“In the end? Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends.”
-Dr. Manhattan, Watchmen
Part I: Perry Margolin
The older we get, the more we turn corners expecting to see places that are no longer there. It could be the house we grew up in, a bakery with intoxicating aromas, or a store we used to enter everyday after school. Even the buildings may be gone, but somehow the warm feelings and memories still hum within us. Maui is full of such places.
For a certain community, there’s one such place in Kahului. For locals who grew up with superheroes, collected comic books, and took up role playing games, Compleat Comics was a landmark. Once located off to the side of Ka‘ahumanu Avenue just before entering Wailuku, in a unit behind Stillwells Bakery, Compleat Comics was a special place for generations of kids looking to get a superhero fix. Customers would enter a world of artwork with comic books everywhere: the shelves, in vast boxes on the floor, the upper reaches of the walls, and even the shop window. The gatekeeper of the shop was Perry Margolin, a warm-voiced man who ran the store and oversaw decades of wide-eyed patrons, young and old. Today, Perry is retired, yet he fondly recalls his days at Compleat Comics.
Barry Wurst: What were the earliest comics you read as a kid?
Perry Margolin: A wide variety, before Marvel was Marvel.
BW: What inspired you to open Compleat Comics?
PM: I didn’t open it, a friend of mine did. I wound up buying it from him later on. He was on O‘ahu, we had a store there. Nov. 13, 1983, was when that store opened. 1728 Ka‘ahumanu Ave. A year or two before the Maui store opened. It was originally called Comics Hawaii. We got a very positive response.
BW: When superhero comics took a decidedly dark turn in the mid ’80’s (The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen), did you notice an increase in adult customers?
PM: Not particularly. If it was, it was incremental. It wasn’t something obviously observable. We always had a high percentage of adult customers from the get-go.
BW: How about when “Batmania” hit during the summer of 1989?
PM: Batmania, that opened the door to more open acceptance of comic books as a medium. The first Batman movie did and it certainly hummed along on low for a while, before the big X-Men and Spider-Man movies came twenty years later.
BW: You offered a wide variety of merchandise of customers, like paraphernalia, t-shirts, magazines – was that always a part of the plan or did that evolve?
PM: That was always part of the plan. It was a niche market and the gaming area, role playing games, D&D and Magic, all those types of games. Talismen, we had a rotating stock of over 100 games for sale at any time. A game called Empire Builder was a big seller.
BW: Do you recall the incident where your Batman HQ sign was stolen and later returned?
PM: I’m surprised you remember that. We had a big banner right down at street side, visible to motorists. We got approval from DC comics, their Batman logo and so on. Everyday, prior to store opening, I’d open the store and put it up, vice versa. One night I went out and it wasn’t there. It was tracked down to some tourist- who hung up it up on their balcony! Not a lot of brains. So, we got it back.
BW: What were your thoughts on The Death/Re-Birth of Superman?
PM: My initial thoughts were that it was a short term method to gain a lot of publicity and interest, and that the aftermath was not as well planned as it might have been, becoming anti-climactic because of that. By that time, Superman was long in the tooth and there was some updating and fresh blood needed for the character and the DC Universe, but to upend the entire character, that was a drastic step.
BW: The community loved you. You offered in-store signings from artists, customer pics on the wall, friendly customer service. What are some favorite memories of your customers?
PM: Nothing but favorite memories, no un-favorite memories. The customers were always really nice and pleasant group of people, it was a pleasure to provide them with pleasure into their lives.
BW: Did you have a pet you kept in the store?
PM: For several years, until she died. A black lab, big goofy dog. Argos was her name. Here’s how I found her: I was walking along by the surf shop building, across from Longs in Kahului. I happened to be walking along, I saw a sign said “Free Puppies.” I took a look and couldn’t resist this one.
BW: What are your thoughts on the comic book industry today?
PM: I’m not equipped to answer that. Once the store closed up shop, I pretty much stopped paying attention to it.
BW: Have you been to the new comic book stores in Kahului and Lahaina? Have you been to Maui Comic Con?
PM: No I have not. I wish them well but I have not. Nope. that chapter of my life is fondly remembered but is no more.
BW: What comic books do you read today?
PM: I still have my personal collection, once in a blue moon, I’ll take a look back. That depends on my mood and how many boxes it would take to get to it.
BW: How the internet change your business model?
PM: Initially, it was something I wasn’t familiar with, the ins and outs of the web, not much. Once we were able, we set a up a website, to give people advance notice of things and special items they might not have been aware of. It was another tool for reaching the public, promoting the product.
BW: What were the most valuable comic books you kept at your store?
PM: I have fuzzy memories but something is making me say Avengers number 1. It may not be the highest price we ever had. I wasn’t into the highest end of collectibles, because Maui is a small market. It’s not a negative, there are just fewer into having a classic collection or shelling out for the high end merchandise. If was something looked for, we found it.
BW: What was your status among the other comic shop owners nationwide?
PM: We were known not only on Maui but throughout the comic book store community for having the largest selection of indie titles, other than Marvel, DC, and Archie. Indie comics started appearing around the time we appeared in the 1980s. I was in communication with people by correspondence by phone, did a few San Diego Comic Cons to keep up interaction and keep current with people.
BW: What are your thoughts on Comic Con and that whole phenomenon?
PM: It’s become “pop culture con.” Nothing wrong with that, more power to them.
BW: How do you feel about the once-held notion that comic books are for kids?
PM: It always struck me as odd, because people go ga-ga for art and make prints and make books into bestsellers, but when you combine art with print, it becomes “for children”…I’ve never understood that.
BW: Any closing thoughts?
PM: First of all, thank you for shopping there. Second of all, it was a nice place to experiment. At that time, the standard for stores on O‘ahu was to put all the brand new comics in bags. I was adamant we not do that on Maui – people should page through it before they buy. That in the window to put all or as many of the new arrivals as possible. There was a separate display of all the number one issues. We carried close to 33 titles every month. We tried to put them out in various places to make people aware of them. Finally… Harlan Ellison stated that there are five native American art forms: jazz, banjo, detective stories, musical/comedy and comic books, things that rose in America and became pop and long lasting worldwide.
Part II: Alika Seki
Maui Comics and Collectibles
Down the road from where Compleat Comics once stood is Maui Comics and Collectibles, the brainchild of Alika Seki. After an eventful first year, Seki’s shop relocated from a tight space within the Akaku Center into a larger location on Wakea in between Sheik’s and Paradise Video. Seki’s shop offers a massive selection of comic books and regularly holds card and video gaming events.
Seki is also overseeing a third year of Maui Comic Con, which returns to University of Hawai‘i Maui College Oct. 26-28. The scheduled guests include Venom creator David Michelinie, veteran artist Steve Leialoha, and legendary comic book artist Trina Robbins. Seki, a friendly presence who is quick to smile and crack a joke, is as excited for a third Maui Comic Con as any of his customers.
Barry Wurst: What are some of the last great comic books you’ve read recently?
Alika Seki: Most recent highlights include X-Men: Grand Design by Ed Piskor (a retelling of the silver and bronze age canon of the X-Men), Saga by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples (a space fantasy epic with incredible art), and Batman: the Damned by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo. There are so many new, independent limited runs that have been coming out lately, it’s hard to pick just one. Man Eater issue one by Chelsea Cain just came out and that was definitely a promising start for the series.
BW: What was changed since you made the big move to the Wakea Street location?
AS: The best thing that has changed since moving locations is we have a lot more local foot traffic. Dairy Road was a busy place because it was all businesses, but local repeat business is really the lifeblood of a comic store, and being closer to the residential area has helped that a lot.
BW: How difficult has it been coordinating the third Maui Comic Con?
AS: In terms of making the game plan and getting everyone on the same page, things have been incredibly easy. That is due mostly to all of the amazing people who volunteer their time in putting it together and helping it to run smoothly. Mostly in thanks to my co-founder, Ken Gardner, as well as the rest of the organizers; Lyndsay Quiocho of Night Darling cosplay, Francine Walraven, Kamiki Carter, Yvonne Ladera, James Silvani, Swan Kahookele, Jason “Phormat” David and so many more. Not to mention a big Mahalo to Roya Deyhim, the lawyer who helped us finally achieve our nonprofit status. The difficulty lies in the doing, but with all this help, it makes it all much more enjoyable. It’s not as stressful as it could be.
BW: Please tell us about the guests you have coming this year.
AS: We’re very excited to welcome back two of our founding guests, Trina Robbins & Steve Leialoha. Trina is the first woman to draw and write Wonder Woman for DC Comics, the inventor of Vamirella’s iconic costume and a leading figure in comics and comic her-story. Steve Leialoha is known as a legendary inker from the bronze age of comics, on titles like Howard the Duck and Doctor Strange, as well as his most recent work on the Eisner Award-winning series Fables on Vertigo. We are also welcoming first time guests Steve Lavigne, Bob Camp, and Keith Tucker.
All three have a background in creating the foundations of our Saturday mornings for decades. Steve Lavigne is a founding member of Mirage Comics and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and was responsible for a lot of the Archie Adventures run of comics. Bob Camp is the producer, director, writer and artist behind Ren & Stimpy, who also has an impressive career in comics including G.I. Joe, Conan and The ‘Nam. Keith Tucker has worked on nearly every Saturday morning cartoon from the 1980s you can imagine and has helped bring many titles from the screen to comics like Roger Rabbit and Animaniacs. The final guest we announced was a friend of Maui Comics who agreed to return, David Michelinie. David is a legendary writer from Marvel comics and created so many iconic characters over the years including; Scott Lang (Ant-Man), Ghost, James Rhodes (War Machine) and of course, Venom.
On top of the six headlining guests, we have an artists alley full of local artists and writers. Many of the local artists are members of the Hawaiian Comic Book Alliance, which is a cadre of local creators that work together to bring their comics and art to a wider audience. We are very proud to help create a new venue for all this incredible talent to be seen and heard.
BW: What lessons did you take from the first year, having the venue in Lahaina, then moving the event to central Maui last year?
AS: The first year was a magical miracle occurrence. Lahaina Cannery and everyone involved came together with under three months notice and made history. There are a couple of things we had taken for granted when we moved the convention. The first is that the Cannery had a food court, whereas the college closes their food court on weekends. Kamiki Carter and her Maui High School PTSA food booth single-handedly fed all of our guests last year. To make up for that, we had Kamiki lead the charge in welcoming local school groups to set up food booths for this year’s convention, the sales from which will go to benefit each of their individual causes. The second thing is that we didn’t realize that people in a mall setting, like the Cannery, were more willing to spend money than those in a college campus setting. Though our attendance was up our second year, overall sales were down for vendors and artists. I think that this year, with our guest list and hype, we’ve been able to build up people more willing to spend money in support of the local artists and vendors.
BW: For those hoping to open their own comic shop, either on Maui or elsewhere, what advice would you give?
AS: I have two pieces of advice. The first is from personal experience and should go without saying, that if you’re gonna commit to starting your own business, be ready to make it your life. And if it isn’t something you have a passion for, or that isn’t the inevitable culmination of all your efforts in life, then you should probably slow down and ask yourself what your motivations are. The second piece of advice is from legendary collector and President of Mile High Comics, Chuck Rozanski, who wrote an nine-part essay series entitled “How to Open Your Own Comics Retail Store.” In the first few essays, Rozanski states that, if you’re gonna be a comic store owner, you cannot be a collector, because you will constantly find yourself undercutting your store’s profitability and preventing it from flourishing. This was the hardest advice for me as a collector to hear, but I took it to heart and liquidated my personal collection and made it part of the store’s stock. That single piece of advice has probably been the best advice I had heard before opening the store.
BW: What are some of your favorite memories and past times with the local community through Maui Comics and Collectibles?
AS: There are so many memories we’ve had with the community over the past four years. The friendships I’ve made with regulars and collectors in the community is priceless, something I can treasure beyond the life of the store. Other highlights include some of the superstars of the comic industry stopping in to say hello. Rob Liefeld (creator of Deadpool and Cable, among many others) has been to both our old and new location. Jim Lee stopped by a couple years back and hung out for several hours, just talking story with the fans and signing whatever we had. I’ve also got to spend time and make friends with many other big names that I could’ve never imagined, like Kurtis Wiebe (Rat Queens), Ron Randall (Trekker), Geof Isherwood (Doctor Strange), and John Layman (Chew). Of course, becoming friends with Sam Campos, the creator of Pineapple Man, the first Hawaiian Superhero to hit the national stage, was also huge. I remember as a kid going up to Compleat Comics (Perry’s shop before the bridge in Wailuku) and nerding out on Pineapple Man. It kind of brought it all full circle.
BW: How do you feel about the saturation of Marvel properties in the media?
AS: I love it. I think the attention Marvel has brought to the mainstream has made comics more accessible for everyone. I think it serves to bolster all comics sales, not just Marvel comics, and that includes independent titles and imprints. I think comics are seeing a major resurgence, thanks in part to the expert handling of Disney with the Marvel properties and I think they’re the model to follow, as far as balancing the satisfaction of existing fans with bringing in the new fans.
BW: Is there a dormant comic book character and/or series you wish would come back?
AS: If you asked me this last month, I would’ve said Dinosaucers, which was a cartoon in the late ‘80s about dinosaurs from space, that ran for only one season. But, just last month, a comic series with a team led by the original creator, was released by Lion Forge comics, the same studio that has been doing the new Voltron Legendary Defender series. So, my second choice would have to be the C.O.W. Boys of Moo Mesa, who were created by Ryan Brown, another alumnus of the original Mirage Studios. Ryan Brown was originally tasked with developing new characters for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon show, which would then become part of the Playmates toy line. He would eventually go on to create the C.O.W. Boys of Moo Mesa for ABC, which is about a bunch of cows who mutate and become human-like after a meteor strikes their valley and is set up like an old western show. It’s everything I love about a Saturday morning cartoon; weird and fun all in one!
BW: What are your thoughts on the NERDWatch podcast that broadcasts episodes from your shop?
AS: The NERDWatch has been a big part of reaching out to the community and helping to make more events happen. They’ve also been tremendous in their support of the Maui Comic Con. G-Money has been our de facto emcee for the past two years and that probably won’t change this year either. The podcast itself (which records live in the store every Tuesday night at 9pm) is basically the only time in the whole week where I can sit down, hang out and talk story with a bunch of my fellow nerds. It’s just a bonus that it gets recorded and reaches a pretty decent audience. Each of the cast members has their own expertise and always help fill in the gaps of my nerd-knowledge. The people that form the rotating cast of the show have all become like family. Regardless of how much we seem to argue on the podcast, it’s all in good fun. Having an opinion isn’t any fun if you can’t challenge others’ in a friendly way, and defend your own position. I think a lot of the listeners enjoy it too, because they can tell all of us are nerds first, podcasters second – meaning that we’re really there to talk about the comics and movies and television we cover and not just to generate content.
BW: Now that your shop has become one of the coolest spots on Maui, what are some of your future plans with Maui Comics and Collectibles?
AS: Our future plans include to keep on doing what we’re doing. We’ve been trying to bring out more gamers, since we have a game room at our new location; like Dungeons and Dragons and the new trend of board gaming. The store is already all the things I had hoped it would be, so it’s hard to expect more of the team. But I would really like to see retro video game competitions and definitely more Cringe Cinema events, which are organized by Francine Walraven. Those have been really fun. Other than that, I would hope that our store serves as a meeting place for the future creators of Maui who will someday together create the next ‘big thing’ on the national stage. The talent pool for any field is very rich on Maui. It’s just the nature of the local population and the incredible work ethic. There is a lot of untapped talent on Maui just waiting for a chance to express itself. I hope our store can continue to help make a space for that to happen.
PART III: Aaron Guerrero and Chris Duong
Game Over Comics
With Barnes and Noble closing its Lahaina location, the availability of content and a place to meet for comic book and gaming aficionados shrunk considerably. Enter Chris Duong and Aaron Guerrero, two Maui boys who saw the need for a comic shop in Lahaina.
With its tucked-away location, going to Game Over Comics is like finding a cool, secret clubhouse with friendly faces greeting you as you walk in the door. In addition to a wide reach of comic book titles, they offer gaming events, recently had an in-store signing by comic book artist Carl Potts, and have a wall full of Funko Pops. Game Over Comics is the real deal, the kind of comic book store that loyal patrons return to and old school comic book lovers seek out. While it’s a new addition to Maui’s comic shop history, it’s clear Guerrero and Duong, like Margolin and Seki before them, know how to engage the needs and imagination of their community. I spoke with Guerrero, Managing Partner of Game Over Comics.
Barry Wurst: When was the opening date of the shop?
Aaron Guerrero: Our doors opened on April 11 for our soft opening. We officially made our grand opening on May 5, 2018.
BW: What were the comic books you read in your youth that first inspired you?
AG: I didn’t read too many American comic books in my youth. I was really into manga, Japanese comic books. The first one I ever read was Ranma 1/2. I borrowed it from the Kahului Public Library. From there, I branched into all kinds of different books. I fell in love with the art, and even had a short-lived dream of becoming an artist. But today, my all time favorite manga is Kinnikuman. As far as American comics, I have grown to really enjoy all things Spider-Man.
As for Chris, he grew up as the heavy-set kid and wasn’t as athletic as the other children. He then turned to comics and picked up his first issue of “Professor X and the X-Men”. While reading this comic book, Chris noticed the different sizes between characters. He also realized that everybody has a special gift or talent to share, and it was OK to be different. From there, Chris begged his mom to get him a different comic book every week.
BW: When did you two first meet?
AG: Chris remembers it better than me, but the story starts with us working together. I was Chris’ trainer on his first day of graveyard shift working security. Chris had already worked in security previously, so there wasn’t much training involved. He says I spent the night giving him life advice, but I don’t recall that much. Eventually I left him by himself and went somewhere and took a nap. Ever since then, we were always around each other. Parties, bar hopping, fantasy football, you name it.
AG: When did the idea of opening a comic book store on Maui first hatch?
AG: We had always had dreams of owning our own business, something that we could look forward to and not look at as work. The only reason was because we were tired of doing the normal 9-5. Some plans were clothing design, video game producer, even my own mortuary (a story for another time). We came up with a bunch of names for these businesses, but never committed to anything. I found myself managing a fire alarm company here on Maui and doing pretty well for myself, but just getting tired of the grind.
Chris, who comes from a line of entrepreneurs, called me one day and said he wanted to start his own business. That business would be a comic book shop. Of course I was intrigued, considering my situation. Issue was, I didn’t know much about American comic books. But, Chris said we would branch out and cover manga, anime, and video games. So, I decided to take some time and think about it. Oddly enough, fate intervened and made my decision for me. The owner of the company I was managing ended up in the hospital. He decided that his health was more important than his work and closed the company. I found myself unemployed and I realized that this is life’s way of saying, ‘It’s time to take control and do what you want to do.’ Things have worked out so far.
BW: What hurdles did you have to overcome opening your store in Lahaina.
AG: The real estate for West Maui is more expensive compared to Central Maui. Finding a spot was difficult. But finding a leasing agent that will take two 29-year-olds seriously was extremely difficult. We had two other locations in mind. One leasing agent would not let us in the unit, just allowing us to look through the windows. The other agent felt we were not ready for a certain location and would call us when he finds something, We are still waiting for that call.
BW: I like to tell comic book fans that your location makes the store a secret handshake. How has your unusual but completely accessible location been received by customers?
AG: While we were searching for a location, I initially hated this location. I didn’t like the outside, I didn’t like how buried it was, parking was an issue. But, after looking around at other places and taking a look at the budget to run the store, this place seemed much more ideal. Today, when we get new customers coming in, usually the first thing they say is, ‘This place is hard to find.’ I usually tell them, ‘Yeah it is, but it’s totally worth it.’ By the time they leave, they tend to agree.
BW: Please tell me about the events and gaming you provide your customers.
AG: We always have a video game set up at the store for anybody to walk in and play. Sunday morning at 11:30am, we have Magic the Gathering and by 4pm on Sunday, we play Super Smash Bros on the big screen TV. Our Dungeon and Dragon Sessions for Monday and Wednesday are pretty full now. We are looking forward to opening another Dungeon and Dragon Session on Friday evenings. Thursdays, we have our “Thursday Night Showdown”. That’s when Ben from Maui Interactive Gaming comes and sets up PS4 fighting games around the shop.
BW: What has the community response been like?
AG: The community has been great to us. The Lahaina residents have been so thankful to have a shop like ours, especially those with children. Most families out here only go to the other side maybe once a week, sometimes once every two weeks. Also, considering our location and our products, we definitely have a ‘mom and pop store’ appeal.
BW: Describe how having a comic book shop in Lahaina gives it a distinct identity that’s different from being located in central Maui.
AG: I think that this idea only applies to people who grew up in Hawai‘i, but driving 25 miles or 45 minutes is a long trip for someone here. So, in a way, we are at a disadvantage with the community in Central Maui. That being said, we are a destination for those coming from the other side. They come here seeking us out and gives us a little bit of pot of gold feel. Obviously, we are extremely convenient for the visitor community and that helps us a lot. But for those that live in Lahaina, we are ‘their’ store, and that’s a great enough identity for us.
BW: How do you view the Maui comic book community?
AG: Before this store, I wasn’t a part of the comic book community at all. I was definitely a nerd, but I didn’t share it with anyone other than Chris. Now that the store is here and growing, I have had the chance to meet most of the comic community on island and they have been awesome. What’s unique about Maui’s community, and I guess you could say the Hawai‘i community, is that most of them are hardcore fans. Everyone is so knowledgeable about every part of not only the history of comic books, but also the artistic creation of comic books. I have always learned something new from every person I have met and it has truly been a pleasure.
If I could make one negative or critical comment about the community, it would be that it is aging. I think this could be said about the comic community across the world. With the onset of technology the comic book medium has definitely taken a hit as far as young people readership. I believe it’s Game Over Comics and Maui Comics and Collectibles’ responsibility to continue bringing comic books, manga, anime, and even video games, to the next generation, so we can continue to grow this community.
BW: Any plans or upcoming store events you’d like to share?
AG: We will be hosting our First Pop Swap at the store on Saturday October 6 at 6pm. All Funko Pop collectors come down and bring about a dozen or so pops that you want to trade or sell. They might find the missing pop for their collection or get rid of some of their collection pops. That’s all we can share for now. Stay tuned to see what else we got up our sleeves.
“Every now and then, it is good to be a Superman.”
-Clark Kent, Superman #64, 1992
While the affection for Margolin’s Compleat Comics has never died, neither has the need for a place to encourage the creativity and fantasies of Maui’s growing comic book community. The upcoming events of Maui Comic Con are enough to stir the imaginations and wonder of local fans and artists. Yet, the even greater achievement isn’t merely that a convention has become an annual, sustained experience. Rather, it’s the ongoing community that Game Over Comics and Maui Comics and Collectibles continues to support and build. The island-wide reach of both current Maui comic book shops isn’t merely the return of an old fashioned kind of bookstore but a true gift for those with creative minds and a passion for storytelling of the grandest storytelling there is. Comic book shops continue to encourage and enable the daydreams of those who love larger than life narratives, immersive gaming and partaking in dialog about these worlds. It is remarkable how the absence of a single Maui comic book shop for years gradually led to local fans recreating and building on what Margolin’s shop provided them. Now, whether you live in Lahaina or Kahului, comic book fans have a place where they can partake with others, becoming childlike again, as they join the collective dream.
Maui Comic Con will be at University of Hawai‘i Maui College on Oct. 26 (Preview Day) from 3pm-6pm and Oct 27&28 from 9:30am-6pm. Admission is FREE. Learn more at Mauicomiccon.com.
(Editor’s Note: The version of this story that appeared in the 10/11/2018 print edition of MauiTime features abridged interviews.)
Cover design by Darris Hurst. Cover photo courtesy Maui Comics and Collectibles
Cover artist Francine Walraven, cover coloring by Kanila Tripp
Photos courtesy Maui Comics and Collectibles