The death of Superman was a big deal, to put it mildly. When DC Comics and its team of writers decided in 1992 to allow the Man of Steel to die after an epic battle in the streets of Metropolis, the monumental event drew the attention of the entire real world. The comic — Superman (volume 2) No. 75 — sold millions of copies and sparked debate among devoted fans over the merits of killing an American cultural icon. It also captured the attention of an entirely new audience of readers, like Joe Knowles.
“The Death of Superman in 1992, that’s what got me started,” Knowles said. “I remember watching Entertainment Tonight and they were talking all about it. That issue is what got me into comics. Now it’s brought us here.”
Twenty-two years later, Knowles and his family are opening a comic book store in downtown Kalispell, something he and other loyal readers have been desperately awaiting for years.
“We finally thought, if we’re going to do it, Kalispell is the place to do it because we really don’t have anything like that,” said Christi Knowles, Joe’s wife and co-owner of the store.
Kalispell Comics opened last Friday and a grand opening is scheduled for June 12, starting at 4 p.m. with a costume party. Attendees are encouraged to dress up and visit the 445 S. Main St. store to celebrate the arrival of a new gathering place for comic book fans.
“We’d really like to be a place where everybody comes and hangs, and of course, buys comics,” Joe Knowles said. “We really want to get to know everybody, and we really want to become a family oriented comic book store.”
Kalispell Comics opened with a wide selection of nearly 18,000 comics from Joe’s personal collection, and by the time the grand opening occurs, new issues from Marvel, DC, Image and other publishers will be in stock. Kalispell Comics will stay open later on Wednesdays for the arrival of new issues each week. The store will also sell Magic: The Gathering cards, action figures and other memorabilia.
“We want to get people’s feedback. Past stores have carried what they read, not what people want. But if people want to see certain titles then we’ll get them,” Christi Knowles said. “We really want to make it a Kalispell store. That’s important to us.”
Since the first appearance of Superman in 1938, comics have followed an interesting cultural path. Their popularity has ebbed and flowed — the sales of comics surpassed regular books in 1946 — and the most recent boom occurred in the 1990s. Interestingly enough, the popularity of the print editions peaked well before the constant stream of mainstream blockbuster movies filled the theaters in the late ’90s and early 2000s.
“When the first big comic book movie came out, people thought you were a nerd to go,” Christi Knowles said. “Now we’re all going. We’re all nerds. Just walking in the mall, everybody is wearing Batman shirts or decals on their cars. It’s everywhere.”
Yet until now, there has not been a devoted hub for comic book readers in Kalispell. Joe was working at Walmart as a cashier and despaired when Borders closed a few years ago; it had the largest selection of comics and graphic novels. Missoula, home to Muse Comics, was the closest store with a wide selection.
The dream of opening his own store seemed daunting and settled into the back of his mind, but he could never shake it completely.
Not until the last few months, when Joe and Christi decided to take a leap of faith and go for it.
The thought of being a first-time small business owner was scary for Knowles, but his dream for the store and his love of comics triumphed.
“It’s not really a job. It’s something I’m passionate about,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Kalispell Comics is located at 445 S. Main St. #11. Call 533-5499.
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