Kowabunga, dude! For good
Game on at Oconomowoc’s corner comics store

By Ryan Billingham - Enterprise Staff

Oct. 23, 2014

Current Kowabunga Comics owner Chris Keefe, left, will soon turn over ownership of the local comics store to James Bula, right, and a group of silent investors.   
Ryan Billingham/Enterprise Staff

OCONOMOWOC - It’s a good time to be a geek.

American popular culture is riding a wave of comics-inspired entertainment that embraces zombies, fantasy epics and muscular do-gooders in colorful underpants.

And now, there’s a local underdog to root for. The intrepid pop culture gurus at Kowabunga Comics have returned from the Phantom Zone with renewed vigor. They’re now supported by a secret cabal of local investors willing to help hatch Kowabunga’s latest plan for world comics domination.

It may as well be a plot line ripped from pages of a comic book - complete with a crusading mayor and a ragtag group of sidekicks -  but rest assured citizens, this is the real deal according to current Kowabunga owner and co-founder Chris Keefe who recently exclaimed via the store’s website it will soon be open “permanently, conclusively, enduringly, forever, for good, for keeps.”


New leadership, expanded mission

The store’s ownership will be transferred to James Bula and a group of silent partners this month, with Keefe staying on for a few months to help with the transition.

Bula, a bespectacled, mild-mannered man from Merton, has long been a regular at Kowabunga. But now, with an assist from Oconomowoc Mayor Jim Daley, he hopes to expand the Kowabunga universe with an eye toward drawing in state and regional customers.

Bula said as a regular he and Keefe would often talk about the store, but rather than dish about card games and comics, he would discuss the business side of running the store.

“I would look at things with a different perspective,” Bula said. “I would look at certain industry numbers - a business perspective.”

Those discussions led to Bula sitting in on some of the earlier ideas for keeping the store open, which included a Kickstarter campaign. They weren’t ideal for Bula, but when Daley helped connect Keefe with some new investors, he changed his mind.

“It felt right this time,” Bula said.

Daley said he and Keefe had become friends over the years through both Keefe’s involvement in the downtown business community and Daley’s own patronage of the store and wanted to ensure that Keefe’s “dream was able to live” even if it meant he would no longer be a part of it.

“I reached into my inner nerdiness and tried to think of people who were fellow nerds from the area who might have an interest in having Kowabunga continue,” Daley said.

Bula said the store will focus on becoming a destination for local and regional customers by offering an expanded inventory and new products like video games and premium collectibles, including toys and sports memorabilia.

At the same time, Bula said, he wants to ensure the core group of gamers and comics fans that comprise the store’s longtime customer base have reason to keep coming.

“We want to have constant product coming in as well as expand the gaming groups (that meet at the store),” Bula said.

He has already purchased new back issues including some older titles from comics’ Silver and Golden ages, an aspect of the new model that he feels is essential to drawing larger crowds. He also plans on offering a discount to new subscribers.

Social media will play a large role in drawing in customers, Bula said. He has brought in a new tech specialist to build a better website that will act as a catalog of current products available in store and for special order.

The store is open now with limited hours but those will expand on Oct. 25 when the store opens officially under the new ownership.

For current store hours and information, go to the store’s Facebook page or its website at www.kowabungacomics.com or call 262-569-9999.

Email: rbillingham@conleynet.com