Almost one year ago exactly, the building at 3958 S Federal Blvd in Englewood was nearly condemned. On Saturday, customers were lined up and buzzing to get inside. Vision Comics & Oddities, which first opened its doors last September, hosted its first Free Comic Book Day this past weekend. The brainchild of Chris Lanham and Jeff Foster, Vision was born to break the mold of what a comic book store should be.
“The words ‘comic shop’ are now out of my vocabulary,” Foster said.
Instead, as Foster says, the owners wanted to create South Denver’s premiere “nerd hangout.” In addition to selling toys, comics and even fandom-inspired clothing styles, Vision hosts both live music and trivia contests. The aim of the operation centers on building community, not just bottom lines. As part of that mission, the management team makes sure that any artwork or clothing distributed through the store comes from local artists and designers. That focus appeared to be resonating. Within the first hour-and-a-half, 800 free comics had flown off the shelf. Just as quickly snatched up, though, were the “Groot Loot” grab-bags reserved for the first 50 children through the door.
“This has been more than we could have imagined,” volunteer Melissa Bruce said.
Bruce, who designed the prize packs inspired by Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, is also the artist responsible for the iconic murals that cover the building’s large panel windows. When enlisted to help design and decorate for Vision’s debut, she jumped at the chance to help. A business catering to every interest between heroes and horror offered the type of roadside attraction she’d missed since childhood.
“It’s like the old curiosity shops,” Bruce explained. “We just don’t have them anymore.”
That reputation has caught on with more than just the residents of Englewood. Hallei Carpenter, a stay-at-home mom from Aurora, fell in love with Vision the first time she visited. For Free Comic Book Day, she brought her three children. It was fitting, since it was their interest in comics that got her hooked on the art form, too. A die-hard fan crossing the Marvel-DC divide with her loves of Thor and Harley Quinn, it’s the quirkiness that keeps the Carpenters coming back.
“We love the oddities!” she said. “There have been a lot of great opportunities for photos.”
In addition to pictures with fellow cosplayers, Vision also hosted local artists offering custom prints for patrons who came to the nationwide promotion. Gareth Kensak of Red Team Go Colorado – a collective of Denver-area illustrators – had one table for bringing fans’ orders to life. By the “Arbitrarium,” Vision’s display of locally made costumes and exotic ware, independent artist Zac Skellington had his own set-up. A jack-of-all-trades creator of tattoo, body paint, special-effects-makeup and mural art, Skellington has always kept his work diverse. But just like the customers of Free Comic Book Day, it’s comics that are his primary love.
“I’ve been reading comics since I was a kid,” he said. “I love sequential art – the ability to draw anything, at any angle, at any point in time.”
Even with all the happenings of the industry-wide celebration, perhaps the best indicators of Vision’s early success were the regulars who now visit regardless of the special event on the calendar. Devon Littau, a 20-year-old Englewood resident, was both excited and relieved when he first learned of Lanham and Foster’s new place. What used to be an hourlong bike-ride to a comic retailer now only takes 20 minutes. Littau says he frequents the South Denver hangout once a week.
What keeps him returning are the stories of Deadpool, the infamous “merc with a mouth” whose titles are just a few years older than Littau, himself. He says the outcast treatment of Wade Wilson is something to which he can relate. Having moved 7 times growing up, including a trek from Arizona to Colorado, Littau feels a kinship with Deadpool’s inability to fit in.
“Between 1st and 6th grade, I was in a new school every year,” Littau said.
Giving folks like Skellington, Littau and Carpenter a place they feel comfortable is exactly what Lanham and Foster hoped to achieve with their new venture. Yet, they were sober about the challenge. With one successful chain already scattered throughout the city, and many neighborhood retailers located in the suburbs of Aurora, Littleton, Parker and Arvada, the risk of market saturation loomed over the entire effort.
“This can really easily not be profitable,” Bruce pointed out. “But we do have the edge. There’s always something weird to come in and see.”
Foster agrees, but distills what separates themselves and other outlets even further.
“We had a different vision,” he reflected.
With events like a Zombie Car Wash later this May, and Cosplay Karaoke in June, that difference becomes pretty easy to see. And with 50 hold slots already signed up in the short time they’ve been open, it’s one they’ll hopefully continue to realize.
Submitted by Jody Money