Third Eye Comics: Support Your Local Comic Shop
We chat with Steve Anderson from Third Eye Comics and discuss the rejuvenating energy gained through comic book curation.
Support Your Local Comic Shop is our new ongoing column where we chat with the most enthusiastic curators slinging singles to customers across the country. In this entry, we're hanging out with Steve Anderson, owner of the Third Eye Comics chain thriving throughout Maryland and Virginia.
Don't tell Steve Anderson that retail isn't a real job. The Third Eye Comics proprietor has given everything to his store, and in return, it has given everything to him. The man bleeds comics, and we're sure a scratch would reveal four colors pumping through his veins. He's well aware of what's happening in the outside world, but only so much as to how it will affect his business - his love.
Steve and Trish Rabbit opened the first Third Eye in 2008, and since then, they've built a mini-empire including six shops throughout Maryland and Virginia. Their Annapolis superstore is a legendary location, requiring a necessary pilgrimage for many (including us). They don't just carry comics; they carry every comic. If you're online pursuing lists proclaiming The Best Comic Book Shops in America, no doubt you've already caught a glimpse.
As it did everyone, 2020 knocked Steve on his ass. But he's quick to adapt, and sitting still is not his style. Before Diamond shut down, Third Eye Comics was already finding new ways to put comics in their customers' hands.
"I'll be honest with you, it was scary," he admits. "I started hearing about [COVID] probably back in January/February. I was seeing stuff, and I had no idea - most of us had no idea - how bad it was actually going to be be, but I tend to be a pretty cautious person."
Retail is already a hell regarding illness. Bugs spread like fire through shops. So, Steve boosted his sanitizer bulk order and got a little more serious with his staff. In March, when the nightmare hit full steam, Steve gathered his crew for a real talk.
"I brought them over to our office," he continues, "and I said, 'Okay, we're going to figure out how to do this. It's going to suck. We're going to work real hard for a long time. And we don't know how long, but we'll get through it, and we'll make it work.' And that's where we basically mapped out The Battle Wagon and how we were going to do curbside and how we were going to do home delivery, and mail order, and all these things that we'd never done before, like virtual shopping and The Battle Wagon."
The Battle Wagon! Oh, hell yeah. It's the Third Eye Comics van jammed to the gills with comics, roaming across Maryland and Virginia, dropping fat stacks on people's doors. It's our childhood fantasy made reality. Move over, milkman; there's a new sheriff in town.
"A lot of that really just came from the fact that I just don't know how to do anything else," says Steve. "I started working at a comic shop when I was nineteen. I dropped out of high school. I have a Maryland state diploma. I don't have any kind of college degree. I don't have a trade. I don't have anything. I have twenty years of this, and I love this."
Failure was not an option. Comics are Steve's life. Selling comics is his calling. He'd never considered Third Eye's demise before, and he wasn't about to start now.
"It was this moment," he explains. "I was like, 'I'm going to shit or get off the pot. I'm going to do what I wanted to do two, three years ago. I'm going to just keep opening stores and bringing people awesome comic shops. I'm not going to slow down once we get through this."
And the reality is, there is no better time to be excited about comics than right now. Sales are strong; the content stronger. When you ask Steve Anderson about his favorite comics, his voice rises, his enthusiasm erupts from his pores.
"I feel like the output of DC Comics in the last twelve to eighteen months has been some of their best since the late nineties. They're taking chances left and right, doing cool stuff, putting the focus on creators. It reminds me of when you had Scott McDaniel on Nightwing and Grant Morrison on JLA. Indie comics as a whole are rocking; the last ten years have just been progressively getting cooler and better. God, Manga is incredible right now. The books get over here quicker. There's so much good stuff."
Comics gripped Steve's imagination at an early age. When he was twelve, he wandered into the Peoples Drugstore behind his grandmother's house. There, he discovered Amazing Spider-Man 375, the Mark Bagley Venom vs. Spidey cover shining like a beacon thanks to its glaring gold foil. The purchase, in combination with the Wizard wannabe magazine Flux, cemented the love affair that he'll never shake.
"That Flux had two articles," he recalls. "They had one about Age of Apocalypse and one about Preacher. I was twelve, and I read them both. And man, that Age of Apocalypse sounded so cool, and every day I was going to the comic shop near me, and I was like, 'Is it out yet? Is it out yet?' And the Wednesday it came out, the comic shop guy said, 'Dude, I'm sorry, we sold out. We didn't order enough. But! This guy hasn't picked up his pull box in two months, so I'm going to sell you his.'"
The shop was Twilight Zone Comics in Bowie, Maryland, and the retail warrior was Jeff Archer. His kind gesture was also a smart seller's move, and it stuck with Steve. He wants to do for others what Jeff did for him when he was twelve.
"I joke around with some of our friends," he says. "With our Comic creator friends. They'll be talking about their favorite writers and artists and how they inspired them, and I'm like, 'You're a nerd for creators, I'm a nerd for comic retailers.' I remember being a kid reading about James Sime and Isotope Comics in San Francisco. I'd be like, 'That's so fucking cool. That's so cool.'"
When Steve hits the road, he maps out his travel plans by pinpointing the local retailers. The weirder, the better. Stepping into their shelves, an energy washes over him, and he wants to take it back to Third Eye Comics.
"I look for comic shops," he says. "I look for toy stores, record stores, bookstores. I don't care what IT is. If it's a store that sells something weird that I'm into, I love to visit them. And it's inspiring. Amoeba Music out in L.A.? Oh my God, I love that store. The first time I went there, I was like, 'I want to be this for comics!'"
We hate to break it to Steve, but you've already achieved that wonderland with Third Eye Comics. They're a warehouse designed to trap comic book maniacs. Once you wander inside, wandering back out again is deeply challenging. Few stores hold such power, absorbing hours as if they were minutes. It's the kind of lost time you're all too happy to give away.
Chatting with Steve Anderson refills our lust for comics. As much inspiration as he sucks up from others, he returns tenfold. He's a profoundly passionate curator who thrives on finding the perfect comic for every customer with their specific, unique tastes. And when you walk into Third Eye Comics, that zeal to deliver a quality book reverberates through every staff member.
"We've really been lucky to find incredible people to work as part of Third Eye," says Steve. "That's a huge part of our success. We really, really love what we do, and we are always thinking of what we can do better. It's weird. We almost exist in a bubble. I don't really think a lot about what's going on outside Third Eye. So, it's not just comics; it's Third Eye [that's my obsession].'
Selling comics is an act of love. Steve received it first when he was twelve, and the sensation was so powerful that when it came time to nab a job as a teenager, he found himself slinging singles behind a counter. The joy he discovered there flipped a switch in his head, and he made comics his trade.
Is it a job? You're damn right. It's a seemingly impossible job at times, especially right now. But Steve Anderson has no other options. Comics is life. And he wouldn't have it any other way.
Third Eye Comics involves six locations, including their new Lexington Park superstore that they just opened weeks ago (in a pandemic!). To see what rad things they're up to (including an epic Extreme Carnage book signing), please visit their website. You can also track them down on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Instagram.
Do you have a local comic book shop that you'd like us to celebrate? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.