From the Stands is a series that profiles comic-book stores around the Twin Cities and talks about their histories, their offerings, and the communities they serve.
Discovery has always been an important part of being a comics fan. After all, if you take the Yellow Kid as your (possibly dubious) starting point, you’ve got 121 years of comic history to comb through for new gems and things you haven’t yet been exposed to. The same is true for comic-book stores, as well. I discovered one of my favorite comic series—Bedlam, by Image Comics—on the same day I discovered Captain Jack’s Comics. I got on the Bedlam bandwagon a bit late, unfortunately; a few issues later, the critically acclaimed series went on hiatus, and it currently looks unlikely to return. Captain Jack’s, however, is just getting started.
Jack’s was founded five years ago by Kevin Timm, a self-described “40-year fan” of comics who felt like opening a comic-book shop was a natural transition from his years as a collector. Prior to opening the store, Timm sold comics at conventions and online, but after working a convention in Chicago he realized he could make more money at one show than he could in an entire year at his “real” job. He then connected with Tim Lohn of Comic Book College about a possible joint venture. Says Timm, “We were considering opening a store, because at the time we just had a warehouse. We didn’t have a Diamond account set up [and] we didn’t have a subscriber list, so we were cautious about how we were going to proceed.” Timm proposed that Lohn would handle the new-comic side of the business, while Jack’s would focus on back issues for both stores . . . no small task considering the extensive collections at both locations. Soon after Comic Book College relocated to its new location in 2012, and Captain Jack’s struck off on its own.
I originally discovered Jack’s at its old location at 8730 Lyndale Avenue South in Bloomington, years before they relocated to their current storefront at 9060 Lyndale. The old location was tucked away at the corner of a strip mall, a lighted sign reading COMICS in Comic Sans the only evidence betraying the presence of a comic-book store. I was excited to have discovered a new shop; Jack’s had already been open for a year or two by that point, but it was new to me, anyway. What I found inside was a “cozy” (read: somewhat cramped) but comprehensive store, featuring new and old comics, trade paperbacks and graphic novels, posters and collectibles, and a well-appointed all-ages section. Jack’s had all the hallmarks of a great store—an easy-to-browse new-release wall, well organized and accessible back issues, attentive employees, and, best of all, great deals on merchandise. It’s rare to go to Jack’s and not see a deal on trade paperbacks or discounts on back issues; I’ve dropped more than a few dollars (though in deceptively small increments) on bulk back issues during their sidewalk sales. Many a run of New Mutants or Power Man and Iron Fist were completed on days like that.
All of those positive aspects have been transferred to their new store, just a few blocks south of their old location . . . except the COMICS sign, which I’m sure is to be replaced soon (though I wouldn’t miss the hated Comic Sans font if they decided to try something new). “A few years ago,” says Timm, “we [thought] we could use some growth and to expand, so we’d been on the lookout for a new location and this became available.” The new space is much larger and could probably fit two or three of the old stores inside, giving shoppers more room to browse Jack’s still impressive amount of inventory. Possibly the best aspect of the new store, though, is its visibility. “It’s actually pretty great,” says Timm. “We get a lot of new people; the view from the street is a lot better than the old store.”
Even though the new location is less “exclusive” in this respect, I still got a chance to relive my “discovery” of Jack’s when I arrived at their old location for our interview and found an empty store. I may not have done my homework all that well; a quick Google search would have told me the store had moved. A search will also show you rave reviews for the growing store. Says Timm, “If you look us up on Yelp or Google, we’re number one or number two for reviews.” Indeed, as of press time, Jack’s is at five stars on Yelp, with 11 reviews (more than any local store of the same size), and according to Timm, “That drives in people from out of state, too.” The majority of Jack’s customers are local, though. Timm remarks, “There’s not as many comic stores around as there were in the ’90s . . . a lot of [people] go to the places closest to home.” Jack’s doesn’t just serve customers in-store, however; in addition to attending and selling at conventions, it has a robust online business. “Some of [our items] never see the front of the store because we sell them on eBay or Amazon.” says Timm. Jack’s also sells vintage comics, variants, toys and figurines, and “anything related to the comic field.”
So, as giddy as I was, I hadn’t discovered anything. I was Columbus sailing into New York harbor at 3:30 p.m. tomorrow afternoon; a few people may have gotten there before me. Jack’s in-store clientele, like that of many comic shops, remains predominately male—but, much like the comic industry, that fact is changing. Timm says he gets “quite a few female customers . . . and some younger collectors, too.” The staff of Jack’s is always personable and willing to help readers of any age or gender find what they’re looking for. When I ask what books people are buying these days, Timm tells me, “Anything Star Wars. Walking Dead has always been hot . . . for DC, it’s Batman. It’s probably no surprise, but Deadpool has passed Wolverine as the number-one Marvel character.” He goes on to say: “I’m very surprised at the age of young kids that want Deadpool. I try to tell the parents, ‘Maybe this character might not be appropriate’ . . . younger kids are [also] asking for Walking Dead, which, again, might not be appropriate.” Young readers who can’t get their hands on mature-themed books, though, can console themselves in Jack’s well-stocked all-ages section, which features mainstays like Web Warriors, Archie, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Avengers Assemble. When asked about the possibility of an all-ages Deadpool book, Timm responds, “I’m very surprised they haven’t . . . one thing that comics have going for them these days is that if there’s a kids show on Nickelodeon, or a movie, it’s generally made into a comic.” Don’t give up hope, kids.
In addition to keeping mature content out of the hands of young readers, the staff at Jack’s is always available for questions, recommendations, or the occasional chin-wag. “Everyone here loves talking comics,” says Timm. “I’ve actually got into discussions with [customers] on who would win in a fight, stuff like that. I try not to talk too much because you want to give the customer time to look around, but if anyone has a question, I try to answer . . . I’m very happy to talk comics or talk shop with people.” As a lifelong comics reader himself, Timm doesn’t just attend conventions for work; last year, he went to San Diego Comic-Con as a fan and says it was “crazy, fun and very frustrating. There’s a lot of everything . . . there’s the video-game companies, TV and movie companies, toys . . . it’s a whole different world than any other comic show I’ve been to by far.”
Seeing the chaos of the industry writ large hasn’t dulled Timm’s enthusiasm for comic books, though, nor have the day-to-day business concerns of running his own store. “It really is wonderful working for yourself and doing what you love,” he says, and he remains committed to the business and the act of reading comics. Even though publishers seem to want to push the industry into digital and online avenues, he admonishes customers to “keep reading comics. The first time you ever hold a comic in your hands and read it . . . there’s a lot to be said about that.”
Ultimately, I may not be a taste-maker or a finder of rare delights—I can’t even find my keys half of the time—and I certainly wasn’t the first to discover Captain Jack’s. I won’t be the last, though, and I look forward to browsing their shelves for great new books like Bedlam for years to come . . . at least, they’ll be new to me.