Happy Tuesday, comic fans! Welcome back to Comics X-Change, RVA Magazine’s go-to for comic news in a sparkly biweekly bow!
We have a jam-packed special edition double issue for you today. This week we took a pit stop to hang out with our friends Alpha Comics and Games over in Willow Lawn — not just to get caught up on the new releases we need to check, but also to talk to them as their shop approaches its second anniversary and get the history on one of Richmond’s favorite newer comic shops.
So strap in, grab your beverage of choice, and let’s hop to it.
Fans and regulars of Alpha Comics and Games have known and loved the shop since 2017. But did you know that before owners Alex Smith and Brianna Beebe took over, it was another Richmond comics staple?
Before the colorful spot on Willow Lawn was Alpha as we know it, it was the famous Nostalgia Plus, owned by Marsha and Marvin Humphrey and originally opened in the 70s. Before taking over the shop and giving it a new name, Smith and Beebe started out working for the Humphreys at Nostalgia Plus.
“I was the one who started working for Marsha and Marvin first,” said Smith. “It sort of worked out that they were teaching me how to go about running a shop — how to make it all work, how to not tear your hair out and run off naked in the woods. They taught me everything that they knew.”
Eventually, after working for the Humphreys, Smith and Beebe had discussions about how they could fulfill their dream of opening their own comic shop. However, when the Humphreys decided they were ready to retire, they made the duo an offer to buy the shop — which they, of course, couldn’t refuse. Thanks to their training, they were ready to take over immediately; the offer was just the cherry on top.
Smith and Beebe were not new to sales — they had both previously worked at big box retail stores. However, while they were excited to open the shop, they realized that there was a huge difference between running a store under the massive safety net of a corporation and opening their own dream store, all by themselves.
“It got pretty intense when I went to my job that I had had for six and a half years and went, ‘Yeah, I’m leaving’,” said Beebe. “I turned down a promotion to go to my own store. It was really scary, the weeks that I was unemployed in the meantime, but everything is evening out.”
“There’s something scary when you look at it and it’s just you,” added Smith. “I went from reading West Coast Avengers in the corner and talking about X-Men to being like, ‘Oh. It’s on me if something happens. Why is anyone trusting me?’”
Beebe also mentioned the interesting adjustment needed to separate yourself from the store. When you message the store on Facebook, you’re most likely getting Beebe, but rather than responding as herself, she came to recognize that the customer is reaching out to Alpha as a store, and not her necessarily. Learning to respond with that in mind took some getting used to.
However, in the year and a half since they opened, it has definitely been worth it. Despite the fear, Smith and Beebe emphasized how happy they are that they stuck with it, and why small business is so important.
“You can absolutely go to a big box shop and snag a [Dungeons and Dragons] Player’s Handbook, but you don’t get the same kind of person behind the counter that is jazzed about showing you the next thing that’s connected to that,” said Smith. “We have regulars who will come in just to talk about a plot line they’re working on for their D&D campaign, or talk to Brianna about a comic book she recommended. In a world of increasingly digital experiences, having something tactile, and a physical person you can talk to behind the counter, I’d argue is more important now. ”
Another item they cite as contributing heavily to their success is not only the support of the Humphreys, but that of the Richmond comics community at large, which refuses to let them fail.
“The owners of Velocity, and previously Blue Marble and Stories [among others], have all been immensely helpful,” said Smith.
“The really cool thing about the community here is it’s not store vs. store,” said Beebe. “It’s essentially one big family community of people liking the same stuff.”
Naturally we couldn’t end this visit, or this comics column, without some recommendations. We have two fantastic ones for you this week — from the Alpha Comics staff, of course.
Snap Flash Hustle by Pat Shand and Emily Pearson
“This girl is a sometime cam model, and she and her husband have just started a throuple,” said Alpha Comics employee Norman Krumenacker. “She co-opts someone else’s hashtag when she sees their photos going off the charts. She shows up to a first photo shoot, it goes really well.” But from there, Krumenacker added, she gets caught up in the illicit business of a powerful drug cartel. Think Claws, starring Niecy Nash, but with cam models. The series from Black Mask Comics has been published somewhat irregularly, but issue #4 comes out on April 3.
Superior Spider-Man #4 by Christos Gage, Mike Hawthorne, Travis Charest
“Otto Octavius uploaded his brain into Peter Parker,” said Krumenacker. “Otto, super genius, becomes the Superior Spider-Man. This picks up after the end of volume one, where he gave Peter his body back, and made his own.” Think Venom, but with Doc Ock instead.
Richmond is known for many things, but one undeniable factor has always been its community. As Alpha Comics and Games and the comics community at large grows, it’s comforting to know the bevy of support we have for each other. May we continue it forward.
Until next time, comics fans.
Alpha Comics and Games photos via Facebook