Super-Fly superfans celebrate a decade
- Published: September 14, 2017
As the doors of Super-Fly Comics and Games opened on the morning of Saturday, Sept. 2, for the 10th anniversary celebration, the overcast skies and drizzling rain did nothing to dampen the spirits of those gathered, many of whom greeted co-owners Anthony “Tony” Barry and Jared Whittaker by name.
“This is one of the great Midwest shops,” said Dirk Manning, prolific author of horror and paranormal stories, who was making his third signing appearance in the store’s history.
A 50-percent off sale brought out all manner of fans and aficionados, who each seemed to know where to go to find that special item they sought. Within a matter of minutes, Barry looked toward the rear of the store before noting, “Well, someone just bought an entire shelf!”
The shop is filled with items that catch the eye and fancy. Comics collected in over 150 of what Barry and Whittaker referred to as “long boxes” sit next to shelf after shelf of books and graphic novels. There are collectibles ranging from “This Is Spinal Tap” action figures to “Dr. Who” memorabilia. “Pokemon” and “Magic: The Gathering” cards can be purchased along with “Dungeons and Dragons” manuals.
“I’ve been coming here for six years,” Travis Fowler said, there with his son, who was dressed as Spider-man. “After my first visit I switched to them my primary comic shop,” he added. “Jared and Tony have just been awesome. They’ve been great to Yellow Springs, too, because now I’m here at least once a week to buy my [comic] books.”
Super-Fly was opened in 2007 by Barry and Thacher Cleveland. They had purchased Dark Star’s comics business from owner Mary Alice Wilson, who gave her blessing to the new endeavor. The shop originally was located in what is now Urban Gypsy. The initial inventory featured Barry and Cleveland’s personal collections of comics, books and collectibles from series like Star Wars and Star Trek.
“I had like 11 long boxes of comics, two bookcases of used books, and [Cleveland] had about the same,” Barry recalled. Business was brisk and they were able to move into the current space when Dingleberry’s closed in December of 2008.
“We saw some spectacular growth in the first couple years,” Barry recalled. But then the economic crash of 2008 hit. “It was almost every day that people were coming in and saying ‘I lost my job’ or ‘My wife lost her job, I can’t pay for what I ordered.’”
Suddenly, Cleveland had to leave the business for personal reasons, and sales were stagnant. One morning, Barry rode his bike to the store while crying.
“I thought we were going to close,” he said.
Enter Whittaker, who had been there from the beginning, but in a role that was ever-evolving. A video game aficionado who had recently moved to the village, Whittaker started by hanging out at the shop when it first opened. He became a part-time employee almost by happenstance, covering the shop when Barry and Cleveland went to conventions. Whittaker worked so many shifts, he lost his regular job.
“Tony was like, ‘Well, he did get fired for us so we’d better give him a job!’” Whittaker quipped.
Whittaker was working as store manager when Barry made the offer to be a co-owner, so he knew the dedication it takes to run a successful, independent shop in a tumultuous climate. With Amazon selling nearly everything Super-Fly has at the store without the same overhead, they both knew that they were going to have to do something special.
“So far, I’ve taken six days off [in 10 years],” Barry said, “We work 80-, sometimes 100-hour weeks, going to conventions and doing events.”
Comic conventions, often referred to as comic-cons, became critical to Super-Fly’s weathering the storm. The original comic-con began in San Diego in the 1970s. Over the past 20 years, they have proliferated and become multi-million dollar events featuring signings by actors from television series and films, authors and artists, but more importantly for Whittaker and Barry, a place to connect with a devoted and educated customer base.
“Last year we did 22 events,” Barry said. “That means loading up our vehicles with inventory, driving to the location, setting up for the day, interacting with people for 12 to 14 hours, tearing down, and hopefully finding some food.”
A quick glimpse at the store’s Facebook page reveals review after review from people who have never been at the shop, but who met Barry and Whittaker at a comic-con. Customers near and far praise the owners’ attention to customers’ needs, their knowledge and their affability.
“Tony and Jared clearly love comics,” Dirk Manning said. “And the fact that they have a large children’s section right in the center of the store shows it is a place for families.” He noted that the layout of the store says a lot about their philosophy. “They clearly know their community.”
Throughout the anniversary celebration Saturday — which resulted in their single biggest sales day in the store’s history — Whittaker and Barry were periodically interrupted by people extending congratulations, bringing in doughnuts or asking about a particular item. The owners are ever-aware of what they have in stock, and even if they are not personal fans of particular products, their wealth of knowledge is what makes Super-Fly a specialty shop.
“We often get someone coming in thinking they’ll get a Superman book, and after I ask some questions I can show them exciting options,” Barry said. “People will walk in saying, ‘I don’t think there’s anything for me. Wait, I didn’t know that they make ‘Charmed’ comics!’” he joked, referencing a hit television series about a coven of witches.
Whittaker is a musician, fronting popular local band Doctor Meat. He and Barry have made Super-Fly an unlikely spot for musical performances, particularly from acts within the “nerdcore” hip-hop genre.
A 2007 report in the Boston Globe notes that nerdcore includes artists with vastly different backgrounds who are united by the experiences of being underdogs who won’t remain silent about their struggles. This seems an apt metaphor for Super-Fly, which closed out the day with what the owners described on promotional material as an “epic live performance” by the acts NOFRIENDS, The Thought Criminals, Tribe One and Juice Lee.
Ten years on, Super-Fly has lived into its Latin imprimatur, “In Nerdeos Speramus,” or “In Nerds We Trust.” Barry and Whittaker have trusted in the fan and collector communities to support them, and in turn they both work hard to provide a haven for all those who share a love of comics and games.
“I thanked Kevin Eastman when he was here doing an exclusive signing for enabling me to have a job doing what I love,” Barry said, referring to the co-creator of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” whose collectibles Super-Fly stocks. “Kevin said, ‘Thank you for enabling me to have a job doing what I love to do!’”
The store has survived and thrived for 10 years based on that love.
“That’s what we’re all about. This is a product of love,” Barry said, before excusing himself to go tend to another customer.
Super-Fly Comics and Games is located at 132 Dayton St. The store is open Sunday through Tuesday, noon–7 p.m., and Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m.–8 p.m.