Friendly Neighborhood Indie Store: Super-Fly Comics & Games, Yellow Springs, Ohio

Welcome to our first independent retailer feature on! We hope to highlight the coolest and most innovative local shops across the globe by getting to know the individuals who own and operate them. This first entry focuses on the guys behind Super-Fly Comics & Games in Yellow Springs, OH who will soon celebrate their five year anniversary. Check back in the future for additional features. The best record/comics/gaming shop in the world just might be right around the corner from you.
By Kris Poland
Super-Fly Comics & Games in Yellow Springs, OH is equal parts nerd haven and pop culture paradise. It’s the kind of comic shop that any comic enthusiast can walk into and immediately feel at home. Colorful posters, toys, and books line the walls. The sounds of MC Chris and Weird Al fill the air. A television in the corner repeatedly plays Batman: The Animated Series, Ghostbusters, and other favorites. Professional wrestlers, comedians, musicians and creative people of all sorts gather there to talk shop, play games, read and just hang out. Oftentimes, Super-Fly seems less like a retailer and more like a clubhouse open to any and all willing to embrace their inner nerd. They will be celebrating their five year anniversary on Friday, August 31st 2012.
“We opened our doors in August ’07 after having splintered off from Dark Star Books & Comics with the intent of focusing more on new comics and pop culture aspects that Dark Star was really struggling to be able to satisfy,” explains Tony Barry, Super-Fly’s owner and Master of His Domain. “We basically did it with our existing customer base who we knew were going to follow us and the pennies in our pockets. We had virtually no startup capital. We had our collections and a dream. Here we are. Five years.”
It’s not uncommon for new comic shop founders to invest their personal collections into their inventory. A broad and accessible variety of back issues is an essential element to any good brick and mortar comic retailer. “It was cathartic seeing all these pieces that I’d collected over the years and spent a lot of energy trying to have as part of a collection get disseminated to other good homes,” Barry says. “Certain pieces that were really rare finds, knowing that they were going to somebody else who was going to appreciate them made it a little bit easier. I was able to put it in the hands of people who I knew were going to appreciate it in the same way.”
“I had the Miracle Man trades. Those are ridiculously expensive. We ended up selling them to one of the senior editors at Marvel. It was about a year before they announced that they had acquired the Miracle Man rights. I choose to believe that I helped that happen and that my collection became a part of comics history,” Barry adds with a sly grin. “And don’t you dare tell me otherwise!”
Individual contributions to the annals of comic book history aside, Barry recognizes that it takes a dedicated team of employees and a supportive community surrounding them for a comic shop to survive and thrive. While founding partners have moved away and a number of employees have come and gone, Barry found a solid coworker in Jared Whittaker. “I’m manager, I’m the Social Media Czar, and I’m a General Badass. That will go on a business card at some point,” Whittaker declares.
“I was coming in when they were in the small store next door to our current store. Kind of because of them I was getting into comics. I’d sit in there and talk to these guys, probably for too long,” Whittaker says of his early experiences at Super-Fly. “I was just grabbing a pop and got offered a job. I already had one anyway, but if I could help out that’s cool. I like these guys. I buy stuff from them. And I’m here. Yay! I’ll spare you all the other gory details of how this ended up being my only job.”
Barry and Whittaker know both how difficult and rewarding it is to foster a loyal base of customers. At a time when online shopping is fast, easy and relatively secure they know they have to offer something more. “It’s all community,” Whittaker says. “Being quite frank, you can go on the internet and buy stuff if you want.”
“It’s all atmosphere. I’d say even more than inventory,” concurs Barry. “Obviously inventory’s a big part of it. If people can’t find things they want to buy from you at your store they’re not going to. It’s also about creating the environment where people feel comfortable and want to spend money. Honestly, as far as I’m concerned, it’s about creating a personalized environment to the point where people want to support the people behind the business and really make it a fully personal experience. There’s so much impersonal about today’s economy and assumed shopping experience. I’ve never liked that, and I find it wildly important to address that and be the example. To be the change I wanna see in the world!”
Maintaining a relaxed, inviting atmosphere while staying in the black is a challenge that the staff of Super-Fly face every day. “As with any work environment, if things become too casual then no work gets done. It can be difficult trying to find the balance because we absolutely do strive for this to be a place where anybody can come in and feel comfortable hanging out and talking and experiencing the culture. I think that’s a very important part of the experience,” Barry explains. “We live in a day and age in which if people want this content for free they can get it for free. It’s on us to find an experience that cannot be digitally replicated and pirated. It is on us to create a venue where people want to come and want to be. The tradeoff is that sometimes that does prevent us from getting necessary tasks done. Finding that balance is certainly difficult, but it’s absolutely worth it.”
“It’s one of those things that you kind of equate with music, where you can get any amount of music for free. But if you like the person or the artist or the band enough you’ll want to support them and give them money,” Whittaker adds. “There are plenty of bands that I like a whole bunch if their record shows up on the internet I’ll totally listen to it. But when it comes out I’ll do everything I can to try to buy it. I want to support those guys. I want to give those guys money. I kind of feel like it’s the same way with us. Digital comics are out there. It’s still a new thing. It’s not like a thing that can bankrupt anybody yet. If you want to get it online or get it with a digital app you can, but I feel like a lot of it is people liking the environment and liking us. Some people like the books more than digital anyway, but even with that you can go anywhere really. There are more than a handful of stores within driving radius. It’s mostly just having a community and having a customer base that likes you personally. We try to make it where there’s always something happening here, and there usually is. Whether it’s general events or our usual buffoonery.”
Communities of support are essential in keeping local, independent comic shops like Super-Fly alive. Such groups of people do not spring up out of nowhere like an RKO. Shops must make a concerted effort to give people reasons to visit them other than just purchasing comics and games. “We host Magic: The Gathering tournaments twice a week now. We’re working with that community a lot more to see what they want to do. We’ve seen a whole lot of growth there. Wednesdays are pretty great days now as far as Magic goes,” explains Whittaker. “We were just spitballing, thinking it might be cool. Then we get ten or 11 people and don’t know where to put them. HeroClix, we do stuff like that. Then we try to have some other events outside of the realm of comics. We do a live art show where we have artists come in. I come in and DJ, and we just have a spectacle. People will walk by outside, and music will just be pumping out of the store. They come in and people are drawing everywhere. They’re like, ‘What the hell is happening in here?’ We try to have special release parties. We did a midnight sale for Walking Dead. I guess we were one of only two stores in Ohio that did that.”
Super-Fly also had midnight release parties for the Scott Pilgrim movie and DC’s New 52 relaunch. They’ve held Guitar Hero and other gaming tournaments. For the launch of The Heroic Age: Avengers #1 they hosted an Avengers Day party complete with cake. Edible cake. “The story behind that is that when I was getting the cake they gave us a sample image we could put on a cake if we wanted. They suggested we do that,” Barry says while barely containing his laughter. “Kroger can do photo cakes. They can take any .JPEG and print it out on a cake. I placed the order and said, ‘I want to put this image on a cake.’ The woman I was talking to goes, ‘Oh. An edible cake?’ I said yes because clearly that’s the right answer. But the longer I sat on that question the more puzzling it became. Maybe I do want an inedible cake! What else does it do?”
All the release parties, gaming events and edible cakes in Super-Fly’s history have been leading up to the biggest party they’ve ever hosted. At the end of the month the store celebrates its fifth anniversary. Barry, Whittaker and the rest of the staff are working hard to make this an event to remember. “We are having the return appearance of Adam WarRock,” a delighted Barry announces. “He was here last February, and he performed a show in the middle of one of his tours. He’s coming back at the end of this month. August 31st. It’s the last Friday of the month. He’ll have with him a friend of his Mikal kHill of The ThoughtCriminals, alternatively pronounced ‘Michael Kill.’ We now are fully stocked on three of his albums in addition to both of Adam WarRock’s albums if people are interested in picking up their stuff as they come in. They both seem resistant to the term nerdcore, but I’m at a loss for a better term to use to describe them. If you’re into the nerdy stuff, you’re going to like these guys. They do cool things. They say cool stuff. If you’re into hip-hop you’re going to like this because it’s new and it’s fresh. I kind of feel like the nerdcore scene is the most original aspect of the hip-hop industry right now. There’s so much activity and growth there, and these guys are really at the forefront of it.”
“That’s going to go down at roughly 8:00 or 9:00 PM pending logistics,” Barry continues. “That’s free. We’ll probably have a donation jar out just to help cover their travel costs and things like that. Any excess will go to The Hero Initiative which is a great, great cause to help support retired Golden Age comic creators who were not able to have a 401K or anything like that because it didn’t exist in the industry when they were creating. Now those guys have no golden parachute outside of charity. The work that those guys did is sought after by collectors. You’ll have an issue that someone’ll pay thousands of dollars for, but its creator can’t afford to pay for his medicine”
A free hip-hop show during Friday Night Magic is reason enough to get any respectable nerd sweaty with excitement. Yet, that’s not the biggest news regarding the anniversary party. “I heard a rumor that there will be a sale that day. A little bird has told me that in a fit of mania we’ve elected to offer on that day all day 10% off for every year that we’ve been open, culminating in a grand total of 50% off everything. Everything in the store,” says Barry. “We’ve got comics, graphic novels, back issues, new comics, role-playing games, video games, card games, drink ware featuring your favorite pop culture characters, action figures, apparel, dice, skate stuff, posters, everything. Jared.”
“You’re not selling me,” states an obstinate Whittaker. “We’ll sell the shirts off our backs though. I’ll make sure I bring a crappy shirt as backup.”
“I actually did do that once,” Barry replies with a laugh. “It was a Scud: The Disposable Assassin shirt. I literally sold it off of my back to a friend of mine.”
This fifth anniversary show/party/sale isn’t just an excuse to move as much product as possible. It is a celebration of the nerd subculture, a statement of purpose, and a declaration to all who will listen. “I really feel like awareness is a huge issue. What I find consistently most aggravating is just the lack of awareness about our industry and how many people come in here and are consistently shocked that they still make comics. This industry that’s 80 years old surprises them,” Barry states. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to make such a big stink out of the anniversary. It felt like an opportune moment to seize our momentum and very defiantly cry, ‘We exist!’ We want to take every opportunity to remind people that we’re here. We didn’t go away when you lost interest in reading superhero comics, but that doesn’t mean that there are not comics for you. Come in. Figure it out. We got Walking Dead. We got True Blood comics. We got Charmed, Buffy, collections of web strips, Axe Cop, Perry BIble Fellowship, The Oatmeal. If you’re interested in anything, you can find something in a comic shop that you will love. People just don’t seem to know that, and that really bothers me as somebody who has put quite a lot of effort into building a comic shop that can satisfy those needs.”
“People come in and see The Walking Dead,” adds Whittaker. “They’re like, ‘They made a comic out of the TV show! How come there’s so many?’ We get it now with Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim. Things can actually exist before movies happen. I don’t know if it’s people’s stereotypes not being updated or people not being aware or the companies not being forward enough in letting people know. Sometimes it’s just kind of startling. It’s this giant, billion dollar industry that you’re in, and people are unaware.”
“One of the biggest things that we try to do here is encourage people to broaden their horizons,” Barry replies. “If you’re not into comics, you should probably get into comics. If you’re not into Marvel or DC, you should probably think about Marvel and DC. If you’re only into Marvel or DC, for the love of god look at other things. There’s some great stuff out there that is not just capes and tights. That’s so much the perception of the industry. So many people just assume that comic books means Superman and Batman hitting dudes. There’s so so much more than that with Scott Pilgrim, Walking Dead, Persepolis, Maus, all the TV adaptations that I named. This is a universal industry, it should be universally recognized.”
Fans of comics, games, hip-hop, and all things awesome owe it to themselves to see what Super-Fly has to offer. There’s no better time to get acquainted with this wonderful shop and its colorful cast of crew and customers than during its August 31st celebration. Those living in Ohio, Indiana, or Kentucky have just a short drive to Yellow Springs. “I recognize that you do have some readers that may not be able to travel to our store for one reason or another. We do have a podcast wherein we strive to replicate the in-shop experience as much as possible. That is actively the goal. So if you can’t be here and watch us be buffoons, at least you can watch us on the internet. By watch I mean watch with your ears,” laughs Barry. “We have Amazon & eBay stores. We have a digital storefront even when some retailers are quaking in their boots afraid of digital. We are actively embracing it and making money off of it. That’s a way you can support us if you like the things we have to say and want to support these buffoons.”
“You sound so terrible. ‘Support these buffoons.’ Invest your money with us. We’re idiots,” chuckles Whittaker. “Oh my god. That’s so ridiculous. Seriously, support your local independent everything. Otherwise Wal-Mart takes over the world, and nobody really wants that. Even though it may seem like a good idea, one company taking over an entire industry is not really a good thing.”