This week, Laura and Joelle are joined by Nick and Selene Idell, of Alley Cat Comics. Alley Cat, founded in 2011 can be accessed by a narrow gangway around the corner from George’s Ice Cream and is a place where anyone and everyone is welcome. As life-long comic book fans, Selene and Nick have made it their mission to share their passion for all things comics and graphic novels. You’ll find something from practically every universe there at 5304 N Clark – in the rear.
“Comic books are like a soap opera, if you die or get in a coma, you have an identical twin that comes back. Wolverine never dies! Everything is going to be fine.”
-Nick and Selene Idell
Listen to Episode 83 with Selene and Nick Idell!
Here are some references from Episode 83 that you may want to check out:
- Nick and Selene grew up together in Roscoe, IL and went to high school together. They got together, stayed together, and 16 years later, here they are. The beginnings of their shop began when Selene issued an ultimatum to Nick – either open a shop or get rid of all the boxes comic books that were piling up in their house. They had been living in Andersonville for about 6 months, and saw the “For Rent” sign. They initially were interested in the Potbelly space, but when that wasn’t available they explored the back garage space. Nick didn’t love it right away, but Selene did. It was like a Bat Cave! Nick and his dad remodeled and added the metal work, poured concrete, built custom drawers, shelves, almost everything there you see.
- Nick and Selene have a daughter who attends Peirce, who greatly influenced the way they shaped the shop. At the time when they opened, not many shops were suited for kids so they focused on offering a wide variety for all ages. In case you didn’t know, most novels have a graphic novel version. Nick mentions Frankenstein, Journey to the Center of the Earth, etc.
- The name Alley Cat came after they found the location, and was suggested by a random customer at one of their former jobs. Crime Alley (bad connotation), and Hobbit Hole (didn’t want to get sued) where names that didn’t make it. They both love cats, had a black cat when the store opened, whom the sign is modeled after.
- With the resurgence of superheroes in the last 15 years or so, comics and graphic novels have steadily grown in popularity. People come in and ask for comics and graphic novels for movies or shows they recently have seen, and get hooked. Selene and Nick share that “Comics are basically soap operas! Which is why they work so well for tv.”
- Customers who loved comics as a kid come back and get back into it as adults. “I love that they are always putting comics in the trade paper-back form (a collection of issues printed as one book.). The comic book world has fine-tuned the way comics are issued, making it easier to jump in at any point in a series and enjoy it, which is maybe a result of binge culture (like Netflix.) Selene has started to notice that many indie comic book companies have started releasing issue #1, and then an entire trade.
- In other countries, most comics are released with the full issue, digests or novels. We’re one of the only ones to release them one issue at a time. Maybe that will change in the US. A popular tv/comic crossover is Riverdale and Archie comics – discuss!
- Nick and Selene approach first time comic book customers with joy – it’s Selene’s “favorite thing ever.” They show the things they love, ask questions about what kinds of stories and reading they like, and then jump in with lots of recommendations. Lots of time they start with Image Comics, which start at $9.99 for trade paper backs. It allows you to try our a few different story lines. Nick typically recommends comics/graphics he loves and owns.
- Some of Nick’s favorites are: superhero book Invincible by Robert Kirkman who does The Walking Dead. Also, a comic series by Joe Hill, Stephen King’s son, called Locke and Key which is recently slated for Netflix. Nick likes everything – Superman, Spiderman, Watchmen, Blankets, Scott Pilgrim, manga.
- Selene likes anything by Jason Aaron – Thor, Southern Bastards, The Goddamned…VERY adult, fyi! Another favorite is Snot Girl by Bryan Lee O’Malley (who also did Scott Pilgrim.) Selene would describe herself as a “devourer” of comics, and reads them for the story. She enjoys intense and complex stories.
- Marvel and DC – which can be contentious – Nick is a fan of both. He remembers first picking up The Infinity Gauntlet in a gas station. Then, as a teen, he was into Image (indie comic book movement.) Do indie industries struggle? Not really, there are months where they sell more comic books than Marvel/DC. Marvel and DC do an impressive job at bringing in new artists, and paying attention to trends.
- In referencing the importance of female-identified readership and comic book characters, Selene shares that she thinks the readership has always been there, but now the voice of those readers is louder. She does notice that there aren’t many women who work in comic book shops in Chicago. It was definitely very male-centric in the 90’s and less so now. In smaller cities, Selene notices the “boys club” mentality towards women in comic book shops more – like questions of “What is she doing here?”, just generally less-inclusive. Nick has seen it too, the “comic book test.” For example, if someone is wearing a Wonder Woman t-shirt, they would be asked “Do you know Wonder Woman’s mother’s name?” as if women have to prove they know enough to be in the store.
- storyline in Thor, where Thor was deemed no longer worthy of his power, and it was granted to a woman. Selene and Nick tend to brush off negativity, and they know that storylines often come back around to a “status quo.” And, that they are fantasy. Not real. Everything is going to be ok. “Comic books are like a soap opera, if you die or get in a coma, you have an identical twin that comes back. Wolverine never dies! Everything is going to be fine.”
- C2E2 is the big Chicago comic book convention is, according to Nick, “exactly what a comic book convention should be. It’s half industry, movie industry, and a gigantic artist gallery.” Last year, it was over 100,000 people. It’s great for people watching – especially cosplay.
- Speaking of cosplay, what is the difference between cosplay and LARP (Live Action Role Play)? Cosplay is a person dressing up as their favorite character or amalgamation of that character, and LARP is cosplay and actual combat/acting combined – think costumes and Dungeons and Dragons in real life. Nick and Selene used to LARP at Tuckabatchee Girl Scouts Camp in Ottawa, IL.
- With Halloween coming up, come on out to Alley Cat on Saturday, October 26 for Trick or Treat and Halloween Comic Fest. Comic Fest is a national comic book store holiday, where comic book publishers provide books so stores can distribute them. Anyone who comes in gets 3 free comic books, and at the end of the afternoon they hold a costume contest. Cheetah Gym used to host trick or treat, and so Alley Cat jumped in!
- Events coming up at Alley Cat are Winter is Coming Sale (weekend before Thanksgiving), the official Star Trek meet up every 2nd Sunday of the month, and on Tuesdays they play KeyForge and Warhammer, and there is a board game demo night.
- If they could change places with another business, Nick would go to Big Jones or Candyality. Selene would say Foursided and Andersonville Wine & Spirits because she has bar tending experience and loves to line up bottles!
This episode is brought to you by Meetinghouse Tavern, located at Clark and Winnemac where you can enjoy free pool, darts, skeeball and more. Or, play one of the dozens of board games. They have daily specials to quench all thirst, plus Thursday night karaoke and the Sunday Social Variety Show. Never a cover! Find out more on Facebook.