In comparison to its North Side twin, the South Side of Chicago is lacking when it comes to comic book stores. Its only victor is one small store that’s holding its own.
First Aid Comics in Hyde Park reigns supreme as the only comic book store on the South Side of Chicago. Although there have been some attempts to establish others in the area, they’ve failed, which raises the question: why?
“I opened my store because there weren’t shops on the South Side of the city,” First Aid Comics owner James Nurss said. He knew there were comic book readers in the area and wanted to provide for them. “People are pig-headed … I knew other owners weren’t going to do it, because they feel people don’t have any money,” he said. “I figured it would provide more business for me, so I took the opportunity others wouldn’t.”
The small store space filled to capacity as a diverse range of customers questioned Nurss about the newest issues and made purchases. A unique sense of community developed. At age 60, Nurss’ oldest customer, who everyone knows as Dock, explained how First Aid Comics made history by being the only “true” comic book store on the South Side.
“I learned how to read with comic books … and I wish I did have a store like this when I was growing up,” he said.
Dock was born and raised in Kenwood and Hyde Park and said he could recall purchasing comics from the newspaper stand when he was young. There was nowhere else to buy comic books back in his day; comic book stores on the South Side were unheard off.
“They weren’t really a necessity,” he said. “Folks probably wouldn’t have ever guessed comics would blow up into the huge industry it is today.”
All-American Comics owner Carl Bonasera has been in business since the summer of 1981 and is the longest reigning comic retailer in the city of Chicago. Although he’s owned eight stores since he’s been in business, one of his first locations was located in the Englewood community.
“I was born and raised on the South side of Chicago,” Bonasera said. “So I wanted a store located in the inner city.”
However, that location of All-American Comics only lasted three years before it went out of business. His only remaining store is currently in Evergreen Park. He said he fought to keep this particular shop open because it was close to the South Side; this way, his original customers could still get to him.
“I have customers that have been with me since I first opened,” he stated. “Now their kids and grandchildren are coming in … generations of families.”
Toney Halbert, an African American and former South Side resident who used to travel some distance to purchase his own comics, feels store owners have a right to place their shops in locations they feel will make them the most money.
“There are certain areas that are just better places to have comic book stores,” he said. “I feel the urban areas of the South Side are not one of them.” As a young African-American male, Halbert added that he doesn’t know too many young blacks that actually enjoy comic books. “I can remember being teased for reading comic books when I was younger,” he said. He was called names like nerd, geek and people gave him weird looks, he said.
Amy Wainwright, a devoted comic book reader, has heard about women experiencing sexism in some comic book shops. This sparked an interest in doing research on the diversity problem in the comic industry.
“It’s institutionalized racism,” Wainwright said. “Just like there is sexism in the comic book industry, there is also racism and this is probably why there are hardly any comic book stores on the South Side of Chicago, unfortunately.”
Wainwright said this won’t change until everyone working in the industry, from store owners to their distributors, realizes there are more people reading comics than the average stereotype — “white and nerdy teenage boys.”
Halbert thinks for the South Side to see more shops, the main focus is to get young blacks interested in comics. He said movies are helping with creating that interest and only then will more stores come into the area.
As for the leading South Side store, there are big plans in the near future. Nurss said he plans on expanding and is currently looking at property downstate in Champaign-Urbana. “I’m thinking of opening a store so smaller towns in southern Illinois can have access to comics again.”