The Comic Shack a Haven For Kids at Heart
The Comic Shack is the only remaining comic book and game store left in Bradenton, where kids and adults alike can indulge in their favorite hobbies.
Tucked away in the Fountains Plaza shopping center on US 41 is a place where fantasy comes to life; where superheroes mingle with mythical creatures and mortals. There are even some zombies lurking around from time to time.
The Comic Shack, which calls itself “Bradenton’s Sanctuary for Geeks,” is a one-stop destination for comic book collectors, role-playing strategy gamers, hobbyists, and all fans of fantasy and adventure.
The Comic Shack opened in 2008 and has been owned and operated by Tampa resident, Mark Wolfking, for the last two years. It moved from its original 4115 18th St W location to Fountain Plaza in 2010, where Wolfking says it has begun to see more traffic.
“The old location was really well hidden, which is apparently bad for business,” Wolfking joked.
For Wolfking, getting involved with The Comic Shack was kismet. After being laid off from his job at Lowe’s Home Improvement, Wolfking learned from a childhood friend that the last comic store in Bradenton was closing. He leapt at the opportunity to provide a new haven for comic fans and hobbyists.
“I’ve held a half-dozen jobs since 9/11, but I kept getting laid off because they were always cutting back, so when I saw a chance to do something I would really enjoy, I went for it,” said Wolfking, who commutes from Tampa several days a week to run the store. “I could open a comic shop in Tampa, but there are already at least five of those up there. I would rather be the only show in town and run it well than be one out of six doing the same thing.”
Wolfking said that since he took over The Comic Shack, it has grown a reputation for carrying hard-to-find items such as rare vintage comics and promotional posters, unusual World of Warcraft starter sets, and unique toys and video games.
“I have to be careful what kind of merchandise I pick up, or else I run the risk of carrying it in the store until I die,” Wolfking said. “I have a knack for seeking out some really obscure items, and I try to carry as many as possible. When it comes to the mainstream items, big chains like Target and Wal-Mart usually carry them at prices that I can’t compete with, so I really have to seek out the unusual stuff.”
Wolfking said that some of the popular items available at The Comic Shack are fan items from television series’ like Dr. Who and The Walking Dead.
Some of Wolfking's customers developed their interest in comics after seeing some of the comic-inspired films popular in Hollywood over the past few years.
“So far, I have at least liked all of the movies, although sometimes the fan side of me is a little annoyed when they stray away from the plot of the comic books,” said Wolfking, who started reading comics such as X-Men and The Green Lantern when he was a kid in the 1970s. “However, they’ve definitely created a bit of fervor. I have quite a few customers who started reading comics after seeing movies like Iron Man or the Christopher Nolan Batman series.”
There is more to The Comic Shack than its status as the only store in town that sells rare comics, action figures, games and other fan paraphernalia. It is also a gathering place – and battleground – for gamers who take part in tournaments of strategy and skills.
Every Friday night, The Comic Shack is host to tournaments of the card game Magic: The Gathering. On Sundays, players go head to head in HeroClix, tournaments, which involve collectible miniature action figures played in three-dimensional strategy games.
While HeroClix players generally range in age from their late teens through their early twenties, Wolfking said that the Magic: The Gathering crowd is “one of the most diverse” he’s ever seen, with players ranging in age from 13 to 40.
“It’s really cool to get twenty people in one room playing a game, ranging across three generations in age," he said. "From a cultural standpoint, I think that’s pretty neat.”
Wolfking added that his customer base, in general, is equally diverse.
“I have a lot of high school and college-age kids who frequent the store, but I also have quite a few forty and fifty year olds who I am happy to report never grew up. I probably get about twice as many customers in the younger age group, but my 30-50 crowd definitely spends more money on collectibles.”
Although comics and gaming are stereotypically thought of as “boys only” hobbies, Wolfking said an increasing number of girls and women have been getting involved.
“I married a geek,” said Wolfking, “so I resent the stereotype that girls don’t game. In fact, a lot of the girls I know are better at it than guys. Ladies are cunning.”
Although maintaining a comic store in a struggling economy can be a challenge, Wolfking is clearly in his element when he’s behind the counter discussing the comics and games.
“Comics have been something I’ve enjoyed since I was a kid, but I’ve become downright knowledgeable about them in the past few years because of the business,” he said.
Wolfking recalled the early business principles he learned from Mel Lohn, who owns and operates Mel’s Hotdogs, where Wolfking held his first job as a teenager.
“Mel doesn’t even know it, but most of what I know about running a business today, he taught me. The most important thing I learned is that when you run your own business, there’s no one there to fire you, except for your customers – and that’s only if you’re doing your job wrong. I know that as long as I’m keeping my customers happy, I’m doing my job right.”