Mad Cave Shop Talk: Bat City Comic Professionals

Welcome to this edition of Shop Talk, where we delve into the heart of comic culture by spotlighting the vibrant personalities and innovative approaches of various comic shops in North America as part of our Mad Cave Store of The Month initiative! In this installment, Ana Escalera sits down with the dynamic co-owners of Bat City Comic Professionals, Shannon Live and Matt Live, to explore the origins, mission, and future aspirations of their beloved establishment.

Co-owners: Shannon Live, Matt Live

Q: Where did the name of your store originate from?

Shannon: When we opened our store originally we were living in Austin, TX at the time so we named it Bat City after the millions of bats that fly out from under the Congress Avenue bridge each night. “Comic Professionals” came as both a promise to ourselves and a guarantee to our customers that we would strive to provide professional services, information, and experiences in every interaction.

Q: How did Bat City Comic Professionals come to be in business, and how many years have you operated?

Shannon: Back in the fall of 2018 our friend, Stan, came to us and said he had inherited about 70 long boxes and a Diamond account from a store he invested in that was going out of business. He asked us what he should do with the comics, and Matt and I suggested we open a store. However, we didn’t actually have a physical location and we still had full time jobs, so we had to adapt. We did a lot of conventions to sell through the old comics. To build our brand and name in the community, we started a delivery service taking people’s comic orders out of the Previews catalog once a month at a restaurant called Posse East (which is known for being the main locale in the Redneck comics by Donny Cates). On Wednesdays, Matt and I would drive the new comics around Austin to customers’ houses. We did that for about six months until we had 23 subscribers and couldn’t make it all fit in the timeframe we had. Our lease was up at our apartment and Matt and my ultimate goal had been to find a place where we could live and open a shop, so we found a small house on Austin’s Eastside where there weren’t any stores. On Halloween weekend 2019 we opened the shop. We were there for a couple of years until we outgrew our building. While trying to find a new space, we fly out to CGC in Sarasota, FL to get some books graded. While there, Matt showed me around all the places in Bradenton and Anna Maria Island that he used to go to as a kid. We realized we really loved the vibe of the area and there weren’t a lot of stores there, so we decided to move our entire operation to Bradenton. We moved Summer 2022 and opened up 41 days after arrival in a historic building just outside downtown Bradenton. We have been in that location ever since!

One of the things we get asked all the time is “how did you decide to make the store a 501(C)(3) non-profit?” For me, that was never a question. It was actually my only request. I had worked as a Reading and Writing Specialist in schools and had used comics as a way to get my students engaged and to understand concepts that they were struggling with. I wanted to create a space where that could be the focal point. I wanted to ensure that if we were opening a store that we were going to do good in our community. So, we actually founded the store with that in mind as the goal. We gave away small book scholarships in the first year when we didn’t actually have a space. And then as we grew we transitioned to creating resources, developing workshops, and donating books to schools in libraries. Between 2020 and 2022 we gave away close to $25,000 in brand new graphic novels and comic books to schools and libraries.

Q: What does your store specialize in?

Shannon:
Our store is a unique concept because we are a 501(C)(3) non-profit organization. Things bought in our store work to help fund the educational programming we do. So, our number one specialization is teaching children how to read, write, and explore their imaginations through comic books. We host free in-store monthly workshops for reading, writing, and artistic concepts, as well as partner with schools, libraries, the Girl and Boy Scouts of America, the Boys and Girls Club, several other organizations, and other stores around the country to create resources and workshops for educators, parents, and students. Our biggest programs are our Comic Creation Workshops that focus on learning to use the elements of writing for sequential storytelling and our Story Spelunkers program where kids learn literary concepts and practice reading aloud with comic books.

Our shop is an indie focused store. Our new comic wall has over 200 titles all individually faced out, and 170 of those are always indie/small press titles. Each indie title receives a recommendation card that describes the series in a way that feels like reading a book blurb or Netflix description for picking your next show. We have an additional display that features 60 more new small press/indie titles right by our register to serve as our impulse buys, so instead of grabbing a magnet or a keychain our customers are flipping through new indie titles they haven’t heard of before and picking them up.
We also host a show each weekend called Wine Down Your Weekend where we showcase the art and story of every single indie/small press book out that week. I read each book every week so that I can give a real world take on the books and truly tell the viewers what they are going to get from the book…without spoilers! While I’m talking about each book, Matt scans the art with the camera so that viewers can get a look at a few pages and see if the art style is something they would enjoy when they pick up the book.
Matt: We have a separate counter just for comic book appraisals, grade approximations, and cleaning, pressing, and other professional services. We have a large section for Manga, and kids have their own section with an activity table and low-height shelves. We have new and used trade paperbacks, and almost 75,000 back issues.

Q: What store achievements are you most proud of?

Shannon: In 2023, we had nearly 2000 kids participate in the full version of our Comic Creation Workshop. In that workshop we use a dual-coded learning process and collaborative techniques to learn how to create characters, develop problems to make a plot, and how to write solutions that keep your readers wanting more. We then learn how to put it all together in sequential format and build our own comics out of it. Each student gets their own workbook that we created in-house that helps walk them through the process as we go. With the book being dual-coded, students who are stronger verbal learners have the opportunity to focus on their writing where they feel comfortable, whereas students who are more visual can experience the process in the way that works for them. And the cool thing is that everyone gets a chance to try both, taking risks and exploring new avenues of creativity. Seeing that many students learn and grow through that process was inspiring.
We were also a finalist for the Eisner Spirit of Comics award in 2023. Being considered in the running and getting to attend the Eisners award show was a dream I’ve had since before I even worked in comics, so that was a fairytale moment for me.
I also gave a TedX Talk in 2023 on how to use comics to help young people find their voice.

Q: What do you hope Bat City Comic Pros provides to your community, and what is your approach to providing the best experience to your community of fans?

Shannon: A love of reading. We want the community, and really the world at large, to see comics with the same esteem and wonder that they approach traditional novels. We want people to fall in love with the magic and wonder that this industry offers, and realize that some of history’s most beautiful and profound stories are coming out of the pages of comic books. At Bat City, we work to do this by being excited about reading, by talking to people who enter our store or that we meet throughout the community about all of the different genres of comics and how there is something for every taste and interest. One of the things we do when we speak with parents and educators is we show the comparable comics and grade level books for kids, so that they can see how they align with reading style and experience.

Q: What is the legacy and future of Bat City?

Shannon: The greatest thing Bat City could do is create a new generation of comic readers and creators. If we can help develop core memories that spark wonder and joy in young people that they can carry with them throughout their lives then we will have done our job.

Q: As a member of the industry, what do you hope to see for the future of comic book stores everywhere?

Shannon: I want to see comic shops continue to flourish. I want to see comic shops become like indie bookstores that instill a love of reading and a sense of wonder in people of all ages. There are so many comic book stores out there that are doing incredible things to revolutionize what it means to be a comic book store, that are working to inspire people, and I want to see more of that. And I want to see more working together to signal boost and reach the community at large. We recently launched an initiative called Books are Magic that we are hoping to share with stores everywhere. With BAM we create monthly themes with cultivated reading lists, activity guides, and dialogic questions that parents and educators can use to talk to their kids about reading. There’s also a printable reading guide where students can log the books they read and then return the log to the store for a free book or other prize. We just started connecting with other stores around the country to participate in the program. We will be co-branding the materials for each store and listing them as a participant on our website so that people can find the store closest to them. I want to create more partnerships like that with stores. Helping to drive the industry to reach the next generation, and be that community beacon.

Q: What are your best-selling Mad Cave, Maverick, or Papercutz titles?

Shannon: Our best selling Mad Cave title at the moment is Deer Editor. It is highly popular with our fan base who love detective-style stories and the readers who can’t say no to an anthropomorphic animal. The writing and art have really drawn a lot of people in too. By the end of April, I’m sure we will be saying Dick Tracy though! It’s already got a large amount of subscribers pouring in and with Matt’s love for the franchise and Adrian and Austin’s store exclusive, we are definitely going to see a huge turnout for it. Recently ended, Don’t Spit in the Wind and Crusader both had full sell-throughs more than once on our entire stock, which was awesome. Papercutz is Smurfs for sure. People of all ages love the Smurfs and it’s smurftastic to see the generations talking together about their smurf experiences.

Q: What are your Mad Cave, Maverick, or Papercutz recommendations?

Shannon: Mad Cave – Hunt. Kill. Repeat. I am a huge Greek mythology fan and Artemis is one of my favorites. The thing I loved about this book is it gave us an entirely new approach to her character. Seeing her fall in love and have a family was great, but we also never truly get to see enough of the hunter that she can be. I loved that they gave her a revenge-style kill them all story that showed how she could be an action hero and the heart of the gods all at the same time. And the world-building was so well done, you could tell a thousand more stories in that new world the gods had built!
Old School Mad Cave no one talks about anymore – 100% Wolvenheart. Anything with Elizabeth Bathory is an automatic win

Matt: Mad Cave – I loved Don’t Spit in the Wind. The obscured and amazing art combined with its message are the things I look for in my comics. I just wish it ran longer, I love that world that it plays in.
For Papercutz its Fuzzy Baseball, and all of its sequels. I love how they explained how to play the game as well as told a great story!

Hot Topic Weigh-in

Q: Favorite genre and why?

Shannon: Don’t make me choose! I, like most comic book fans, love a great horror story. I think that the medium lends itself so well to the thrill they can provide. In manga, I really find myself drawn to that Young Adult fantasy story (i.e. Witch Hat Atelier and Nina the Starry Bride are two of my faves right now). But honestly, I don’t care what genre your story is if you have great written characters and realistic connections that drive the story. I am that person that judges a book based on whether or not I find myself wondering what the characters are doing when I walk away. Some of my very best friends live inside books, that’s the feeling I want no matter the genre.

Matt: Slice of Life stories, and cartoon strips.

Q: Who would win in a fight (choose your fighter)?

Shannon: I don’t know what the fight is necessarily, but my go to answer to choose a fighter for my time is always Scarlet Witch. She has the power to manipulate reality, she destroyed mutantkind with three words, she is absolutely going to win against 99.999999% of characters in any fight.

Matt: Dr. Manhattan. Just like Scarlet Witch, he has that reality manipulation. “Pick one Marvel and one DC for your team”… its the two of them, which is kind of artifice, but hey this is comic books!

Q: In your opinion, is there an existing remake movie that’s better than the original?
Original vs. Reimagined (Dune movies, e.g.)

Matt: Dark Crystal prequel, Age of Resistance…it’s a show, does it count?

Shannon: The Last Airbender Netflix show is 100,000 times better than the Last Airbender movie. They nailed the beats and the heart of the animated show so perfectly in the Netflix show.

Make up your own! Whatever fun hot-topic conversations you’ve been having with your customers are always good ideas:

Shannon: With all the recent 80s cartoon comic adaptations we are constantly talking about what our favorite nostalgia properties are in the shop. For me, it is Rainbow Brite! I was the kid that had the full catalog of merchandise, the canopy bed and blanket set, the dolls, the clothes, whatever. It’s the one animated property that I can watch everyday and still love it. Outside of Mister Rogers, Rainbow is probably my biggest TV inspiration too.

BAT CITY COMIC PROFESSIONALS FLORIDA
915 Manatee Ave E Bradenton, FL 34208
www.batcity.org

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