The Comic Bug in Manhattan Beach Is Not Your Average Comic Book Store
South Bay superheroes.
- Written byKevin Elms
- Photographed byJeffrey Fiterman
It’s not hard to see the influence comic books have in today’s world. The blockbuster films, the new hit TV shows, the latest video game phenomenon … I could go on, but I think you get the picture.
Comic books have been an integral part of American society for over 80 years, and they don’t appear to be slowing down. In fact their popularity grows with each passing year, and new fans are born around the globe. Chances are that new show you’re binge-watching on Netflix started as a comic book or graphic novel. It’s a great time to be a “comic book nerd.”
In 2021 comic book sales surpassed $2 billion for the first time in their history. This was the highest total ever measured for the sales of periodical comics, graphic novels and digital comics.
These astronomical returns come on the heels of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic that saw store lockdowns and distribution holds across the country. Despite the difficult setbacks, sales are predicted to increase year by year throughout the decade.
The previous high was in 1993 at the peak of the speculator boom when sales hit $1.6 billion (inflation-adjusted). Vintage comics have also seen some records broken lately with the Mile High copy of Superman #1 (CGC 8.0) from 1939 selling for $5.3 million. This is the highest price ever paid for a single comic book to date.
Look in your attics, folks. You never know what treasures you might find. The future looks bright for comic book collectors and retailers alike.
Although reading comics is traditionally a solitary endeavor, ask any true collector and they’ll tell you that their local comic book store is the backbone of the hobby. I remember my childhood comic store and the amazing feeling I’d get every time I visited.
Walking through the doors of The Comic Bug in Manhattan Beach, I’m instantly hit with a wave of nostalgia—the primary colors, the smell of old comics and most importantly the conversations between the customers and staff. They’re talking about the new episode of The Last of Us, and their excitement makes me want to head home and binge-watch the show now.
But then the store grabs my attention again. The main wall is covered with new comics, which seem to stretch as far as the eye can see. On the other side, trade paperbacks and action figures are neatly stacked on the shelves. In the middle of the store, back issues are alphabetized and divided by title, with handmade Star Wars ships hanging overhead. I can get lost in a place like this.
“Can I help you find anything?” asks Jun Goeku as I thumb through old Spider-Man comics. After I introduce myself, he takes me on a tour of the store and gives me a history lesson.
Jun established The Comic Bug in 2004 and moved it to the current location at 1807 Manhattan Beach Boulevard in 2008. Business boomed, and he expanded with the Culver City store in 2014.
Jun is a local boy, born and raised in Redondo Beach. His résumé is quite amazing. Growing up he worked at different comic book stores and developed his passion. He studied business at Cal State Long Beach, and after graduating he signed up for medical school. Today he works full time as a physician assistant in neurosurgery. I wouldn’t be surprised if he dons a mask and also fights crime in his spare time.
“We get a big boom in business when new movies or shows based on comics come out. Then they become regular customers.”
“The Comic Bug is like my own personal library, and I love being here,” says Jun. With the stress and responsibilities of a job in medicine, you can tell he finds solace and joy in the store he founded. Since he works a full-time job that demands his attention, you may be wondering who runs the store when he’s not there. Enter Eddie Cordova.
Eddie joined The Comic Bug team in 2019 and within months became the general manager of the Manhattan Beach store, leading a staff of eight employees. “Jun and I work really well together,” he says while pricing some Amazing Spider-Man and X-Men comics from a recent collection, “but it’s the community that keeps us going.”
That statement rings true as they seem to greet each customer by their first name. Almost simultaneously Jun and Eddie say, “The customer experience is our main goal.”
Nearly 500 customers have monthly subscription pulls. What is that? Certain books are ordered specifically for that customer monthly and set aside for them. That way the customer will always get the books they want without the risk of them selling out. This store has everything from new issues of Batman to the 1962 first appearance of Doctor Doom in Fantastic Four #5.
Apparently, Batman is still the best-selling comic—as he has been for the majority of his more than 80-year run—but Spider-Man is web-slinging not far behind. The Dark Knight is still holding strong though.
While Jun shows me some key books from a newly bought collection, he invites me to a private screening of the new Ant-Man and the Wasp movie Quantumania. This is a regular event for Jun and The Comic Bug. He gives back to his customers by renting theatres so they all can enjoy the latest films together.
“It’s fun to get everyone in a big group and see the characters we love on the big screen,” Jun says while sending me a link to the screening. With each passing moment, The Comic Bugs starts to feel less like a store and more like a thriving community.
Jun leads me into a side room where he sells Pokémon, Magic: The Gathering and other role-playing games—a big draw for some of his younger customers. In this room sit a number of tables that can be used for role-playing tournaments, meetings or other events.
I’m initially drawn to a wall of comics and graphic novels that I’ve never seen before. Above these comics is a sign that reads, “We love and support our local creators.” Jun then introduces me to a small group of creators whose books grace that very wall.
Don Walker is signing copies of his book Dreadlock the Barbarian while his wife, Kristal, keeps him company. Christie Shinn is restocking copies of her book Demon Bitch in Triggered. Jun seems proud that these local creators use his store as a meeting place.
“We have a bigger group that meets here regularly,” Christie states as Don nods his head in agreement. He adds, “Not many stores let us sell our books, let alone give us our own space, but Jun really cares about the local creator community.”
My mind is blown at the level of artistry and the fact that there are over 100 local creator books on the wall. It’s not like the old days when you needed a big publisher to get your creation seen. Now all you need is a great idea, a little crowdfunding and a strong support group of like-minded people. The continued future of comics appears bright.
The biggest day of the year for The Comic Bug is right around the corner, and everyone is invited. The first Saturday in May every year is Free Comic Book Day all over the globe. This year it falls on May 6, and just like in years past, it will be an epic day. Jun, Eddie and The Comic Bug Team will host professional and local creators as well as other comic book-related celebrities.
“It’s our busiest day of the year,” says Jun. Eddie adds, “The line stretches around the block, so get here early.” Don’t worry though, there will be plenty of free comics to go around, and it promises to be a fun day.
The success of The Comic Bug is easy to see, and it’s clear why their customer base is so dedicated. It’s only my first time in the store, and I already feel like I’m part of the club.
As we sit and reminisce about our collecting past, I mention that I grew up a big Batman fan. “Have you been reading any of the newer Batman books?” Jun asks as he gets up to grab a comic from the wall and hands me a copy of Batman & The Joker: The Deadly Duo by Marc Silvestri and Arif Prianto. “The storylines are darker, and the art is amazing.”
Flipping through the book, it’s clear that this is not the Batman from my childhood—it has a more adult vibe. The “Pows” and “Bams” from the Adam West days are replaced with bloody punches and a Batman/Joker team-up. Strange at first, but I can’t put the comic down. It’s addicting.
Classic characters like Spider-Man, X-Men and Superman still command a strong customer base, but it’s the newer titles like The Boys and Invincible that bring in more comic first-timers. “We get a big boom in business when new movies or shows based on comics come out,” Eddie states. “Then they become regular customers.”
As my visit comes to an end, it starts to set in just how important this store is. Jun, Eddie and The Comic Bug team are pop culture ambassadors to the South Bay. Their knowledge and community-oriented dynamic are a big part of their success. Their diverse clientele keeps coming back because they know this store is so much more than a business … it’s a family.
From special movie screenings to local creator advocacy, Jun and the team know just how important their community is and they want to continue giving back. As Spider-Man understood in the final panel of his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Jun shakes my hand and says with a big smile, “It’s the golden age of pop culture.” I couldn’t agree more. In the immortal words of legendary comic book creator Stan Lee: ’Nuff said!