Comic book lovers, assemble!
Kowabunga Comics ownership change saves the day for comics fans

By Eric Oliver - Enterprise Staff

May 7, 2015

James Bula manning the counter at Kowabunga Comics, 102 N. Main St.
Eric Oliver/Enterprise Staff

OCONOMOWOC — Look up in the sky. It’s a bird, a plane, no it’s Kowabunga Comics and it’s here to stay.

The cornerstone of Main and Wisconsin was in grave danger last year when the former owner planned to retire, leaving the fate of the store at 102 N. Main St. up in the air.

A bat signal cut through the cloudy night and the old owner sold to a new group of comic book loving people, who have big plans for the store.

The Enterprise spoke to Owner James Bula about the changes to the store, plans for the future and the current comic book scene after the explosion of comic book movies and television shows.

ENTERPRISE: How has the store changed since you purchased it?

BULA: Since purchasing the store last October, we have made a great deal of significant changes. We’ve tripled our open hours, and just rolled out our new summer hours as well (which can be found on our website). We’ve added and expanded many new product lines, including Games Workshop products like Warhammer 40K, used and new video games which we both buy and sell, anything from Atari and the Nintendo Entertainment System to PS4. We’ve added over 30,000 back issues of comics, and continue to buy new collections every week, including lots of older and collectible high dollar books.

To coincide with our increased hours and product line we have also added extra demo events at night to teach new customers how to play many of the games we offer. Sundays are board game day, Monday nights are open format Magic, Tuesday nights we have Warhammer demos, and Wednesday nights we host Munchkin, all of which are free to play and join our existing lineup of Thursday night D&D, Friday Night Magic, and Saturday Pokmon CCG.

ENTERPRISE: What would you say the future has in store for Kowabunga?

BULA: Our plans for expansion in the near future include records which we will be rolling out this month, both buying and selling, with a focus on rock and metal. We’ve purchased several large comic collections in the last month which we’ll be putting out in the near future as well, including many high dollar key issues. We’ll also be doubling our toy and action figure line as well as expanding our children’s book and toy section. We’re working with several game developers to bring lots of new board and card games into the store and we’ll be offering demo copies of each game that will be available for free play in the store. We’re most excited about some of our upcoming comic and pop culture figures that will be making appearances in the store. We’ll be announcing names and times later this month after we cross our T’s and dot our I’s.

ENTERPRISE: Are there any events planned for the summer yet?

BULA: This summer we’ll be working with several local libraries both at the store and at their locations. As we said earlier, we’ll be having some signings and appearances in store that we’ll be announcing very soon. We’ll also be setting up at several MightyCon locations, including Madison and Milwaukee along with some other area comic cons. We partnered with Rogers Memorial for Free Comic Book Day and offered several raffle bundles with all proceeds donated to the hospital, and we have more raffles planned for this summer.

ENTERPRISE: With the rise in popularity of comic book movies how has the comic book business changed?

BULA: Comic book movies have done a great deal to both legitimize the hobby of comic collecting and to drive sales for stores. There is growth in the comic market that we have not seen in going on 25 years. How we see that growth reflected is in two areas: Trade paperbacks (collected editions of individual books) and graphic novels and key back issues. The collected editions sell very well to casual readers that tend to lean less toward the collecting side and want to learn more about the characters they’ve just discovered. Key back issues, such as the first appearance of a character that has a movie or TV show coming out, tend to increase in value as speculation over that character’s longevity can often lead to demand far outpacing supply. There are many comics in the last few years that, had you purchased them in 2010 or 11, would have given you a better return than the Dow Jones.

ENTERPRISE: Are there e-comics? Do they reflect a growing market? How do traditional comics hold up?

BULA: There are lots of digital comics, in fact, most companies offer their entire physical range digitally, often released the same day. The advantage being the (ebooks) take up less space as files on an iPad than in a box in your office, but the disadvantages are that they’re obviously not collectible, hold no value, and often times cost the same price as a physical copy. Some companies, like Marvel, offer free digital codes inside the physical copy, giving a better incentive to purchase the real thing.

ENTERPRISE: How is Kowabunga received in Oconomowoc?

BULA: Kowabunga has been received incredibly well by Oconomowoc since the re-launch last October. Our store traffic is easily over triple the old average, and we’re happy to be able to say that we have a large amount of new weekly regulars who had never been to the store until we reopened. Working with Rogers Memorial, the libraries, and hosting student art galleries, as we did a few weeks ago, brings us that much closer to our goal of being a community fixture in addition to a fun place to shop and hang out.

ENTERPRISE: If there was one thing you’d want everyone to know about your store what would that be?

BULA: One thing we want to really put out there is that we’re always buying collections of just about any kind. We buy comic collections both great and small, and have had people bring us their collection in a box truck or a shoe box. Anything we sell in the store we buy, for cash or store credit, including video games and systems of all eras, action figures, board games, card games, and even records. In a few cases, we’ve even gone to people’s houses to look at collections. Buying new collections is one of the ways we are able to keep expanding our inventory and offer cool and unique collectibles.

ENTERPRISE: What would your advice be for someone who wanted to get into comics?

BULA: For someone wanting to get into comics, especially someone whose only exposure to a franchise or character may be a movie or TV show, we’d encourage you to stop in and talk to us. We can get you started on the right foot with ease whether you want to become a casual reader or a collector. If you decide you want to start getting monthly books, we can get you a subscription box and will pull your books for you every week so you don’t miss anything — we also offer discounts for subscribers as well as coupons and exclusive sales! We have a Staff Picks section in the store as well that can highlight great new books or personal favorites. Our hours are Monday through Friday: 12 p.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sundays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.