The Avengers movie isn’t the only comic book related property having a big opening this weekend, the Eisner Award winning duo of Art Balthazar and Franco (Tiny Titans, Superman Family Adventures) held a Grand Opening celebration for Aw Yeah Comics, their new comic book shop in near west side Chicago suburb of Skokie, Illinois.“We like Skokie, everyone here welcomed us in with open arms,” shared Art Balthazar who sat at a long table with his creative partner Franco, sketching a litany of comic book superheroes in his signature style which he quickly colored with crayons from an old cardboard box that wouldn’t look out of place in a preschool classroom. His fans of all ages lined up almost all the way around the modest sized store nearly match him for enthusiasm. “We like the free-standing shop, we’re not in a mini-mall. We like the downtown area, all the puzzle pieces fit into place.”
Behind the counter and working the cash resister is another co-owner, Marc “Brother Bear” Hammond who is leading a small army of friends and family keeping the store running as new customers take advantage of the famous duo’s appearance and the comic book industry-sponsored national publicity event known as Free Comic Book Day. The annual event taking place on the first Saturday in May participating comic book shops across North America and around the world gives away comic books absolutely free to entice to readers, young and old, to the medium.
Hammond, between helping customers and participating in classic comic book shop banter about the previous day’s blockbuster movie release had more good things to say about the community they’ve chosen to open their business within. He described how some of the volunteers in the shop are from the local library's literacy program, how a local bakery donated a cake in the shape of Superman’s chest insignia and how some supplies, like a pack of colored chalk being used to decorate the sidewalk outside, was donated by the neighborhood hardware store right down the street.With the warm reception and packed storefront Balthazar reflects on how it all almost didn't happen, “[Hammond] would come to [Chicago's annual comic book and pop culture convention,] C2E2 all the time and he would walk the city and mingle at night. He loved Chicago and wanted to live here someday. So when he and Franco were secretly talking about opening up a shop they were talking ‘well, where do you want to live?’ since he liked New York too, so he chose to move to Chicago and when they got me in on what they were talking about, I was like ’I’d like to do that with you guys.’ That was about 2 years ago, and when [Hammond] packed up and moved to Chicago, that’s when we knew [the shop] was going to happen.”
Despite the crowding, everyone was having a good time; occasionally a call of the store’s name/slogan/battle-cry by one of the staffers: ‘Aw Yeah Comics!’ would ring out, compelling the customers to cheer it back in response. One such was Alan Costell, 40 of Chicago; there with his two kids, Basil, 9, and William 14, he was definitely having a good time, even while waiting in the long line for a free sketch and an autograph on the duo's new comic book: Superman Family Adventures, which had a free teaser issue available as part of the day's promotion. “I think [the store is] great," said Costell, "I really like how they colored on this inside, it has a very airy, happy quality.”While the store’s default layout was modified for this special event, it's evident what Costell meant. The walls were painted in bright primary colors festooned with white stars and the giant faces of the store’s mascots, the original Art and Franco creations Action Cat and Adventure Bug. The cartoon style feline and insect heroes also made an appearance in the forms of prototype toys that the creative duo hope to produce and sell. While the decor dispels the already false stereotype of the dark comic book shop, the trio of owners assured the curious that the material for sale would not be limited to 'all-ages' books, and a careful look around the store reveals collections of independent graphic novels and the latest mainstream comics and toys.
Looking toward the future, Balthazar told new visitors that after the grand opening, the La-Z-Boy couches and chairs would be back.
“We want to have a comic shop that is family-oriented. Anyone can come here and read some comics and chill. […] We wanted to create an atmosphere where when you come to our shop, you come to our world.”