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One-Shots Mon Feb 21 2011

One-Shots: Patrick Brower

A long-time staple of Chicago's comic book stores, Patrick Brower never really planned to open one of his own. But a few years ago (April 2008, specifically), with prompting from friend, former colleague, and future co-owner W. Dal Bush, Challengers came onto the Chicago scene. We talked about life beyond slat walls, the freedom to buy comics in a clean, well-lighted space, and how, through Challengers and more recently The Rogues Gallery, Patrick works to bring to others the American art form he loves so well.

Name: Patrick Brower
Job: Co-owner of Challengers Comics + Conversation and The Rogues Gallery
Age: 42 (the meaning of life!)
Education: BA (Illustration and Art History) from Northern Illinois University
Awards: 2010 Will Eisner "Spirit of Comics" Finalist, "Best Comic
Shop" Chicago Reader, June 2010, "Best Comic Book Store" Chicago
, August 2009
Location: Bucktown
Hometown: Clifton, NJ
Favorite place in Chicago: Club Lago in River North

How did you decide you wanted to open a comic book store?

It's weird, but I never did. I've worked in comics retail since 1990, and I had plenty of opportunities to become a part-owner of where I used to work, but I never wanted that headache, that hassle. No way. But it wasn't until W. Dal Bush, co-owner of Challengers, who I worked with in the past, whom I was not working with currently (he had moved on from the industry), came to me and said there's got to be a better way, why don't we do this.

And you can't live your life in what ifs. You can't think like man, what if I did try that. If you can do it, if you have a shot at it, do it. I thought at that point, well now I have to do it.

Self-portrait (illustration by Chris Giarusso)

Were there any comic book stores you modeled it off of?

It's actually the opposite -- we went into this taking every preconceived notions people could have of comic stores, and not doing those things.

Especially in new cities.

Exactly. You find the comic book stores. And I want to say that 80% of them have slat wall on the shelves, you know, the shelves built into -- seriously, that's all the time, most of the stores in the city have that. The first thing we said is, no slat wall. We wanted to have different ways, but practical ways to display the books. Nothing homemade, nothing rickety, why should we save money by doing it ourselves and have it look like garbage. We don't want to do that.

Store interior

Comparing Chicago comic book stores to others around the country (or different countries), what do you think is unique about our stores?

I'm going to quote my old friend Earl: we have an embarrassment of riches. We have so many comic book stores. Outside of LA or New York, nobody has more. We have an embarrassing number of stores. So we run the gamut of all different kinds. One of the cool things that Diamond does, every couple of days, is highlight a new store around the country. They interview the owner and show the interiors, and there's a lot of really bad-looking comic book stores out there. And I'm not saying that they're bad stores, I'm basing on my critique based on pictures on the Internet, nothing that I've been to. But more often than not, we look at things and go why would anyone do that?

What kind of customer do you feel stores like that alienate?

They alienate the casual customer. They embrace their regulars, and their regulars grow to love that, and become of the mindset that if a store isn't junky and cluttered and doesn't have posters from the 80's hanging up, I don't want to shop there. One of the things that we try to do is be open and inviting to anyone who wants comics, whether you've been reading them for ten years or ten minutes. And there's plenty of stores that don't want the casual customer. They're like you're not a comic nerd, you don't have the right to shop in comics.

Everybody has the right to shop in comics. Everybody should have the right to walk in a comic store, get great service, and find books that they want to read. Good books.

Free Comic Book Day 2009

It's not a boys' club, or even a regulars' club.

No, it's a club for humanity. It's a human club. To answer your question about which quality Chicago comic book stores have, it's diversity. There's a lot of stores, each store has a whole different feel and sales theme to it. A lot of small towns, we've had people that move places, and we're always trying to find a new comic store for them. People are like oh there's this new store, so I go to that one store. Having choices is amazing.

Who do you see in this human club now? How has the comic book buying demographic changed?

The demographics now actually correlates to the way the comics are sold...the single issue comics aren't the focus anymore. People want graphic novels and collections and trades. And with that regard, the section of people that read that is much grander. We're very surprised by the sheer number of families that shop here, not realizing how much of a neighborhood of families Bucktown's going to be. We get a lot of moms, dads, and kids, which is great. We've got a really great kids' section that we keep expanding on.

I'm pointing to it, for those of you reading this on the Internet.

So what's going on with Rogues Gallery?

Since we opened, we wanted to have a comic art gallery, because both Dal and I love comic art. Looking at a printed page that's 6 ⅝ x 10, you don't really understand how much skill and care and love goes into each page. And I can literally stare at certain pages of original comic art, which are just black and white, for hours. There's still fine, amazing things about it. And I know I'm not alone in that regard. I started collecting comic art years ago, and Dal did as well -- we realized that one of our philosophies is that if there's a book that we don't know about or we don't carry, and somebody comes in and says hey, I want the book, we'll get it for them. If somebody else comes in and says hey, I want the book, we'll get it for the store as well.

All it takes is just two people to make us think, there's a demand for this. Well, guess what. Dal and I are two people, we love original art, we want people to see what we see in it. We always wanted to open a gallery, but we didn't know it was going to be connected to us, which makes it so much easier. And when everything fell into place, the Rogues Gallery is a gallery for comic art -- we'll showcase one artist per month, usually tied into a book or product coming out, so we can have a grand opening with the people involved. It's just our love letter to anyone who does sequential comic art for a living, our way of saying people do recognize what you do as art.

This is my little soapbox, but comic books are an American art form. We created those and spread those to the world. What else has America contributed as a culture to the world?

Rogues Gallery


Jazz. Pro Wrestling. Comic books. The list is a) awesome and b) really small. And comics are revered across the world. Comic art is amazing, and we have a 400 square foot gallery, which isn't huge, but we get to showcase one person every month to say, look how great this stuff can be.

What do you see for Challengers in the future, on a local level?

I want Chicago to embrace the idea of a comic art gallery. As far as the city goes, we are now partnering with Open Books. We're in the very early stages. I think what they do is amazing. They don't just take money or run programs, they take books and sell books to fund their programs, to get people into reading. It's this amazing ouroboros, the snake eating itself, this giant self-perpetuating cycle.

What about on a national level?

More of a social acceptance for comics nationally. Obviously, I want the store to do well, I want more business. But more business means more people reading comics who love comics. That's what I want.

Signing wall

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+MW- / February 21, 2011 1:55 PM

Nice work.

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