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Photo by: Isaac Babcock - A Comic Shop co-owners Aaron Haaland, right, and Jason Blanchard pose in their Winter Park store. They say they're changing the direction of the comic industry.
Winter Park / Maitland Observer Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011 10 years ago

Breaking the mold

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Haven for comic fans
by: Brittni Larson

When you walk into A Comic Shop on the edge of Winter Park, you’ll quickly realize you never know what will come out of founder and co-owner Aaron Haaland’s mouth.

“That’s what she said,” and inappropriate, but fun, jokes abound, while Jason Blanchard, also co-owner, laughs, sometimes uncomfortably. But although they’re confessed opposites — Blanchard is easily stressed and consistently business-minded, while Haaland seems entirely carefree, the “creative” type — they have a quirky chemistry that you can’t help but watch. And that might be what they’re after.

“We’ve pushed the entire comic book retailing industry direction toward entertainment and innovation,” Blanchard said.

And they are definitely entertaining. The two said their shop, which opened in 2005, is different because it isn’t about the old fans, the ones collecting comics for investments and bragging rights, it’s for those looking to be entertained and people new to comics.

That’s why a fan might not find fancy first editions or collectable comics other stores boast about. They’ll find what Haaland and Blanchard think are great and want to share with others. And they hope to do it in a social setting by creating a comic community. They want to get the “geeks” out of their rooms.

“Comics are one of the most solitary forms of entertainment,” Blanchard said.

“It’s just you and the pages,” Haaland added. “It wasn’t a vibrant, living entertainment medium, and we want to shed that.”

Haaland could especially relate to how lonely a passion comic books can be, joking that he had no friends growing up — but not really joking. The guys make comics social and lure newcomers into the very niche market by bringing in comic creators for signings, throwing zombie dances, creating their “Girls of A Comic Shop” photography project — hot models in superhero costumes — and throwing parties for any reason related to comics, with free beer. Their newest addition, which opened in September, is The Geek Easy, a hangout room used for socializing, comic club meetings and events.

“It’s a sports lounge for nerds,” said Tony Baldini, a University of Central Florida student and aspiring comic book creator. “It’s a haven.”

Another way they hope to create a community is by hosting monthly art jams, where artists, fans and, hopefully soon, publishers can share ideas.

“It brings the community of artists and comic book culture together,” said Kevin Taylor, art director for an ad agency.

They also created a rental program when the economy tanked, letting customers borrow comics for far less than the cover price. They like to have a first-comic-free policy to give newbies to the genre a taste. Haaland said their mission is gaining new comic book fans.

“It’s almost religious,” he said.

And it’s stress-free when you’re new. Haaland and Blanchard choose the inventory by reading it, which means if you walk into the store, never before having read a comic book, you can tell them what you like — a TV show, movie, any interest — and they can connect you to a comic you’ll enjoy in a second.

“Reading comics is my hobby, and selling comics is my job,” said Haaland, who reads comics about 20 hours a week, but never on the job.

The knowledge is there, and it’s easy to see their passion, which is something they hope their store can share with others.

“It kind of feels like a drug,” Haaland said about his comic book habit. “I just like comics.”



Learn more

A Comic Shop is located at 114 S. Semoran Blvd. in Winter Park. For more information about the shop and its events, visit www.acomicshop.com

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