Time Warp Comics and Games kicks off its 35th year in style on Free Comic Book Day, celebrating decades of serving Boulder and the Denver area with some of the best comics, games, T-shirts, collectibles, graphic novels, back issues, and all things geeky and good. In an industry that’s marked by a constantly shifting customer base, a medium that is itself always and necessarily in flux, and competition from both Amazon and the film industry itself, it’s remarkable to see a friendly neighborhood comic shop thriving. But that’s exactly what Time Warp is doing.
We spoke with Time Warp’s courageous leader and owner, Wayne Winsett, to talk comics, from the business to the hobby, the ups and downs of feeding Colorado’s need for four-color heroes of all sorts, and why comics fans want to do the Time Warp again…for going on 35 years.
Westword: Time Warp always has one of the most impressive lineups for Free Comic Book Day, but with the convergence of that annual event with Star Wars Day and your 35th-anniversary celebration, it must be even bigger. What do you have planned for this time around?
Wayne Winsett: This is the first year we’ll have live music: Definitely Mary Ann is a TV and movie theme-song cover band. Expect the Batman theme song, Hawaii 5-0 and many of the pop-culture toe-tappers songs we all know and love. I've toyed with this for a few years, but it never seemed to be in the cards until now. These guys are great. And our landlord, Stephen Tebo, is renting out his famous Batmobile, as seen in the first Michael "Batman" Keaton film. We’ve had that before, but not for a few years. It's always popular with kids and adults alike. We always have a few artists to draw and sketch; this year we have a couple of comic artists who are on fire right now. Jorge Corona is doing a very popular series now called Middlewest that’s selling out month after month nationwide. His wife, Morgan Beem, is the painter on another great series called Family Trade, and both of them are artists with Image Comics, the number-one independent comics publisher. Joining them are local artists Scorpio Steele, Kevin Caron and Tom Studholme. They're with us every year, because they are so darned popular. In addition to free movie posters, helium balloons and various other swag, we of course have free comics — three for everyone that shows up — with a lot of discounts on our back issues and everything in the store.
And FCBD is just the start of the celebration, yes? What does Time Warp have planned for events and specials celebrating the anniversary in the coming year?
We’re attempting to bring in more creators for signings, but that’s getting harder and harder. Most creators prefer to do big conventions, where they can meet so many more of their fans at one time. But I'm sure we'll land a few great guests in the coming months. We’ll have a big booth at Denver Pop Culture Con coming up next month, and we’ll have a few sales coming up to give back to all our great customers and fill their collections. Other ideas are percolating, so stay tuned: same Bat time, same Bat channel.
Speaking of special guests, the list of creators that Time Warp has hosted over the years must be impressive at this point.
We've had a bunch: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Berke Breathed, Neil Gaiman [twice], and even James Earl Jones. We would love to have more, but as I stated earlier, creators want to go to big shows now, so unless you have local talent from which to draw, it's getting tougher. By the time you fly someone in, put them up at a hotel, wine and dine them, it really doesn't make us much money. [But] it’s more about rewarding our customers anyway, so we won't give up.
Speaking of not giving up: Time Warp has been around a while now. Take us back to the halcyon days of 1984, when you first opened the store. What made you want to get into comics? What were those early days of Time Warp like?
Comic books are what taught me to read, so I’ve always been a fan. I was going to CU back then, and in between semesters one summer, the manager of Mile High Comics’ flagship store in Boulder asked me if I wanted a summer job. I said yes, and ended up eventually dropping out of college and becoming the manager of that store. That was in 1978, and I worked there until the owner offered to sell me the business. Everybody I knew advised me not to do it, as the payments for buying an affiliate store were very steep, but I was not to be denied. The early days were very lean, as comics were still a fringe commodity, not really respected by most people. Those were very tough times. People would walk by the store, and I would hear them say things like, "They still make comics?" So the first ten years were stressful and difficult, but there was light at the end of the tunnel.
The early ’80s was right when a lot of comic book stores were starting up — the move from spinner racks at drugstores and supermarkets to the direct market. How did you see comics and the industry changing back then? Did you know what you were getting into?
I really had no clue. Going from pre-med to business was very different. I applied to the business school at CU, but wasn’t accepted because my grades were too low. Luckily, I paid attention to what the owner of Mile High had taught me, so on-the-job training was how I learned. The store was a different animal then: We were a comics shop, but we also carried science fiction and fantasy books. I loved those, too, so we excelled in both. Once Borders and Barnes and Noble came to town, they had better selections, and interest in SF and fantasy was waning somewhat, so we switched to games and toys. Things changed rather quickly, but the core has always been comics.
Speaking of change, how has Time Warp weathered the massive changes in comics over the years? Comics themselves have changed radically, but particularly in terms of the cover price. In 1984, comics were what, 60 to 75 cents? And now they're about four dollars each. That's a much higher rate of increase than simple inflation would suggest, which would put new comics more around $2. What brought about the steep increases, and how has that changed the fandom?
I think comics are still a good deal, compared with other forms of entertainment. Prices increased because of paper costs, etc., and also it became increasingly harder and more expensive to hire the creators. If anything, they were probably too cheap back then. With many creators rallying behind better wages for writers and artists, things started to change.
But it's not just the cost; the content changed, too. Time Warp started right before the grim-and-gritty era of comic books really began, didn't it? Different world completely, those couple of years before Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore’s Watchmen. Has it been a challenge, having to consider whether a book is appropriate for a kid walking in off the street? How do you feel about the changes in the medium and the storylines over the years?
Things were brighter and more cheery back then, but comics have always reflected the times, and times change. When Dark Knight, Watchmen, and Maus came out, things changed rapidly. We're very lucky that Boulder has educated, book-smart customers, and very liberal sensibilities, so parents even back then were carefully screening what their kids would buy. It's still an issue. It’s always a challenge as to what to sell or not sell to certain age groups, but we stay as educated and current as we can.
For instance, kids are always trying to buy Deadpool, but the book is a lot like the movies: for mature audiences. So I always hesitate before selling this one, asking if it is okay with their parents. Different kids have different reading comprehension and maturity levels, so that makes it more of a challenge. I think we are going through a golden age in creativity right now, and I am very happy where the comic medium is right now. As I said, the storylines reflect the times, but now there are so many diverse people writing and drawing. These days there’s literally a title for everybody.
Any huge surprises in comics in the last 35 years? Failed company experiments? Books that deserved better than they got, in terms of reader response?
The biggest surprise is how many publishers and titles are out there right now. Way too many, and I imagine it would be very overwhelming to walk into a store right now. Where to start, right? That's where we in the store can help out, by finding out our customers’ tastes and directing them to something they’ll more likely love.
As for bad comics? I’m pretty picky about what I read. If they don't grab me right away, I move on to something else. But I don't want to throw writers, artists, or titles under the bus. There’s great stuff out there, and sure, some junk too. But the comics that deserve better always find an audience, whether it be by word of mouth or by winning awards. Nobody can possibly read everything anymore, so that's actually something the internet has helped us with.
I don’t know if I’d call it a surprise, but one of the best trends in recent years has been a noticeable uptick in the numbers of female customers coming through the doors. It’s a heartening thing to see. We welcome everyone of course, but the greater the diversity of folks loving comics as a medium, the healthier and more robust the industry and the fandom becomes.
And how have the movies – particularly the Marvel Cinematic Universe – affected the comic book business? And Time Warp in the specific?
The movies have raised awareness that there are still comics out there being printed. Every movie that is adapted from a comic book property spikes sales on that title for a little while, and then people move on to the next big thing. One of my biggest gripes is that the big comic companies don't have a tag at the end of their movies directing consumers to local shops to learn more about the characters. It’s seemed like a no brainer to me, and something we as store owners have rallied around for decades, even before the movies were the juggernauts of cinema that they’ve become. But to no avail. Missed opportunity. Shazam, for example, recently brought in a new crowd, and Guardians of the Galaxy has been a bestseller for us for years since the first movie came out. So I really wish the movies had a bigger impact, but they certainly don't hurt.
What about Denver Pop Culture Con? Time Warp always has a presence at the convention; how important has the convention been to Time Warp?
The convention has helped the whole community. It really has. It's important to me personally, because I was there at the beginning, helped this incarnation come into being. I ran comic conventions myself on a much smaller scale back in the day too. It's hard work. Comic cons are very different now than they used to be. Most don’t specialize in comics anymore. The big ones are pop culture events, with television, movies, prose authors, and gaming all rolled into one big arena. Still cool; just not the same. Time Warp has been part of nearly every single convention held in Colorado the last thirty plus years. These days, I personally enjoy the smaller ones more, but they’re all vital to the industry and how it’s grown.
Denver and Boulder have grown too. How specifically has Boulder played a part in Time Warp's success over the years?
I love Boulder. It’s a special place, and I feel very fortunate to be the only comics store in the county. The community has supported us greatly, and we work to respect and return that through both selection and customer service. We've had some of the same customers since I opened. They're more than customers; they’re friends. I am blessed.
Quick few hobbyist questions for you personally: What’s your favorite comic book title and/or character?
My favorite series of all time is The Legion of Super Heroes. I have every single one ever published. My favorite single character is the Silver Surfer, and I have all those too. But there's still a special place in my heart for what I like to call the men-in-tights crowd, and I love Spider-Man, Batman and Superman too.
What sort of collection do you maintain for yourself?
As I near retirement age, I've started to downsize my collections, which is a phenomenon a lot of baby boomers are going through right now. I don't want to burden my kids with a whole bunch of stuff they aren't interested in. I've been selling off some of my personal collection to help pay for my daughter's college too. There are a few things I still have that I cherish, and even after parting with a good portion of the collection, I still have two storage units full of stuff.
So what's your prized possession from the comic book world?
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Fantastic Four #1, autographed by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
So it’s been 35 years of Time Warp so far…what are your hopes for the next 35?
That's a good question. I hope the store is still here doing the same thing we are now, serving Boulder and the surrounding region with comics in print form. I can't imagine the tactile experience of reading will ever really go away, so I am very hopeful. Comics will continue to evolve, and I hope we're there to evolve too.