shopping for books," Masingill said as she stumbled upon a book with an interesting cover and picked it up. "I could order online but I like to touch it and open it and see who's new, I wasn't going to buy something tonight, but I might grab this."

Browsing at Comickaze always makes one think of that final scene of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" where the Ark is hidden in a vast warehouse. There are treasures hidden in that store just waiting to be discovered.

Nachie Marsham recalled that it was a small comics shop, not unlike Comickaze, where as an 11-year-old he met an owner who took the time to recommend the right comics for him.

"That is what really hooked me," Marsham recalled. "The idea of being able to go someplace every single week and be able to get something new, be able to go someplace every month and be able to get the follow up to whatever cliffhanger was kind of stringing me along in the best way possible at the time that really made me love the kind of serialized storytelling version of things and then it just kind of grew and blossomed over time."

Blossomed into a career in comics. Marsham took over as publisher at San Diego-based IDW Publishing in 2020. So as an adult he has come to appreciates comic books stores as both a nerd and an industry professional.

"It just feels good to be able to talk to people about the things that you love or to be able to comfortably talk or argue about the things that you love as well," Marsham said. "But from a cold-hearted, mercenary aspect of things like that's just good for the industry and the business in general, we want people to be able to get out there and be the ones who are saying, like what's you mean. You've never read this. You have to read this right now. Yes, please do. We love it a lot, too. And it's the lifeblood of what works for us as we move forward."

Moving forward, Comickaze still faces challenges especially with supply chain issues and the ever changing nature of the pandemic. But the store has a community it can count on.