College Park has seen many businesses come and go over the years, but Big Planet Comics still thrives after nearly three decades, especially now that comic books are exhibit more diversity and influence movies, television and other media. At least, that is the assessment of Big Planet Comics manager John Staton.
Staton, who has been with the business since nearly the beginning, also attributes the success of Big Planet Comics to good customer service; simply “being nice to people.” Additionally, the influx each year of new students, primary customers and a lack of competition in the immediate area keeps the business running strong.
Now part of a chain of stores in the Washington, D.C. area., Route 1’s Big Planet Comics opened in 1986 and currently has five employees, including chain owner and founder Joel Pollack.
The atmosphere at Big Planet Comics appeals to Collene Libcke, a longtime customer and current employee who loves her job. “This is where I want to work and not everyone can say that,” she said.
Junior bio-engineering major Katie Geary visited the store to buy a comic for her younger brother for Christmas. “I always feel welcomed, and they have a large selection,” Geary said.
Staton believes that diversity in genres and characters has saved the industry from stagnating.
The 1990s was a “very tumultuous time for comics,” Staton said. Comic book superheros were limited to white male depictions, and if a comic book featured a woman at all, it oftentimes sexualized her.
According to Staton, some comic book stores failed because they focused too much on collectors’ items, which often included superheros. “A lot of comic book companies were putting out mediocre material for the purpose of making pre-made collectors’ items and a lot of stores fell out because they fell for that fad,” he said.
At the front of the store at Big Planet Comics, employees have a shelf featuring their favorite comics. The store tries to highlight “good reads” to give customers a reason to come back for more recommendations.
Libcke’s shelf of favorite comics is largely comprised of comics that focus on women and the LGBT community.
“Comic books are my passion and I’ve known these people for as long as I can remember,” she said.
The comic store now has a widespread selection of comics, including non-fiction and horror. As for superhero comics, they continue to diversify in character and story line. For instance, Marvel’s recent introduction of a Pakistani-American Muslim woman from New Jersey.
Since a change has developed in character demographics, Staton says he has seen a more diverse set of customers.