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Movies, video games, graphic novels fuel interest in comics

Published on Monday, February 13, 2012

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Rob Young, owner of Borderlands, stands among his comics, T-shirts, toys and gaming, kingdom. The 5,000 square foot store has become the largest “geek” shop in the Upstate.

Bart Bishop

Rob Young, owner of Borderlands, stands among his comics, T-shirts, toys and gaming, kingdom. The 5,000 square foot store has become the largest “geek” shop in the Upstate.



Enlarge photo

Minature gaming has become a popular event at the store. The back part of Borderlands is set up with gaming boards, action figures and rules. Store personnel and hobbyists are available to coach new gamers.

Bart Bishop

Minature gaming has become a popular event at the store. The back part of Borderlands is set up with gaming boards, action figures and rules. Store personnel and hobbyists are available to coach new gamers.

By Bart Bishop

Upon entering this comic book store haven, you notice the lived-in look. Adorned with posters, T-shirts, and toys, it can be intimidating at first. There is a method to the madness, however, and half the fun is learning the language of this foreign land. Comics on the right, games on the left, this is a niche shop reminiscent of record stores that still specialize in hi-fi, but the natives are welcoming  – in fact, they can't wait to talk off about their passions. This is Borderlands Comics and Games.

Opening in 1984 as Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find, the name was changed in 1995 when Stan Reed became the owner. The store garnered a reputation as arguably the best one-stop shop for comic books and gaming in the Upstate.

Rob Young, easily recognized by his flat cap, glasses, red beard, and approachable smile, considers Stan Reed to be his mentor. Stan had moved the original shop, which was across the street, to its current location and expanded it from 800 square feet to 5,000 sf easily becoming the largest “geek” shop in the Upstate.

Since buying the store on January 1, 2011, Rob has followed Stan's example by specializing in carrying current issues of comic books and, along with a large assortment of miniature games, providing a thriving environment for those seeking competition with, in this age of online multi-playing video games, much appreciated social interaction. 

Rob, in a little over a year, has managed to put his own spin on the store while showing respect for his predecessor.

Bart: Talk about yourself. Where did you grow up? How did you end up in Greenville?

Rob: This will be the boring part (laughs out loud). I grew up a Navy brat. My step dad moved us all over the eastern seaboard. The only constant was comics. I could find them wherever we moved. I moved to Greenville at 21 in 1991 to run Heroes Aren't Hard to Find. I loved it and fell in love with the business and the people.

Bart: On your website you describe yourself as having “been in the comics biz for over 20 years”. Has that been solely selling books, or have you been involved in other aspects of the industry?

Rob: Mostly selling comics and running conventions both for Heroes (Comic-Con) in Charlotte and my own small shows here in Greenville. I have also sold online. 

Bart: How has the comic book industry changed over those twenty years?

Rob: Some of the biggest changes are movies and video games. These and the popularity of Graphic novels have brought a whole new audience to our hobby.

Bart: So since the original X-Men (2000), do you notice spikes in sales whenever a new comic book movie comes out?

Rob: People relate a “spike in traffic” to a “spike in sales”, but they're not necessarily the same. A fan of a new Batman movie might come in and I'll, judging his taste, steer him toward a horror comic instead. People also don't realize that comic books are a medium, not a genre, and many movies like Road to Perdition and Ghost World, not superhero stories, are based on original graphic novels.

Bart: Why do individual back issues, which Borderlands specializes in with rows of “long boxes”, still sell with the increased supply of graphic novels and trade paperbacks?

Rob: It's a collector thing, to have the original in your hand. Plus, not every story is collected. 

Bart: As a local business owner, how has the recession impacted you these last four years?

Rob: It makes small business owners get creative. We have to find new ways to remind people we are out there. 

Bob: You started at Heroes Aren't Hard to Find 21 years ago, and worked for Stan at Borderlands. Why did you leave and what compelled you to eventually buy the store from him?

Rob: I worked for Stan for a few years after he bought it. I then went to work in the corporate world and tried to buy it from Stan for the better part of 15 years. I asked every so often if he was willing to sell and this past year the answer was a surprising yes.

Bart: Describe your staff (Nathan, Danny, Shane). How long have you known them, and what do they each bring to the table?

Rob: Shane has been at the shop for the better part of a decade as a part-time employee. He is a huge X-men fan and a great miniature gamer. Danny is a friend of over 20 years and worked with me at Heroes 20 years ago. He is a comic encyclopedia and has gotten into role playing games recently. Nathan is the newest employee. He is full-time and has been an amazing find. He is into comics and board games and is expanding out to miniature games as well. I could not have the success we have had without these people and many other who have volunteered time to help us when prepping or running major events.

Bart: Unfortunately, although I’ve known you a year I’ve never met your wife Michele. How involved is she in the running of the store?

Rob: My wife is amazing, Bart. She takes care of everything at home so I can devote my time to the business. She works full-time, is a student again and takes care of our boys. She also comes and helps out at major events or when we are short handed. She is my hero and inspiration. She has fought back from some serious medical issues and inspires me every day to be the best I can be.

Bart: What is the atmosphere of comic book fandom in the greater Greenville/Greer area?

Rob: Fantastic. The fandom here has supported us in everything we do. It truly inspires me to come with new things for everyone to enjoy.

Bart: What comic books did you grow up reading? What is your current favorite book?

Rob: I read Captain America a lot. The Shadow, X-men, Justice Society were also on my reading list. Currently Hellboy, Captain America, and a ton of the new 52 books from DC. I also really liked Planetary, Marvels, Kingdom Come, Watchmen, and New Frontier.

Bart: What book would you recommend to a new reader/someone that’s never read a comic book?

Rob: It depends on what they like. If they like Horror movies Hellboy or Preacher, Sci Fi, Star Wars or Firefly, etc. I try to match up someone's likes to the genre much like a bookstore.

Bart: I know I appreciate the personal touch that a random Google search can't provide. By comparison, describe your regular customers. What attempts have been made to appeal to a broader audience? What obstacles have you encountered in those attempts?

Rob: Most of my customers are male 18-40. Though we do have a surprisingly large female audience as well. The hardest thing is letting people know you exist really. We have done Internet ads, radio ads, set up at theaters and handed out flyers all over town.

Bart: We’ve talked before about the recent introduction of digital comic books before. Writing for an online newspaper I have my sympathies, but I’m wary of this paradigm shift. What are your thoughts, especially with the recent announcement that digital comics earned $25 million in 2011?

Rob: So far the same day digital from DC has not hurt us. Sales are better than last year. I think there will be an audience for printed material for at least 10-15 more years if not longer. There is something about holding the title in your hand. You own a piece of the characters history. It doesn't feel the same owning a PDF  file. The challenge is to find those that are only digital and try to convince them to buy some titles from a shop rather than online.

Bart: Obviously there’s a thriving collectibles and gaming emphasis in the store as well. How do you balance your focus between those two interests? What’s your best selling product?

Rob: We really are a 50/50 store. We work very hard on both sides of the shop trying to get everything people want. At the end of the day we just listen to what people talk about and ask for and act on it. I would say new comics are the best selling items in the store for sure. 

Bart: Predictions for the industry as a whole, and Borderlands in particular, in 2012? 

Rob: If retailers treat people well and build a community within their shops I think the industry can grow as a whole. I think we have only scratched the surface on what we can achieve. We have great plans for the shop this this year. We are: sponsoring an Art slam (comic book themed) on May 4, Free Comic Book Day May 5, and a Wounded Warriors Screening of the Avengers May 6 and many more tournaments and signings to come.

Bart: Thank you so much Rob!

Want to go? Borderlands is at 1434 Laurens Road in Greenville. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, but open until 10 p.m. on Thursdays for tournaments. The store is closed on Sunday. Call 864-235-3488 or visit http://www.borderlands.us or the Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Borderlands-Comics-and-Games/140146312709268.

Meet Bart Bishop: An adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina Upstate, Bart holds a Master’s degree in English Literature from Xavier University and a B.A. in English Literature with a minor in History from USC Upstate. Bart has been a lifelong comic book reader and frequently writes on the subject.

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