Earth’s Mightiest (and most accessible) Comics
Dave Steward knows all too well that comic book shops can be a bit intimidating to those who don’t fall into the “über-nerd” category.
“I think a lot of times when people come into a comic store, they see tables filled with boxes and boxes of issues and they’re just like, ‘Oh, I don’t even know what I’m looking for.’ They get turned off and think, ‘This isn’t for me. I just wanted to read a comic.’”
As an employee for eight years at Lost World of Wonders, the enormous comics-and-anime emporium on W. Oklahoma Avenue, Steward saw his share of potential new comic book loyalists become overwhelmed by mountains of back issues and continuity, not to mention the unfortunate (but occasionally accurate) stereotype of the judgmental, elitist Comic Book Guy, à la The Simpsons.
“Nearly every day, I’d watch people come in, especially with young children, and their eyes would glaze over. You could tell they were thinking ‘What did I walk into? I was just looking for a comic book, and now I see all this.’ It’s just overload. They don’t even want to pick something up, because they think, ‘ I don’t want to damage this; it’s probably worth a fortune,’ and I’d see them walk in, do a circuit around the store and not touch anything, and walk right back out.”
Steward hopes to eliminate the intimidation factor with his new store, Earth’s Mightiest Comics (6015 W. Forest Home Ave.), opening today and targeting families—especially young children—who are either just starting out in the world of comic fandom, or are settled comfortably into a mainstream DC or Marvel routine and know what they want.
“It’s going to be open, comfortable, and really for people to come in, pick this stuff up and page through it…you’re not gonna hurt it!”
The store is definitely arranged to be warm and inviting. A smallish, average-sized storefront (a far cry from the infinite expanse of Lost World of Wonders), its centerpiece is a coloring table decorated with classic super heroes set next to a TV showing a Superman cartoon and a rack of toys from the Pixar movie Cars. Yep, this shop is definitely geared toward the younger set—which means I can’t resist pointing out the Kick-Ass action figures atop the toy rack.
“Yeah, maybe I’ll move those…we’re still setting up,” Steward grins. A fan of DC’s adult Vertigo line of books, he assures me there will be items for the grown-ups too—off in their own section at the back of the store.
Steward says he’s still close friends with Lost World owner John Wagenske, and sees Earth’s Mightiest Comics as a complement to Wagenske’s store (as well as the other of Milwaukee’s Big Two comic shops, Collector’s Edge), rather than a direct competitor.
“John and I talked about it. His back room is as big as my store, and he’s got boxes and boxes of back issues. If somebody wants a particular issue, I’m gonna send them to his store, but if someone wants to get something for their kid…we’ll have some all-ages books, stuff that the big stores in town really don’t cater to, for small children.”
While today marks the grand opening, Steward’s looking ahead to May 7, which is this year’s Free Comic Book Day, an event that has consistently boosted traffic to comic stores nationwide for the last 10 years (think of it as the Record Store Day of comics). In a sharp bit of synchronicity with the central theme of Earth’s Mightiest Comics, Steward says that Marvel and DC often use Free Comic Book Day as a launching pad for their huge summer storyline events, so it’s a doubly perfect time for casual or even first-time comic readers to drop in and try something new—especially if they have a youngster itching to read about the heroes they’ve seen in the summer blockbusters, like this summer’s Thor, Green Lantern and Captain America.
“I still have my first Captain America issue, #106,” Steward says. “That’s how I learned to read. And I want to bring that to other people. There was such a stigma around reading comic books—‘you’re not really reading; you’re just reading comic books.’ But would you rather have your kid playing Wii all day or actually reading and using their minds? Comics can really open up literacy to younger kids.”