SCHENECTADY — It all started when Bill Townsend was a student at Colgate University looking for comics to add to his growing collection.
Unique glitches were all the rage in those days, and inadvertently acquiring duplicate copies was inevitable to unlock the final chapter in your favorite character’s story, Townsend, 62, recalled this week.
“I remember I brought a box of doubles to one of the local comic conventions they had in Syracuse, and I just put the box in the corner,” he said. “People kept calling me and saying, ‘How much do you want for this? How much do you want for that? And it occurred to me that you can make money doing this.
Soon, Townsend, a graduate of Niskayuna High School, was buying two of everything to resell at flea markets, where he made “a few hundred dollars” every weekend. When he finally got a degree in philosophy and didn’t know what to do, Townsend made selling comic books a full-time job.
With around 3,000 comics in hand and $10,000 in start-up capital from his mother, Townsend opened Electric City Comics & Magazines at the corner of Van Vranken Avenue and Mason Street on February 22, 1982, taking over a former store that sold comics. drawn in the same place that had just closed its doors.
Forty years later, Townsend continues to sell comics at the same location, all the while managing to carefully navigate the changing landscape of the industry and the pitfalls similar stores in the area have fallen victim to over the years.
Today, Electric City Comics is the oldest comic book store in the Capital Region, with an extensive catalog of over 60,000 unique issues and dozens of trade paperbacks consisting of complete story arcs to from a range of characters that include popular superheroes like Ironman and Green. Lantern, to sci-fi favorites like Star Wars and lesser-known cop shows.
“Comic book stores have kind of evolved to the point where they’re not so much comic book stores anymore, but bookstores that also sell comic books,” Townsend said.
Townsend credits the company’s success to his conservative approach, which he says has allowed him to focus on what he knows instead of getting sucked into expensive trends he doesn’t fully understand.
Townsend cited the example of the popularity of collectible cards in the 1990s, explaining that he had not invested too much in the trend, unlike some of his competitors who suffered financial difficulties when the cards fell into disuse. disgrace shortly thereafter.
The approach paid off.
“A few times I’ve been in meetings with my distributors and I’ve been introduced as one of their oldest customers and I’ve been like, ‘Oh my God.’ It makes me feel old hearing that,” Townsend said.
Today, Townsend continues to search for back issues to resell in his shop, and orders hundreds of new issues each week.
On Tuesday, he was curating a collection of around 3,000 comics he had recently acquired as he lamented the disorganization of the collection and explained how recent supply chain issues had disrupted his business.
But customers remained loyal, including a handful of regulars who frequented the store when it opened four decades ago, Townsend said.
“People have been very understanding because they see it everywhere,” he said.
A lifelong fan of comic books, Townsend remembers reading stories published as early as 1966, when he was a child.
But he lost interest in books when prices rose from 35 cents to 40 cents when he was in college, the latest in a series of price increases he could no longer tolerate.
He regained his interest a few years later when a friend started buying comics thinking they would later increase in value. The couple scoured local flea markets for old issues to collect and resell throughout Hamilton, New York, where they were going to college, or “flea market heaven,” as Townsend recalls.
Ever a fan, Townsend names Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as his favorite writer and artist, respectively. The legendary duo have brought to life some of the most iconic comic book characters, including “Spider-man” and “The Fantastic Four.”
Creators Tom King and Frank Miller — best known for his Batman run in the ’80s, which included “Batman: Year One” and “The Dark Knight Returns” — also top Townsend’s list of favorites.
As for her favorite character? Daredevil.
“Daredevil, throughout its long history, has always had great luck with writers and artists,” Townsend said. “There are a lot of key writers and artists who have said, ‘I have an interesting idea of something to do with this character,’ and it’s worth reading.”
Today, the popularity of comics is exploding, with around 150 new titles released each week, far more than the 15 that came out when Townsend opened.
Hollywood studios have played an important role in the resurgence of the industry with Disney-owned Marvel Studios and Warner Bros. Studios. (which owns the DC comics label) turning to comics for inspiration from movies.
It’s a decision that makes sense from the perspective of Townsend, who noted that comics are ideal fodder for movie studios, as each panel acts like a movie board and is relatively inexpensive to create by compared to the filming of a film pilot.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe, which spans more than a decade, has generated billions in profit and shows no signs of slowing down, with new movies and TV series in development.
Other popular comic book characters, including the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Justice League, and Batman, have also received the Hollywood treatment in recent years, and lesser-known titles like “Umbrella Academy” and “Sweet Tooth” have their own shows. Netflix.
Townsend recalled the excitement he felt seeing the early X-Men and Avenger movies, but thinks a time will come when the movies will eventually fall out of favor, leaving the comics industry to scramble.
“It’s kind of a dark subject, but in many ways the tail is wagging the dog,” he said. “Comics are published because of movies.”
Still, Townsend said he doesn’t see the industry fading no matter what happens in Hollywood.
The industry has had its ups and downs and continues to adapt.
Comic books, Townsend said, are part of the fabric of America.
“It continues to entertain people after all these years,” he said.
Asked what the future holds, Townsend said plans to celebrate the store’s 40th anniversary were still being discussed, but noted that it has no plans to close any time soon.
“I can’t wait to be 41,” he said.
For more information on Electric City Comics, visit facebook.com/electriccitycomics.
Contact journalist Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.
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