A Stop for Every Shopper
In the era of online shopping and web streaming, the culture of consumerism has been changing dramatically. However, there is one area of consumer culture which has remained relatively unchanged: the comic book connoisseurs.
For some, going to a comic book store means more than picking up the latest issue of a favorite Marvel character or dropping a pretty dime on the newest DC action figure. For others, it means buying an underground, cult classic. Whatever you prefer, it means being embraced by a culture that feels as exciting as it is reflective. So, for whatever genre or taste fulfills your preferred niche, there is sure to be a shop right here in Denver that has exactly what you are looking for.
The Megastore Advocates: Mile High Comics
Ask any comic book fan, from die-hard to dabbler alike, where to get the best selection of new and old comics, and they will tell you Mile High Comics. The first-stop mega store just north of the Highlands neighborhood in Denver is an expansive warehouse that contains more than five million titles with countless more on their online store. Home not only to a massive comic inventory, they are also known for their advocacy work with the LGBTQ community.
“I’m doing a lot of advocacy and outreach to our transgender kids in particular, but gay kids across the board in terms of anybody who wants to perform in drag,” Chuck Rozanski, president of Mile High Drag, said. Known by many as Bettie Pages, Rozanski is a Princess of the Imperial Court of the Rocky Mountains and sees a very fine distinction between comics, cosplay, and drag communities. Recently, he has partnered with local drag star Jessica L’Whor to create an all-ages drag experience hosted inside the massive warehouse.
“We do our monthly drag shows here for the kids, and they’ve been incredibly popular,” he said. “Jessica is organizing the shows, and then I built the stage, and I provide about 3000 square feet of performance area.” Seating roughly 300 people, the experience is designed to provide a space for underage performers to explore drag expression.
“It’s my most important thing that I do in a month; it’s more important than running my company, more important than anything, putting on these monthly drag shows for the kids.”
The major success of the Jason Street location has placed Rozanski as a well-known, worldwide leader in the comic collector and distribution scene. Additionally, Rozanski and his team are continuing to work on the online archive and are striving to be number-one in regard to bibliographical archiving and comic documentation.
With intentions to continue to expand the existing space of the warehouse and broaden the online selection, Mile High Comics is proceeding with a singular focus: thriving in customer connections and fostering a community of inclusive collectors, right here in Denver and beyond.
Hang Out A While: Mutiny Information Cafe
One can’t make a list of Denver’s best comic shops without including Mutiny Information Cafe. Not only is this space a carrier of the beloved comic and zine, they are a holder of the creative and artistic.
“This is like a total space for freaks, weirdos, nerds; I think it attracts different people across the economic spectrum,” Bree Davies, musician, writer, and born-and-raised Denver bad*ss, said. Davies has been well-immersed in the local creative scene and specifically chose to host and record her podcast, Hello, Denver? Are You Still There, inside Mutiny for a reason.
“It’s like a great equalizer: it’s centrally located; it’s physically accessible for folks who use wheelchairs. If you got some money, spend it; if you don’t, just be respectful,” she said.
Mutiny is more than a store; it is a creative space for any and every kind of artist. The tables fill nightly with folks sketching the beginnings of a new art piece or drawing up a poster advertising their band’s next gig. Many are on laptops doing homework or busting out their 1,000 words to make deadline. The back room is open to the community for things like Davies’ podcast recording, nights with viewings of throwback cartoons on the jumbo screen, or even underground noise shows by local musicians at midnight. The space is weird, unique, and queerly comfortable.
“I can’t speak as a queer person, but I can say, based on the folks that come in here, they feel comfortable, no bullsh*t; there aren’t those unspoken barriers that keep people out of spaces,” she added.
Representing a Denver that many feel is quickly fading, the corner spot on S. Broadway and Ellsworth Ave provides nostalgia, a curated selection, and a safe space for punks, outsiders, and the diverse community of comic consumer.
Where Worlds Collide: Vision Comics and Oddities
“I worked in comics retail off and on for many years before opening my own store,” Chris Lanham said. He owns and is the sole-employee of Vision Comics and Oddities in Englewood. “I just wanted to do something a little different, because I felt like times are changing, and stores were not changing with it.”
Lanham is of the mindset that it’s no longer like when he was a kid; comic books and collecting aren’t just for geeks and nerds anymore. It has become a part of mainstream, popular culture, and therefore, shops need to embrace the change and move with it.
“I don’t feel like other shops really adapted to that change; I just felt like it could be a lot more entertaining than that.”
So, entertain he does with the weekly events that Vision Comics and Oddities host. From lessons in different art skills, to cosplay karaoke, and even to punk rock and heavy metal shows, the shop is crafting a community of intersecting interests. Each event offers space for local artists to showcase their work and sell items, and Lanham even works with theatre groups and sideshow performers.
One of the major differences between this store and any other in town is that there is a heavy focus on the horror genre and fantastically abnormal fascinations, truly a place that has to be witnessed firsthand.
“There’s a whole different realm of comic shops that I’ve seen mostly take to the formula that Marvel and DC throw out there, and I don’t really push that. I feel like they’ve already done the marketing on that; people are already familiar. I try to give them a different environment.”
His passion for comics and art reaches beyond the actual articles and creations, however, as he really has a love for the community as a whole.
“I see a lot of very introverted people, and it’s nice to see people drop their guard,” he said. “The outside world kind of takes its toll; I watch people come in all the time, looking stiff and like they’ve been running hard. So, to see them come in, nerd out on some toy or comics that they’ve been looking for, and see all that edginess kind of fade away, it makes them turn into children right before your eyes; that’s probably my favorite aspect.”
Figure This, Friends: Hero Headquarters
If toys and action figures are your preferred pick, then look no further, because Hero Headquarters is going to be your new favorite spot. The Westminster gem has collectibles, figurines, and toys in abundance, as it splits its inventory 50/50 between comic books and collectibles.
“The first thing you see when you walk in the front door are these life-sized, really intricate statues of different comic book heroes and characters,” Anneliese Rix said. “You’re immediately placed into that mythical world just from the very beginning.”
Rix is a longtime and frequent customer of Hero Headquarters, and like many customers, she looks for a shop that not only has the products she is looking for, but also brings with it a sense of comfort and belonging every time she visits.
“The people are just so nice. I mean, really, the staff is so friendly, and everybody seems genuinely happy. I don’t think I’ve ever been there when any of the employees are having a bad day,” she said.
Consistently, the staff is noted as being the most helpful and willing to go above and beyond, in addition to being incredibly knowledgeable, embracing the “geekdom” of each comic enthusiast. At times when budgets can be tight and pocketbooks may be a bit thin, Rix says that she feels comfortable just popping in to take a look at the new inventory of toys and collectibles, even if she isn’t planning on making a purchase that day.
“In addition to the nice people, the amazing collectibles, and the good comics, it’s ADA accessible,” said Rix. “When I was first discovered the store hero headquarters, at that time in my life, I was using a mobility device, a walker actually. Something that is so fun about comic book stores, or vintage and antique stores, is it’s like a treasure hunt experience and they tend to be very labyrinthian. So, it was really important to me to be able to go into a store that I can actually maneuver that huge mobility device around in.”
Hero Headquarters really taps into the idea of comics as a culture rather than simply a commodity, and Rix appreciates how the shop embraces diversity.
“When I was growing up, comic book shops lived squarely inside a certain stereotype, with a lot of gatekeeping, and they were very male-centric,” she said. “Discovering Hero Headquarters was a really different comic book experience; they have girls and guys on staff, which might seem like a really tiny thing, but it’s kind of a big deal, because I just didn’t see that growing up. I’m really glad that’s the way it is now for kids growing up who are going to these places.”
Photo by Veronica L. Holyfield