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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Comic Book Ink!

Posted By on Wed, May 19, 2010 at 12:48 PM

Two years ago, bankruptcy lawyer Jason Mazzei purchased a 10-foot plaster replica of the Hulk without a thought of where to put it. It was 2008, the year The Incredible Hulk came out in theaters, and Mazzei, a long-time comic-book fan, bid on and won the replica, one of about 150, for $2,500 in an auction.

For a while the statue loomed in Mazzei's garage in Allison Park (it wouldn't fit through the front door). But today, if you stand at the corner of Smithfield Street and Liberty Avenue, Downtown, you can see the Hulk flexing, green and angry, in the window of The Comic Book Ink!, a store Mazzei opened on a relative whim last August. 

Mazzei, 38, spends his days on the fourth floor of the building, which he bought for his law firm Mazzei & Associates. Passersby would often stop in to inquire about the hobby shop previously located there, prompting Mazzei's idea for a comic store in the unused ground floor.

Despite its newness, the shop seems charmingly old fashioned. It's small and organized with books, posters and toys lining its pale, wooden walls.  Beatles songs play from computer speakers, and Sam Wilson, the store's only full-time employee and self-titled "manager by default," strolls casually behind the desk. A 24-year-old Bloomfield resident, Wilson has curly brown hair and glasses and gladly gives first-timers his "20-second tour." The dollar bins are in the front; trades and graphic novels are on the bookshelf; the old stuff is in the boxes; new issues are in the back.

Since August, business has steadily increased, says Mazzei. There are fanatic regulars, wanderers-in from the street, students from the Art Institute, and even a few "business people in suits," Mazzei says. The store offers a subscription service, where, at a discounted subscription rate, the store sets aside the books, assuring availability and mint condition. The service currently accounts for about half the shop's business.

To Mazzei, classic comics characters are the "American mythology." In an age where print is dying and the virtual reigns supreme, Mazzei is calmly optimistic about the future of comics. He views the Internet not as a replacement medium but as a tool to promote discussion via message boards and blogs. "There's something to be said for holding a comic, leafing through the pages, the smell of it, the look of it, the feel of it," he says. "The fact that you can collect it and save it, and hopefully someday it will be worth something."

The Comic Book Ink! will celebrate its one-year anniversary on Aug. 7 with an event featuring giveaways, a costume contest, and the tattoo Wilson proudly pledges to get on his calf or his forearm of the store's logo —a splattered ink spot with its namesake in the center.

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