There is a small white sign that reads "COMICS" sandwiched between Annie's Quick Cash and Buddy's Home Furnishings on the corner of University and Semoran boulevards. Behind it, the walls inside A Comic Shop are lined with black shelves full of trade paperbacks and graphic novels, and chances are you won't recognize many of the titles among the onslaught. That's the way owner Aaron Haaland likes it. "I want people to walk in and say, ‘There's too much for me to buy,'" he says.

In a day when the prevailing sentiment of comic shops is to be soccer mom—friendly, Haaland's approach is a hard-found exception to the rule. His store is small and warm, and he's one of the most sincere proponents of the comic-book/graphic-novel medium in Orlando. You'll find most shops have made themselves into outlets for something-for-everybody, with a small amount of fanboy fodder — a little anime here, a little weaponry there, with a few toys mixed in. Much of the material is censored so as not to offend or corrupt youth.

Haaland, 30, a character in his own right, runs his business like the fan he's been for as long as he can remember. A little more than a year ago, he turned his dream into a reality: The shares of Publix stock that had stacked up during the seven years he worked there as a bagger and stocker were cashed in for the seed money for his store. The timing was just right.

Many fans left the comic book craze in the 1990s due to the industry's emphasis on flashy cover art and a lack of quality stories. Adapting comics into movies was a catalyst that compelled the industry to focus on talented authors and comics on the rise. The lull in the superhero market allowed independent companies an opportunity to find a fan base that was disenchanted with mainstream books, and this is where A Comic Shop finds its niche. It helps that the shop is near Full Sail Real World Education, so students with limited budgets are regulars.

If you have never read a comic, don't hesitate to stop into A Comic Shop for a start-off recommendation. Anyone who is bored with the glossy pink covers and historical biographies that populate the shelves of chains will be amazed at the variety of subject matter and genres in Haaland's inventory. Books like Supermarket by Brian Woods have a small but fierce following. He also brings in famous writers and artists about once a month for special events, so fans can meet the human who generates the imagination that colors their lives. David Lloyd, who created the art for V for Vendetta, was a guest in August, offering free sketches and signings. (You don't have to buy a book at the shop, and he'll sketch for you for free.)

"You have to support quality to promote quality in any medium," Haaland says. "You can make money off the new thing or the popular book, but who's to say that promotes the medium or inspires new fans?"

How does a local man who owns a tiny comic shop smothered by the surrounding businesses in a nondescript shopping plaza afford these popular perks? He just asks. Most of the artists and authors that Haaland has persuaded to come to his shop he met at the July Comic-Con in San Diego.

"I just ask them," says Haaland. "They can tell the difference between a real fan and a corporation. If you're really trying to promote the medium and their work, then it's in their best interest to support you. When I asked David Lloyd how much he wanted to come down, he said, ‘Buy me a beer.'"


PRIDE OF BAGHDAD (by Brian K. Vaughn, art by Niko Henrichon) This adventure is based on the true story of a pride of lions that escaped from the Baghdad zoo at the start of the war. The lions have differing opinions about freedom versus occupation and wander through the streets encountering situations that make them doubt the benefits of liberation as opposed to captivity. The book illustrates the Iraqi struggle and gives no easy answers, but it’ll resonate with you long after you’ve finished it. This book is written by the author of Y: The Last Man, another excellent book that asks what would happen if every man died but one. The answer: Lesbians will try to kill him.

THE BOYS (by Garth Ennis, art by Darick Robertson) Who watches the Watchmen (as in Alan Moore’s famous graphic novel)? This R-rated book is from the same people who did Transmetropolitan, which is also highly recommended. Wizard Magazine says, “Impressive, blockbuster work … a uniquely gritty style … Robertson wins new fans with each title he takes on.” It’s the shop’s favorite book out right now.

CIVIL WAR (by Mark Millar, penciled by Steve McNiven) This is probably the best-known and most highly anticipated series out right now. It’s been on the cover of the New York Times Book Review and on The Colbert Report. In a nutshell, all superheroes in the Marvel Universe (Spiderman, X-Men and so forth) have to choose between registering with the government or going AWOL. It’s about a polarized America, security versus civil liberties. It draws a wide variety of readers because while there is a heady allegory, it also appeals to the “Who’d win in a fight, Captain America or Iron Man?” crowd.

THE LOST GIRLS (by Alan Moore) This $75 guilty pleasure is a book that Moore created after he had sworn off the mainstream labels. The Lost Girls is an X-rated affair in three hardbound volumes. The books explore the pornographic adventures of Wendy from Peter Pan, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz and Alice of Wonderland fame, all grown up and in the year 1913. Warning: There’s a doorknob involved.

(Darick Robertson, artist of the latest “it” book, The Boys, sketches and signs Jan. 6 at A Comic Shop; free; 407-332-9636; www.acomicshop.com)

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