S ome alternate universes are downright twisted. Take Bizarro World, a perverse mirror image of the world anchored by Superman and Metropolis. Or Justice League Dark, a new aggregation of superheroes such as Deadman, Zatanna and John Constantinek (of Hellblazer fame) who spend as much time in netherworlds and in the depths of other people’s souls as they do on planet Earth.
The Alternate Universe that inhabits 1181 Chapel St., New Haven, is an ever-friendly, deeply knowledgeable, hero-happy place where—as happened on a recent Sunday afternoon—an employee will find you anxiously browsing the stacks, hand you a copy of All-Star Western #6, and say “Is this what you were looking for?”
“We do reorders every single week,” explains the venerable comic book shop’s co-owner Erik Yacko. Some titles sell out quickly no matter how many are ordered. Some erupt into popularity with no notice, with the impact of Bruce Banner transforming into the Incredible Hulk. “We can’t carry everything,” Yacko says, “but we try to make as many people happy as possible.”
Which is not to say that Alternate Universe doesn’t carry a lot. Hundreds of titles burst through the door every week, not unlike a swarm of light from Green Lantern’s ring. Located a stone’s throw (or a Spider-Man’s
1181 Chapel St., New Haven (map)
Mon-Sat 11am-7pm, Sun noon-5pm
AU on Facebook | ComiCONN
web-sling) from the Yale campus, Alternate Universe must also make room for obscure underground titles favored by the comics intelligentsia. Comics have been largely a grown-up’s world since the old Comics Code self-censorship standard declined in the 1970s and “indie” comics boomed in the 1980s. But the “Hey! Kids! Comics!” slogan still applies to racks full of Archie, Richie Rich, Donald Duck and Tiny Titans comics.
Of the current top-sellers, some are inevitable, like Marvel Comics’ forthcoming Avengers Vs. X-Men, and some were unexpected, like the rebirth of The Swamp Thing by DC Comics, home of Superman and Batman. To keep up with digital advances, DC launched its “New 52” line-up, creating new titles while relaunching familiar ones (such as Action Comics, which birthed Superman in 1938). The comics can be bought in either print form in comics shops or online in digital formats on the day they’re released. Add in other distribution channels, like the hardcover anthologies of many comics series which are now sold at major book store chains, and it can be hard for a neighborhood comics shop to keep up. But the guys at Alternate Universe do so
by being “Johnny on the spot,” as Yacko says—knowing their customers’ needs and keeping a wide variety of new and old books in stock.
Alternate Universe is in a long line of comic book shops that have dwelled in that exact Chapel Street location (between Dunkin’ Donuts at the corner of Park Street and Gag Jr.’s liquor store midway down the block towards Howe Street). First was Paperback Trader, a used-books-and-new-comics shop which morphed into Whirligig comics in the late 1980s. Then came Dream Factory, Moondog’s and, in 1996, Alternate Universe, which celebrated its 16th anniversary in February. Six years ago, Yacko and co-founder Joe Stinson opened a second Alternate Universe in Milford. They’re also key sponsors of the third annual ComiCONN —“Connecticut’s Biggest Comic, Sci-Fi & Collectibles Event”—scheduled for Aug. 18 at the Trumbull Marriott hotel.
Other big deal days on the comic book calendar include Free Comic Book Day, held every year on the first Saturday in May. That’s when the major comics publishers issue special free editions of comics touting some of their top characters.
In an Alternate Universe, however, every Wednesday is a major event. That’s when that week’s new titles all get delivered and put up on the racks. Yacko says “New Comic Book Day is like throwing French fries around a MacDonald’s parking lot. Ninety percent of our regular customers come here on New Comic Book Day. It’s like waiting for Santa Claus. They want the satisfaction of being part of a new adventure the day it happens.”
Written by Christopher Arnott.