From Archie to Scott Pilgrim, Wonder Woman to Sailor Moon, lunch boxes to Pop! Figures, comic book stores have undoubtedly stood the test of time and only become cooler as they’ve aged. Richmond, ever the epicenter of what’s rad and nerdy, already has several go-to shops, from Velocity Comics on Broad Street to Alpha Comics and Games at Willow Lawn. The newest addition to the market just opened up the street in Mechanicsville, and it’s worth the drive.
It’s the third location for Third Eye Comics, which first opened 10 years ago in Annapolis, Maryland, as the culmination of a long-time dream of the store owner, Steve Anderson. His love for comics blossomed at 12, and since then, it’s all he’s been able to think about.
“I decided when I was getting into my mid-20s, well screw it,” said Anderson. “I started selling my collection when I was 24, and I was doing conventions and still working at [another comic shop] seven days a week at that point. I was delivering pizzas and just saving any money I could.”
In a lucky coincidence, the proprietor of another comic shop in Annapolis that was closing heard about Anderson’s dream and reached out with a deal. After that store closed, Anderson and his friends and family started gutting the building to get it ready for the next Monday morning. The company has since grown and expanded, operating two stores in Maryland. With the upward trajectory of the shop, the Third Eye fanbase was rallying for a Baltimore location to be next, but Anderson had his eye on Richmond as next in line. After falling in love with the city and its comic book fan base, it felt like a natural decision.
“I’m really stoked on the people down here,” Anderson said. “I worked the counter for a few hours on Saturday morning [along with his wife and one of his store managers from Annapolis], and loved the enthusiasm. I think we’re going to do good down here, people seem to be really into it.”
One of the things that makes Third Eye such a comfortable shop is undeniably its staff. At the Richmond location, that’s Kevin Smith, former owner of Blue Marble Comics and Games, who came on as store manager. “The big draw of why we came to Richmond was probably Kevin,” said Anderson. “I knew that Kevin would be an amazing manager and had what it takes to represent our brand down here. We’re so protective of making sure our customers get an awesome experience no matter which store they’re in.”
Richmond already has a lineup of go to shops in the area, from well-known local favorites including Richmond Comix to corporate stores such as 2nd and Charles. Including of course comics themselves, a lot of comic shops tend to offer the same thing. Models, stickers, and of course friendly workers who are huge fans themselves; what makes Third Eye moving down south such a huge deal?
“We really do more than just comic books,” Anderson said. “Comics are always the lifeblood of the store and they’re always the thing that drives us, but we are always listening and adapting to what our customers want. This weekend we already had a rush on the enamel pins and the Gundam model kits, so I’m already making plans to expand.”
Listening intently to its fanbase and the drive to make Third Eye the comic store for everyone is what Anderson believes sets them apart. He and his staff smiled with pride when they mentioned not having one specific specialty. Being something for everyone is incredibly important to the Third Eye team. The store really does carry a little bit of everything; between the wall of current editions and little Pusheens hiding amongst the graphic novels, it’s easy to get lost.
I ventured in myself on Third Eye’s grand opening day on August 4, and was ecstatic to find the newest edition of Snotgirl by Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley and Leslie Hung. The trade was released a few months ago, but I had been struggling to find it anywhere not online. When I told him this, Anderson smiled from ear to ear and laughed.
“What I really like to hear is exactly what you just said,” said Anderson. “’I had been looking for that book for weeks, and you guys had it.’ Whatever that book is for the customer, that’s what I like. That right there is it for me.” In a store that strives for mass appeal, this was the closest I came to getting an idea of a speciality; they want to carry whatever you can’t find elsewhere.
Anderson also took pride in their manga section. He described manga as poorly represented in most comic shops and chain bookstores, and I had to agree with him. To see such an important yet overlooked part of the art form get equal billing established the lengths Third Eye is going to in order to support their customers.
One thing Anderson emphasized about the addition in Richmond was his love for the people of the River City and their enthusiasm. That enthusiasm was on full display on opening day, when the store was bumper-to-bumper with customers, in a congested yet happy crowd of fans. From new release chatter to appreciation for the Gundam models, a steady crowd of customers–and employees–spent the day celebrating their hobbies.
With so much success already in such a short period, what does the future look like for RVA’s hottest new comic spot? “If the store is supported and we have the business to support it, I could see expansion in a few years,” Anderson said. “We definitely like the audience down here and I think it’s going to do good. We love the people down here.”
Five minutes into a conversation with Anderson and you can already tell that this is a man clearly passionate about comics, but more importantly, he is knowledgeable as well. As much fun as I had talking to him about the shop and his staff, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask him one very important question.
What are the top five comics that he thinks we need to be on the lookout for?
Batman by Tom King
“There is this great subplot about this character, Kite Man. He’s kind of like a loser. That just runs through the book and it’s this perfect blend of a layered Batman story and then you have a little bit of humor.”
Farmhand by Rob Guillory
“It’s about this guy who figures out how to genetically produce organs. He’s growing them, and of course it all goes horribly wrong.”
Head Lopper by Andrew Maclean
“It’s quarterly, about eight issues in. It’s kinda like Rick and Morty meets Conan the Barbarian.”
Venom by Donny Cates
“[Cates’] Venom stuff is really cool because he’s getting into this god of the symbiotes and almost Frank Lozetta fantasy style stuff.”
Ice Cream Man by W. Maxwell Prince
“It’s an anthology series from Image Comics, and its kind of like the old Twilight Zone, Outer Limits kind of thing. The Ice Cream Man is like this existential terror of a character that basically segues you into these stories. It’s really good.”
With friendly staff who strike up a conversation about what you’re reading and offer helpful recommendations, there is no doubt that Third Eye Richmond will carry on Anderson’s vision of connecting comics and their fans. If you need me on Wednesday, I’ll be in the corner, checking out the new Captain Marvel issue over by the “New Girl” Pop! Figures.