LaShawn Colvin is so busy right now, she doesn’t have time to sit down.
That’s understandable, given how important this weekend is for her personally. On Saturday, she will open the doors on her brand new comic book store, Comics & Geeks: A Beverage Lounge, in her hometown of Montgomery, Alabama. So when we conduct our previously scheduled Zoom interview, she has to do it on the move. She talks with me as she walks all around her store, surveying everything from the mannequins soon to be wearing geek-centric apparel, to the new comics neatly arranged on the shelves.
When Comics & Geeks opens, Colvin will become just the second black female comic book store owner in America (Ariell Johnson has run Amalgam Comics & Coffee in Philadelphia since 2015). “Being the first black woman in the South to open up a store, it's really big for me,” she says. “I put so much love and energy into what I do, and I just hope and pray that people see that they respect it and they come and support.”
Talking with Colvin, it becomes obvious very quickly that comics matter to her. And not just as a retailer. Colvin is also an editor and artist. Her creator-owned book, Beautiful Soldiers, is due to debut in 2021. “Image is really popular here, especially with their trade paperbacks and graphic novels. I really kind of tried to push my store to make sure that I also have almost every Marvel title that's currently running and most every DC,” Colvin explains. “But as an indie creator myself, it was important for me to make sure I support my fellow creators. Because I know the struggles of being an indie creator and I wanted to make sure that they know that they have support [at my store].”
She credits Rob Duncan, the owner of Montgomery-based Capitol City Comics, for helping her prepare for the unpredictable nature of comics retailing. “Running a comics store is not for everybody. You really gotta have a passion for it,” she says.
“One thing that I’ve learned about myself as I'm getting into this is that I want to do so much and I have so many ideas. And I talked to Rob about those ideas,” Colvin adds. “He really took me under wing and guided me along the way. I really owe a lot of this to him because he stayed up with me plenty of nights when I needed some questions answered, like about mak[ing] sure to move into back issues, collectibles and things like that to make the store really succeed.”
Colvin wants her store to be a community gathering point. It’s one reason why she set up couches in the store. The “beverage lounge” is a key component for Comics & Geeks. She will be offering coffee drinks, lattes, and soft drinks at first, even a smoothie bar once she gets things sorted out with local officials. It’s a fascinating concept, because it could give the shop a clubhouse feel. Too many comic book stores pay too much attention to the long boxes, and not enough to the customer experience. The way Colvin envisions it, customers will come to her store for the comics, and stay for the camaraderie.
“One of the biggest reasons [I opened the store] was because comics is just one part of the whole geek culture,” she says. “There’s the gaming, there’s anime night, and movies. I want people to think of my shop as a comic book version of a Starbucks. You know, you go to Starbucks, you go there for the drinks and you go there to do work, use the wifi, hang out, do business. ... I want people to think of my store like that. You get some comics, some drinks, maybe take part in my gaming tournaments. I want to bring together a whole community of like-minded individuals who enjoy pop culture."
One doesn’t need a business degree to know opening up a comic book store is a risky move. It’s a volatile industry during the best of times, with razor-thin margins. But comics retailing in the age of COVID-19 is another matter altogether. Colvin admits several friends and family members even tried to get her to delay opening the store, and wait for the economy to sort itself out. But she was determined to push forward. A major reason for that was to honor the memory of her mother, who died last April in a house fire.
“That right there was the wake up call for me. Because we forget that we're not guaranteed tomorrow and you have to live your life and pursue your dreams while you're here now,” Colvin says. “And yes, we’ve got the whole Coronavirus going on, but that doesn't mean that we stop living. ... While I'm here now I want to live. And that's what I'm doing. And sometimes as a business owner, you have to adjust to the times. You just can't stop.“
As we talked more about her mom, Colvin confided just how painful it is to know she couldn’t share this success with her. “Before she…before she died, [my mom] saw me finish my comic book. That is just the worst feeling that she didn't get to see me accomplish this.”
Colvin dedicated the Beautiful Soldiers comic to her. And when she welcomes customers into her store for the first time this Saturday, it’s a safe bet her mother will be there in spirit, beaming with pride.
Comics & Geeks: A Beverage Lounge opens Saturday. Click here for more details.
As always, i'd like to remind you that Behind the Panel is a multi-platform series that can help keep you entertained during these strange and stressful times we're in. Our video series is loaded with my in-depth interviews with amazing comic book creators and untold stories from the past. The Behind the Panel podcast is an audio documentary series that provides unique insight into your favorite creators and stories. It's on hiatus now, but we'll be back in 2021 with new episodes. So now's the time to catch up on our greatest hits!
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.