EDGEWATER — Comic book geeks, graphic novel aficionados and the casual Superman indulgers flock to a collection of Far North Side shops that survive together, despite opening their doors for business just blocks away from one another.
"Chicago is a comic-loving town," said Shanna Wallace, who has managed a Graham Crackers Comics location on North Broadway in Edgewater for 3½ years, ordering comics she thinks would sell.
"When I was in Kansas, you have one store — 30 minutes away," Wallace said of her home state.
But on the Far North Side, each shop fills a niche, and even shares a lot of customers, the 29-year-old said.
She moved here six years ago with her husband, who manages a Graham Crackers in Lincoln Park.
In fact, the couple first began working with the chain of stores — founded by John Robinson in 1982 — when they split a shift at the now-closed Lincoln Square shop.
At Third Coast, owner Terry Gant, 43, hosts BYOB knitting sessions and seminars about comic book history. Wine is served.
He also hosts BYOB pancake dinners, a popular event with Loyola University students.
"We can drink a 40-ounce malt and eat some pancakes" in the shop while talking comics, Gant said.
"Why the hell not? That's why I do whiskey-tastings," he said of another event he promotes.
Gant said he donated 3,000 comics to foster homes and 5,000 to the Boys and Girls Clubs in recent years.
Chicago comics shops become something else when the humble storefronts become invested and rooted in a neighborhood, he said.
"We seem like we're more like neighborhood institutions because their owners are there," Gant said.
Another store, Evil Squirrel Comics, had closed its brick-and-mortar shop last summer after a few bad quarters and rising rent on Glenwood Avenue in Rogers Park, said Shawn Bobby, who ran the store for six years before going to online-only sales.
He began building out a new location, farther south on Glenwood, but delays in leasing drained his budget, forcing him to abandon Evil Squirrel for good, he said.
But Bobby didn't attribute stiff competition with the other shops as a reason for Evil Squirrel's demise.
He said the increasing popularity of Marvel and DC Comics — and Hollywood blockbusters like "Watchmen," "The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight" trilogy — helped pay the bills for the six years he was in business.
"The community is very big," he said, reflecting on the people he'd met and friends he'd made at his own knitting nights and morning story-time events for neighborhood kids. "Everyone seems to know each other."
There's definitely money in the comic bookstand.
At Alleycat, located down a narrow alleyway and inside an auto shop's former garage, an issue of "Wonder Woman" from the '50s goes for $200. A 1963 "Spider-Man" No. 5 is priced at $420. A comic from 1948 called "Sub-mariner," sells for $550.
Wallace said she's convinced three shops in Edgewater can continue to live in harmony.
"Chicago is such a comic-loving town," she said, "we can all survive peacefully without mud-throwing."
"I just pretend we're the only store in the country."