Thursday, November 17, 2011

Comic Book Ink a 'cultural resource'

Former student owns local, independent comic book store

By Alison Haywood, A&E Reporter

Comic book enthusiast John Munn's father gave him his first comic book when he was eight years old, sparking a lifelong passion that is now Munn's career.

Munn started his own comic book business in October 2002 as a birthday present to himself.

Despite economic hardships and many other novelty stores closing nearby, this particular store has survived due to its loyal customer base, its appeal to a wide demographic and its status as a community gathering place.

Munn is a former Pacific Lutheran student and plans on finishing his degree in theater when money allows. He has participated in more than 100 theatrical productions.

He is Temporary Managing Artistic Director at the Lakewood Playhouse and plans to apply for the permanent position in addition to his duties as a small business owner.

Munn said that, especially in the past five years, comic book shops have been moving away from a darker, dingy image to become more open to everybody.

A former employee at Borders bookstore, he said he wanted to model his shop after that environment.

“Clean, family friendly, inviting … Where someone can just come in, have a seat, read and not be stressed,” Munn said.

Part of Comic Book Ink’s appeal to customers is that it sells far more than just comic books, providing popular merchandise such as card games, board games, role playing games and collectables.

Munn said he attributes much of the store’s success to the store’s employees.

“I don’t like to think of it [the store] as me, because it’s not me,” he said. “It’s all of us [the store employees].”

Comic Book Ink regular Robert Lingenfelter said, “I haven’t met anyone who works here that I didn’t like.”

Although it has only been around for nine years, Comic Book Ink has been nominated seven times for the Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award. According to Comic-Con.org, the Eisner Awards are “considered the ‘Oscars’ of the comic book industry.”

Named for renowned cartoonist Will Eisner, the awards are handed out every year at San Diego Comic-Con, the largest comic book convention in the U.S.

Due to the economic recession, Comic Book Ink has struggled to survive in recent years. Munn said that last year, the business was $115,000 in debt.

Rik Deskin, fellow actor and friend of Munn, launched a huge fundraising campaign through IndieGoGo to help save Comic Book Ink. By July 2011, the gap was down to $30,000.

“I’ve gladly and willingly lost the things I’ve lost to keep this shop alive,” said Munn. “My house, my car, my personal credit rating… Because the shop always came first.”

Weekly events such as New Comic Book Day and organized card game tournaments, like Magic: The Gathering tournaments held every Friday, are a major customer draw.

Magic enthusiast Darien MacGregor comes to the shop for five hours every Friday night for their Magic tournaments. He said the shop is “far more relaxed” than other gaming places he has been to, and that here it’s “more about having fun” than winning or getting prizes.

Munn is happy with Comic Book Ink’s success.

“It’s become what I always wanted my shop to be,” Munn said. “[It’s a] cultural resource because of the people that visit it … It’s humbling.”

Comic Book Ink customer Matt Hughes said “It’s [Comic Book Ink is] a place for people with similar interests to meet up and congregate.”

He said some venues are hostile to Magic tournaments because the tournaments displace regular customers and it’s something that not everyone can enjoy.

Lingenfelter said he fears that digital distribution is a threat to brick-and-mortar stores. Among other companies, Marvel has been moving more towards a digital model. Lingenfelter says he likes “the feeling of a comic book store” and the “physical presence” of paper comic books.

Munn said that comic books are important because humans, by nature, are storytellers.

“It’s important to tell stories that affect people, and could at least cause a person to stop and think,” he said. “A comic book can do that …Those are the kinds of stories that mold and change people’s lives.”

Kevin Knodell contributed to this article.

Editor’s note: This article was edited to correct spelling and grammar on Nov. 28, 2011.