When Emily Kerr walks into Beyond Comics to pick up her subscriptions for the past two weeks, her order is waiting for her before she even gets to the counter.
Shop owner Jon Cohen greets her by name and asks how the kennel she works at is doing.
“It’s just amazing that he can keep all this information about his returning customers,” Kerr said.
After 25 years in business, Cohen knows its regulars but aims to be equally welcoming and helpful to new visitors. The store aims to spread the passion for comics and graphic novels as much as possible – for curious newbies, longtime fans and serious collectors.
Cohen opened Beyond Comics’ first branch in February 1997 at the Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg. The store was 920 square feet and was in a non-traditional location for a comic book store. Most comic book stores are in “dungeons behind corners,” Cohen said — locations that offer the cheapest rent possible, he added. Cohen wanted a location that would help “legitimize” his store, as he put it.
Cohen noticed that many of his customers drove from Frederick, so he opened his Frederick store in 2007, which became the flagship location.
To celebrate the store’s 25th anniversary, Beyond Comics has worked with Marvel to release two variant covers for the first issue of a “Daredevil” reboot and the first issue of the “Edge of Spider-Verse” miniseries.
Cohen put his own twist on the covers: they connect to create an image. He hopes to expand this image to a total of six comic book covers with various publishers, and all of the covers will be put together to make a poster.
Cohen had been in the comics industry for 16 years when he opened his store. While working at another store, he realized that the industry lacked stores more focused on comic book and graphic novel content.
“My vision was bigger,” he said. “We named it Beyond Comics because we wanted people to understand that there’s so much more to comics than you think there is. We felt that comics as a medium had much more to offer than just collecting comics.
His store was one of the first to sell graphic novels, which Cohen said he recognized as a rapidly growing market in the ’90s.
Comics are usually published on a periodic basis, where a new issue comes out on a regular basis – weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or anything in between. A subset of these comics will go through a full story arc, Cohen said.
Take “The Sandman,” which was adapted from the comic book series for the recent Netflix series. The series contains 75 issues, published over the course of 75 months. If a person wanted to read the whole story, they would have to find all the issues from 1989 to 1996.
Graphic novels, however, combine a story arc into a single book, rather than a series of issues. Graphic novels can also be entirely original stories, including “Smile” by Raina Telgemeier and “El Deafo” by Cece Bell.
The graphic novels combine a few of the issues into a single book that includes one of the series’ story arcs. Instead of digging up all 75 issues, some of which are likely out of print, a reader can purchase all 10 graphic novels.
Graphic novels are also beneficial for collectors, who may not want to pull out their expensive or rare comics and read them. Many comic book collectors will buy expensive comic books and store them in boxes or binders.
New Market resident Brian Alt started reading comic books when he was young and his grandmother bought them for him at flea markets. He began collecting avidly at 13, but paused for a while when the store he frequented closed during the stock market crash of 1990, he said.
When Cohen opened his store in Lakeforest Mall, Alt started buying from him. In 2012, he started collecting again. Since then, he has been at the store every Wednesday, the day of the new comic strip.
His collection has grown to between 35,000 and 40,000, which he stores in a spare room in his townhouse. To preserve the old comics, especially the ones that are on newsprint, Alt also bought the graphic novels.
“Harm can be done, and these things are really getting rarer, and more and more valuable…so often I have graphic novels of entire collections that I have,” Alt said.
Beyond Comics sold comics worth $20,000, Cohen said. However, it is not aimed at the store for collectors. Instead, it focuses on the average customer.
Cohen believes women’s passion for graphic novels has been integral to her store’s growing popularity. As recently as 20 or 30 years ago, Cohen remembers store owners getting angry if a woman came into their store.
When he opened the store, women went to bookstores and read a lot more novel content than they would read comic books, he said. He decided to design the store to look like a bookstore, with many graphic novels in the front of the store.
Robert Slick, who has been collecting comics since he was a child in the 1970s, said he loved walking around the Frederick store. “The atmosphere is great – just walk in and look at its walls and marvel at what it has, as far as statues and everything else,” Slick said.
Cohen wants the store environment to be welcoming to everyone. He doesn’t want anyone to be “punched in the face with testosterone” when they walk into the store, he joked.
Comic book culture has grown to encompass all kinds of people. If Cohen had worn a superhero shirt when he was in high school, he would have spent the day in his locker, he said. Things have changed because superhero stories have become so mainstream.
“You don’t have to be an outcast or an introvert to read comics [anymore]”, Cohen said.
TV shows and movies don’t help sell comics and graphic novels because most of the time the content doesn’t match the storyline of a comic, he said, but they do help. to legitimize the product.
When newcomers to comic book-based content walk into his store looking for the comic storyline a Marvel movie or TV show is based on, Cohen or one of the other staff tries to recommend something. that they might enjoy. They aim to please everyone, not just hardcore collectors.
“If you [want] making money and buying expensive back issues is great,” Cohen said. “But we’re just as happy, if not happier, when you come in and buy your stack of comics and read them and come back and say, ‘That was really good.