Challengers Comics opens Sidekicks, a store for all-ages comic books
Ever since Robin leapt onto the scene in 1940—literally crashing through a giant paper-covered hoop (well, he was a circus performer before Batman recruited him)!—superheroes have had sidekicks. Now comic-book shops have them too, thanks to one of Chicago's finest retail establishments. Challengers Comics + Conversation, the beloved Bucktown hub, officially rechristens its adjacent storefront today as Sidekicks, dedicated to family-friendly comics, graphic novels, art and toys.
The store, which turns five in March, expanded into the smaller storefront just to its north in late 2010, dedicating it as a gallery devoted to sequential art. But while the monthly art openings were popular events, Rogues Gallery didn't generate significant traffic or sales despite two years of trying. So Challengers owners Patrick Brower and W. Dal Bush came up with a new game plan to utilize the 400-square-foot space to accommodate the growing market of customers interested in G- and PG-rated fare. In addition to the usual suspects from DC, Marvel and Archie comics companies, the store carries acclaimed but less well-known fare like Mouse Guard from Archaia and the clever line of Toon Books launched by the New Yorker's Françoise Mouly. Young readers can pull up a chair and sit at a desk just their size, while original art lines the top shelf: Chicagoan Tom Kelly's clever Hello Kitty-superhero mashups, painted on pieces of cardboard, which cost just ten bucks (and you can even custom-order a particular character at no extra charge).
Earlier this week, we stopped by Challengers to check out the new space and talk to its friendly owners.
Time Out Chicago Kids: When did you decide to create Sidekicks?
Dal Bush: We’ve been thinking about it for a few years. Our all-ages section is the one thing in the store we really felt we could expand upon, and hopefully bring new titles to people’s attention.
I imagine this is also simply a better use of your extra space than the gallery was?
Patrick: People have been wandering right into Sidekicks since we set it up. They never used to do that with the gallery. … When we first started in March 2008, we were surprised by the number of families that would come in. Over the years, that’s grown, and it seems like a large portion of our regular customers have just started to have kids. They’re just infants, but those comic readers will want their kids to read comics.
Dal: Even above and beyond that, all-ages graphic novels and comics have reached a level of quality, like Pixar movies. Graphic novels like Amulet and Bone, comics like Adventure Time—they’re not just entertainment for children; it’s entertainment for just about anybody. Adventure Time sells half and half for us, between adults in their 20s and 30s and kids who are 8.
Patrick: Sidekicks isn’t just moving what we had from here to there; this is a dramatically expanded selection. We’re talking to other distributors and to young-adult authors about what they recommend, what books get their kids excited.
What’s the future of the Rogues Gallery?
Dal: We operated it at a loss for two years. … If we looked at just the opening night [of an exhibit], every event was successful. But when you look at the next 29 days, then you see you’re not selling any more art or moving any more books or prints than you did that first night. Just the opening is worth doing, so we decided that, with a space like Sidekicks, we can have it be a nice space for all-ages and younger-reader books—but we can transform it into an adult space very quickly. We can have art on the walls with room for a party with snacks and beer and wine.
Patrick: The Rogues Gallery [as a permanent exhibit space] is going away, but the art shows are not going away.
Challengers and Sidekicks (1845 N Western Ave, 773-278-0155) are open seven days a week.