Blue Moon Comics, Where “There’s a Comic for Everyone”

Sam%2C+left%2C+and+Steven%2C+right+have+covered+every+inch+of+the+store+with+comic+book+paraphernalia%2C+even+their+old+school+cash+register.
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Blue Moon Comics, Where “There’s a Comic for Everyone”

Sam, left, and Steven, right have covered every inch of the store with comic book paraphernalia, even their old school cash register.

Sam, left, and Steven, right have covered every inch of the store with comic book paraphernalia, even their old school cash register.

Sam, left, and Steven, right have covered every inch of the store with comic book paraphernalia, even their old school cash register.

Sam, left, and Steven, right have covered every inch of the store with comic book paraphernalia, even their old school cash register.

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Blue Moon Comics is an embodiment of everything that outsiders believe to be true about comic book shops. There is the spinning rack of thin colorful comic books. There is the sturdy wooden shelf containing heftier books that contain compilations of individual comics — these are called trades. There are the action figures, of varying heights and models. In this store, one has the freedom to roam around and browse freely, unencumbered by its employees, who have developed an acuity for detecting which customers want to be left alone. Sam Shiffler has had a store of his own to pack as densely as possible with comics and paraphernalia for almost 21 years, most of that time with his partner, Steven Johnson.

Blue Moon is the sole supplier of comics to Marin County’s 260,000 residents. Depending on the extent of your love for the form, this may seem fitting or tragically low. Both Steven and Sam consider it the source of some confusion, a question looming over them with no answer. As Sam put it: “If we could figure that out. There’d be lines out the door, you know, we have no clue why we don’t get more support than we do here in Marin County.”

Sam and Steven share more than ownership of the store: they share the sort of passion for what they do that one expects of people who have chosen to devote their life to comic books, technical know-how that comes across less Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, more your friendly neighborhood librarian. Sam has embraced his role as an influencer: “people come in here and you know: ‘I haven’t read comics in years. What’s good?’ And so you’ve got to ask a series of questions. . . back when you were reading, what did you enjoy, what didn’t you like? And then we can just take them around and show them different things.”

Perhaps this is the reason Blue Moon Comics sticks around: a friendly face as thrilled as you are about the newest release or one who can usher you into a new and exciting world of entertainment without any pretension: “I mean definitely the biggest joy is watching, six, seven, eight year old kids really passionately excited about reading their comics and taking their comics home to read them and share them with friends and finding the right one. That’s always, fun.”

For most, 1967 conjures up images of race riots raging at home and pointless fighting in Vietnam. For Sam, 1967 was the first year of comic-reading. There are two catalysts: Detective Comics #1, otherwise known as the debut of a character known as Batman and Adventure Comics, featuring a lesser known superhero named Captain Atom. Though Sam’s passion for comics started in childhood, he was led astray from them when he, “discovered music and girls and things like that.” As fate would have it, it was Captain Atom himself who led him back to his childhood love: “I was living in Colorado at the time and then a buddy of mine that I worked with … said ‘Hey, I’m coming to town, can you go down to the comic shop? . . . It’s a local comic shop.’ Sure. So I went down and picked up a big box and lo and behold in there was, they had just started this comic book called Captain Atom and that was one of the first two comics I ever had. So I started reading all of his comics and it was like, ‘Oh boy, I’m definitely diving back into this again.’”

It strikes me as difficult to imagine a time before Sam had met Steven. The pair have the sort of ease and familiarity that lead you to believe that they have always known each other. Only, in a stroke of fate that is unsurprising to anyone who’s ever come to Sam looking for a reading recommendation or a fellow devotee of comics with whom to talk shop, Sam met Steven as a customer: “25 years ago at a shop that I was part owner of, back then called Ancient Dragon. Steven was a customer who used to come in.” Their nascent friendship reached a critical point when Steven decided that he wanted to start a comic book shop of his own. Sam, at this point having already started Blue Moon in Novato and wary of competition in the small Marin market, had a realization: “I can’t compete with myself. If I got another business partner, I can’t compete.” And thus, Blue Moon gained a co-owner, and their professional relationship began.

Following our interview, I returned to Blue Moon Comics. This time, I didn’t talk to Sam, though I am sure he would have been eager and affable as ever. The neon Batman sign still hung in the same place on the back wall. Old back issues of comics still lined the space behind the counter, sealed and displayed like priceless art objects. A grey long sleeve shirt and a pair of faded blue jeans still hung loosely over Sam’s wiry frame. It is not particularly surprising that he is a man who sticks to a uniform. Sam paces around, phone held up to his ear. He listens as much as he talks. He laughs often. He rings a customer up on the store’s ancient-seeming cash register. Phone still held up to his ear. The exchange is near wordless but conveys familiarity. Sam addresses him by name as he leaves.

It takes time for the focus of Sam’s conversation to come to light. His mother is in a hospice. He says he doesn’t know how long she has left. The phone call draws to a close. Sam rings up another customer. This one is buying an action figure along with his comics. Sam, as cheery and playful as I’ve ever seen him, asks him “Don’t you think he’s gonna get lonely?” A tangent ensues. More jokes fly. Sam laughs, heartily. As the conversation proceeds, Sam mentions that family matters will be keeping him from the store this week. The customer offers condolences. Sam: “We all get old and we all die,” as cheerful as ever.