ASU alumnus finds success in Glendale with Drawn to Comics

The comic book shop celebrates its tenth year in Glendale

ASU alumnus Ken Brown's passion is immediately evident when you listen to him chat with the customers in his popular comic book shop, Drawn to Comics, in Old Town Glendale — many of whom he knows by name. 

Without fail, Brown makes a point of greeting everyone who walks through the door, and the customers he’s missed eventually get a friendly, “How’re you doing?”

Customer Chad Fisher travels around 20 to 30 miles just to shop at the locale and speaks very highly of Brown.  

“Ken is very approachable,” Fisher said. “He knows his stuff and gives great deals on the comics.” 

Like any comic book aficionado, Brown has an immediate answer to the question of Marvel or DC.

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By Alexandra Gaspar | The State Press

A variety of buttons sit on a shelf in the comic book store Drawn To Comics in old town Glendale on Aug. 29, 2015.

“I respect Batman and the DC Universe, but I think Marvel is more grounded in people’s lives,” he said.  

The store is a haven for collectors and readers alike. Toys and comics line the walls with dedicated sections ranging from Marvel to Image Comics (famous for "The Walking Dead" comics) and more. New comics have an easy-to-spot section on a back wall with recommendations from a friendly staff that know their heroes and villains through and through.

Beginnings

Brown graduated from ASU in 1999, where he majored in broadcast business management from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication with a minor in small business. His fascination with comics began in 1983, as a kid at a local 7-Eleven, through a magazine feature about talking cars with personalities, which was similar to today's Pixar movie "Cars."

This gateway led to Spider-Man books featuring the classic black and white costume, and the “Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends” cartoon — a show that was "appointment television" for Brown. 

“Peter Parker is your classic comic-book nerd,” he said with a smile. "But knock on plastic that that stereotype is no longer around.”

Later, he saw the bigger side of the industry through back issues that were more expensive than the ones he read at the convenience store. The first time he visited the now-defunct popular bookstore, I'm A Bookstore, he learned about his favorite characters and the comic book industry.

“The first appearance of that black costume Spider-Man was four dollars, and I was used to paying sixty cents, seventy-five cents for a comic,” he said with a chuckle. 

A clerk from I'm A Bookstore offered Brown a magazine that tracked industry pricing on certain issues. He immediately subscribed to it, sparking what would eventually become a keen business sense.  

While attending school at Cronkite, Brown began selling books on eBay as a form of market tracking and soon became the proprietor of his own website, Downtown Comic Box. The site sold books and offered Brown's thoughts on the industry (though the URL is no longer his own).

A year after graduation, Brown’s various jobs took him to Channel 15 radio as a promoter, which is where he said he gained more experience working a small business. From there, he worked at department stores and local comic book shops. 

When he attended Phoenix Comic-Con, he met industry veterans and other like-minded fans, which made him want to own a store even more.

It was four months into a position with medical company Hi-Health in 2005, that the opportunity to open Drawn to Comics arrived. It was an at-risk decision, Brown said. Not only had the company been treating him well, but he and his wife, Susan, had a three-year-old daughter to worry about.

In 2005, the Browns opened the store as Drawn to Heroes Comics, but they dropped the “Heroes” seven months later to make the name easier to remember for customers. As its popularity increased, they moved the store to a larger location in 2007, where they stayed for four years before moving to their current location in 2011.

"Captain Customer"

Brown and his employees pride themselves on customer service. They even have a mascot, Captain Customer, to drive that point home.  

“Without our customers, there is no us,” he said. “And that’s what we continue to live by every single day.”

Citing the television show “Cheers,” which he watched as a child with his father, Brown recognized the chemistry of that environment and wanted to emulate it.

“This was a place where you go, and everybody knows your name and you’re welcome," he said. "That made a huge impact on me as a kid — how cool would it be to have a business (and) to have that same type of environment?”

Albert Serna looks at comics at the comic book store Drawn To Comics in old town Glendale on Aug. 29, 2015. (Alexandra Gaspar/The State Press)

Jason Worthington, store manager of Drawn to Comics, has been working with Brown since June and calls the store’s customers “heroes.” An artist himself, Worthington met Brown in store as he was tracking down a copy of “Zombies vs Cheerleaders,” that had cover art he drew himself. 

After finding it, he also signed a copy for Brown as well, who brought him on to work as a volunteer for the Free Comic Book Day event and other special promotions, as well as holidays.

“I was always present in Ken’s store because he was so friendly, so nice and so warming, and not only inviting to me as a collector, but as a reader as well," Worthington said.  “When the opportunity came to come aboard, I was more than excited to do that.”

Customer Matt Stapleton has been coming to Drawn to Comics since 2008 after a friend sent him a newspaper ad for the store while Stapleton was stationed overseas. With holes in his collection, he found that the store had what he was looking for.

“(Brown) had everything that I needed," Stapleton said.  "I could pull it all in, get it for cheap and I basically got to catch up where I left off.”

Stapleton said his past frustrations with other shops have kept him coming back in the time since due to Brown's personality.

“Some of the different stores I’ve been to didn’t really know what I was talking about," Stapleton said.  "Ken knew exactly what I was talking about, which is what I look for in a comic shop — someone who is on that level or above.”

Overall, Brown said running the store is challenging, but it's what he loves to do.  

“It’s a very rewarding thing to be able to do what you love," he said. "My whole philosophy is, ‘Hey you know what? Give it two years, if it doesn’t work at least I tried it.'”

Brown had some inspiring advice to give to anyone gearing up for a risk.  

“The worst thing, I would say in any type of life venture that you get into, is if you want to try something and you don’t try it, you don’t want that regret," he said.  "You never let fear run your life, because if you do, you don’t accomplish what your true potential could be.”

Related Links:

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Reach the reporter at djulienr@asu.edu or follow @legendpenguin on Twitter.

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