Paducah's comic book store stands guard protecting an original American art form for a legion of loyal fans
"'I didn't know places like this really existed! I saw something like this on TV, and I had to come see it for myself!'
Yeah, that's something I do hear from time to time," laughs Brent Thurston, manager at Crash! Comics.
The referenced TV show is The Big Bang Theory, a long running CBS sitcom that centers on the lives of two physicists and their friends who, according to the show's website, partake in geeky interests. One such hobby is visiting the local comic book store every Wednesday on 'New Comic Book Night.'
While the characters in The Big Bang Theory may be fictional, new comics are indeed released every Wednesday. And Crash! experiences an influx of customers the middle of each week to get the latest copy of their favorite works of art.
"It's been going on in the comic industry for twenty years or more," says Brent. "Wednesday, Thursdays, and Fridays are the big days. Most of the time, people are waiting for me when I get here to open the door on Wednesdays. You can set your watch by them."
And while Big Bang and TV shows and movies based directly on comic book story lines are now prevalent in American culture, Crash! started before the curve, quietly serving fans in the Paducah area for over a quarter of a century.
"It started as a comic book/sports card shop in 1987," explains Brent. "Ball cards and comics were synonymous in the 70s and 80s. Neither could usually make it on their own, so most shops had both. What changed that was Batman."
Batman was not a new character, being introduced in a 1939 comic. What was new was Batman as portrayed in the 1989 movie starring Michael Keaton. The Dark Knight Returns comics had revived an interest in Batman in 1986, and the new movie showed a darker, more adult Batman than many were used to.
Crash! grew enough that it was able to split apart from the sports card side of the business, quickly becoming a downtown icon.
"It's all really now more mainstream than ever before," adds Brent. "People watch movies such at Batman, Thor, The Avengers, and so on, and they think it is not what happens in the comics. And I'm here saying, 'Uh, yeah, it is!' There are a lot of Batman fans, but so many of them, when I ask if they've read the comics, will say no. It's 32 pages with pictures. Really, it's not that hard. Give it a try! And when they do read it, they are amazed."
Even The Walking Dead, one of the most popular shows on television in recent years, is culled from the comic book of the same name whose origins predates the show by seven years.
"For years, people expected comic books to be something for little kids. They were stereotyped as campy and immature or maybe more like the Sunday funnies. But they aren't. There may have been a time when that was true, when comic book companies put anything out there thinking kids would read it. They found out quickly that it wasn't true. Readers advanced, but the comics didn't; and when sales went down, they had to change. They knew that if they didn't change, they'd get left behind."
As a result, the comic industry paid close attention to writing and story development as well as a revamped interest in improving the artwork. Anti-heroes and complex characters and situations were introduced, and the modern age of comic books roared into the psyche of American culture.
"It's just good writing. People won't put up with a subpar product, and the attention to story and art have paid off."
Over the years, Brent has identified several basic types of comic book fans. "There are your regular readers, or lifers as I call them. These are folks who have been reading since they were children. They don't know what it is like to NOT get their Batman every week. Many of them learned to read using comics, and now they are teaching their kids to read with them. It is a lifelong passion, and they share that with their own children."
Even during our interview, a father and son perused the new comics wall together. "There's one example right there," says Brent. "He's been buying here a long time, and now he has his three year old with him. He's getting Batman, and his son has a Spongebob comic. Today it is Spongebob, but eventually it will be something else, and then something else, until he is reading Batman with his dad.
"Then, there are those who remember comics from their childhood, but they haven't read one in many years. They are coming back to it. It is nostalgic…like finding old childhood toys on eBay! And when they come back, they are impressed with the quality of the new comics and get hooked all over again.
"In recent years, I've seen people get into comics because of movies. It's a whole new generation that comes in here and wants to see where these stories like Thor or The Avengers comes from.
"And in the end, it comes down to escapism. There is the reading of the comics and then those who really love that superhero genre because for a time they can imagine what it is like to be the one to save the day."
Comics go beyond an entertaining read for many local fans. "They aren't just customers. It really is like a family with many of our regulars," says Brent. "And we are able to work together and give to the community each year. We are doing a Christmas toy drive, and we collect food annually for Paducah Cooperative Ministries. This year we gathered over 3000 pounds worth." So while many may never don a cape, their shared interest in superhero culture bands them together to become heroes in their own right.
"I simply love doing this," smiles Brent. "Maybe I couldn't put up with it any other way! But it is rare to find a job you really enjoy and also enjoy all the people around you." In that way, Crash! has done more than entertain. It has perpetuated a shared culture that many in our area hold dear. Through the comic bond,community builders—our true superheroes—cause our city to shine just a little bit brighter.