Going from Shakespeare to Superman is a big leap. After all, most kids delve into comic books way before the Bard gets put on their reading list. But for Chris Simons, owner of the recently relocated I Like Comics, the sequence of reading experiences was flipped. He was a voracious reader by the age of 5, and Shakespeare was his favorite author.
Reading Shakespeare was an escape from the everyday sameness of rural life in Libby, Mont. But Simons’ rich reading experience got sidetracked at 8, when a viral condition kept him out of school for several months.
That’s when his dad brought home a surprise: 1,200 comic books. They were stacked neatly in rows, but completely random by title. Some Superman issues here, some Batmans over there. Two boxes, 600 each.
“I didn’t read a single one until my Dad and I had sorted them, by alpha and then by volume number,” he explained.
His father’s surprise turned Simons into a major comic book fan, which eventually led him into the business. His first shop was on Fourth Plain Boulevard.
He had acquired Odyssey Comics just prior to moving in. The purchase included all of Odyssey’s inventory, which was moved to the shop on Fourth Plain.
Recently, Simons moved his business into a larger location at 1715 Broadway. I Like Comics expanded the space by annexing the former location of Bad Monkey Bikes. The space is now 4,000 square feet, making it the largest comic store in the Pacific Northwest, according to Simons.
Simons’ timing was fortuitous, as the industry was entering what industry people called “The Golden Age of Comics.” Comparing January 2011 to January 2016, unit sales grew by 46 percent and dollar sales leaped by 58 percent. So, how much does just one copy of a comic cost these days? Today, the typical cost is $3.99. Back in the 1960s, it was 15 cents.
As for the highest price ever commanded by a single comic, hold your hat: $3.2 million. The comic was an ultra-mint-condition of the No. 1 issue of Action Comics, which introduced Superman.
Nearly anything associated with comic books was on display or up for sale at the recent annual Wizard World Comic Con show at the Oregon Convention Center. For Simons, all the hubbub has little to do with his initial discovery of comics several decades ago. On the other hand, his self-taught skills in organization became very useful from the start. Once the mass of comic books from his dad had been organized into a system, he was ready to start consuming them voraciously.
“It was a whole new world for me. I had no interest in comics before, but I got hooked quickly. I read them until my eyes popped out,” he said.
His collection grew as he began to acquire some of the editions that weren’t in the two big boxes his Dad had given him. He had never been in a comic store. In those early days, most comics were sold via subscriptions, mail orders, newsstands or limited spaces at retail stores.
Someone passed on word that a gentleman in town had “a ton of comics,” selling them right out of his home. Simons walked into the house — and was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of comics. There were thousands of them, stacked in a single room. Some of the stacks soared nearly to the ceiling — with barely enough room to walk between the piles.
He spent many hours with his newfound friend — getting the education and inspiration to one day have a comic operation of his own. Simons’ family relocated to Medford,Ore., and later to Beaverton, Ore., where Chris worked after school at More Fun. The owner of that comic book store had him sort 12 to 16 boxes of comics on his shift, plus deliver his lunch every day.
“Growing up, comics were like cable TV is now — there was something for everyone,” Simons explained. The comic book industry was growing every year “and then it exploded,” he said.
The largest sale Simons was involved in closed out at $62,000 for a mint condition Spider-Man No. 1. The comic was originally unveiled in 1963. The title ended up being secured from a broker in Georgia. “That kind of took care of our operational costs for most of a year,” Simons said, grinning.
How solid of an investment did the $62,000 comic turn out to be? Just a year later, another copy with all of the same qualifications sold for $130,000.
It doesn’t always work out so well. When it was announced that “Death of Superman” would be rolling out, the initial price was $1. The top 25 comics dealers each received 100 copies. Speculators drove the price immediately up to $25. Thousands of people — many completely new to comic books — paid $50, $100 and much more, with confidence the value would just keep accelerating. It didn’t.
As with any business, “you have to know what you’re doing,” said Simons. For now, he has settled into his new digs. He has more than 100 customers who have their own personal “In” boxes at the store. I Like Comics makes ‘sizable’ sales over the Internet. The operation, in all, generates sales in “the low seven figures,” Simons explained.
The future looks bright. As the sign out front attests: “People like their comics.”