MY LOCAL COMIC SHOP: Heroes & Fantasies – San Antonio, TX

Welcome to the LARGEST Comic, Games, Toys, & Collectibles Shop in Texas.

Welcome to…Heroes & Fantasies – San Antonio!

One of two locations in San Antonio, the Summit store sports over 16,500 sqft of geeky merchandise. Heck, their kids section is as big as some comic book stores. When it comes to comic and game related collectibles, they have everything anyone could possibly want. Young, old, boy, girl – it doesn’t matter – you will find something within these 16,500 sqft to make you smile!

Heroes & Fantasies is a family owned and operated shop that has been serving the San Antonio and surrounding areas since 1987. And though it had humble beginnings, the store commands quite a bit of attention today. This location alone, is responsible for several comic related events throughout the year, including “Women of Wonder Day“, and the upcoming “Men of Action Day” (which is plugged later in this article). In fact, one of the main reasons for “Men of Action Day” is the groundbreaking news that Heroes & Fantasies, the store itself, is actually featured INSIDE the plot of G.I. JOE Issue #5 from IDW (which releases this week, June 19th, 2013).

Heroes & Fantasies – Summit Location

So, please join me for the following interview with the Summit store manager, Adam Conley…

I’m here with Adam Conley, manager of the Heroes & Fantasies here in San Antonio. Why don’t you give a little introduction on the store since you can do this spiel better than me.

ADAM: Sure. This is the largest store in Texas, which is in San Antonio on 4923 Northwest Loop 410. This is our newest open store, we’ve had this location for just over a year now and it’s over 16,000 square feet which entails the largest game room in the state as well as expanded different merchandise that encompasses comics, games, toys, statues. All kinds of fun hobby stuff.

Cool. What are the origins of the store? Who first opened the shop? Not necessarily here but where did it start?

ADAM: Back in 1987, Rich Conley, who’s my father, he opened the first store as a hobby. He got tired of doing conventions in the early 80’s and had built up quite a collection and couldn’t store it in the house anymore. He opened the first store and a combination with comics and records. He had a partner that did collectible records and 1989 with the boom of the sports card business, he expanded a second and start carrying sports cards and then the record partner split off.

We originally were called Comics & Records Unlimited and then changed the name to Comics Unlimited and we ran with that name for about 10 years. As we continue to expand stores, we had as many as eight at one time, we were in several shopping malls, we had kiosk as several Air Force bases, we’re all over the city and we adopted the Heroes & Fantasies name when we opened our first mall store in North Star Mall…I want to say around ‘95 or ‘96.

You already answered the next question I had – Has it always been called Heroes & Fantasies- So, cool, you knocked that out. Anything else?

ADAM: Well, a bit more on the name, Comics Unlimited. There used to be a lots of “unlimited” names back in the day, Vacuums Unlimited, [laugh] you name it. It certainly said what we carried at that time. As the business has expanded and it’s certainly no longer just a male teenage plus fan boy hobby anymore, it’s really encompass the entire family. There’s kids, there’s moms and so we wanted to do something that really said that we’re not carrying just comics and it’s not just for that stereotypical fan boy. The Heroes & Fantasies name really spread that out to showcase more about what we are.

How long have you worked here?

ADAM: Since I can remember. Back in the day, I was, I guess about 10 years old when my father opened the first store and I remember days working in the backroom bagging and boarding comics so I could take a couple of home with each day. In high school, I started working weekends and full weeks during the summer and little at time, it built up. I started managing my first store right after graduation of high school. There just happen to be an opening at that time and it worked out well. I worked my way through college and took over for the position I have now, really running the store and doing all the orders and everything else for the past decade plus now.

So, let’s transition from the past to a more “present” type question – How are you guys affected by digital sales, piracy? Maintaining a comic in today’s world must be a lot different than it was in back in the 80’s and 90’s. Anything you’d like to say about this?

ADAM: There was a lot of speculation that eBay and e-commerce was really going to hurt the business and there’s probably some of that I agree with – it did – but it also opened up more … people that were hesitant to collect or didn’t know how to complete their collection or whatever. It expanded the market for more individuals, so even though we may be having more competition, there’s still something to be set for having it in-hand and provide it to people and also having a smiling face that people can talk to every single time they come in.

We, like most people, were skeptical of what the internet was going to do but it really hasn’t seem to affect us too negatively so long as you can roll with the punches and make a few a changes here and there. We do not have a big e-commerce part of our business. We have really stayed true to keeping things local in San Antonio which we were really passionate about back in the convention days. Well, I guess there’s a lot of conventions now, but back when that used to be a full-business just setting up at conventions…

Anyway, we had a lot of stock that we would see start to sell up in the northeast states – that’s where a lot of the golden age stuff was originally distributed anyway – and because a lot of it was selling up there, you would see a very limited selection down in the south states or western states. When they originally opened the store they didn’t want to take all the best books from the store and send them out to the conventions. If there was a chance for rare books to stay local, it was really important they stayed local.

We have that same philosophy now. Granted, anybody that buys from us could go and just sell it on eBay and get rid of it to another country and let alone, another part of the country. But we really stayed focused on keeping all of our best merchandise available for local clients to take a look at, drool at, or have the opportunity to purchase.

Another unrelated question but good question nonetheless. How the success of comic book movies affected your clientele and have you noticed a return of casual readers or movie readers?

ADAM: I would say that earlier movies didn’t seem to affect it too much, but in recent years where they have a superhero movie every month now, it’s certainly has expanded the acceptability of comics – and that’s the biggest thing. I don’t think that most movies have a direct correlation to sales that week. There are some merchandise that releases based on the movie and so of course that merchandise wouldn’t exist otherwise.

Overall, it is the acceptability for all readers. It’s not a nerdy thing anymore. There might be some nerd aspect, but it’s not looked down on. Again, parents and mothers and women and all ages are doing this now. I think it certainly has played into expanding our client base for sure.

Here at Unleash The Fanboy, we pride ourselves on being a bastion for indie comic reviews. How have you seen them affect the industry -especially with the likes of Mark Millar, Hitch, and even Hickman flirting with indie properties?

ADAM: I think it’s giving more exposure or more opportunity for new and more unique story lines. Certainly, Marvel and DC, their character base is going to be well-known and the ones that get people into the industry is certainly the stuff that kids recognize and any family member that isn’t familiar. I think that for our business, it’s important to give credit to all the indie stuff because that’s where the expansion is. That’s where the new creators are going to come out of. Like I said, Hickman and some of these guys that a few years ago weren’t heard of, if it wasn’t for the opportunities they had with some of these other books that have taken off. Take for instance, Robert Kirkman, what better story is here than Walking Dead? And without that success who knows what he’d be doing or if he’d even be given the opportunity.

That said, it is hard to figure out which ones as a store owner, to invest in or take the chance on. There’s so many out there but you certainly going to be open to it.

It’s hard to call image “indie” anymore. Sure, they’re producing some indie titles, mini-series, stuff like that. But when it comes down to it, it’s the big three now. Dark Horse is right behind them with some of the best books.

ADAM: Another thing that’s probably helped too is the fact that the indie creators have gotten so big that there’s companies that have grown because they’re on the publishing side. Certainly IDW does a lot of licensed properties but they still have a lot of small quantity titles being published. IDW, Aspen and Dark Horse, as you mentioned… and there’s quite a few along that line, like Valiant, that are making comebacks. If it wasn’t for the indie boom, I guess you could say is going right now, then those comic companies wouldn’t be half as big as they are currently.

You’ve mentioned this a couple of times in answers to different questions, but what kind of crowd do you guys get here? Kids? Students? Adult? Collectors?

ADAM: It’s all over the board. Certainly, the 20 to 30 year old male is still dominant but I’d say that probably only about 40%. It’s the biggest category but it’s definitely not our majority. We do get a big array and I would say the biggest expansion over the past couple of years and specially since we opened this larger store has been families coming in together.

You have a huge kids section with a whole bunch of toys and games and stuff like that which as a new parent is great. It is like, “Oh, I could go here not just for my comic books, I can go here for toys and stuff, too!”

ADAM: It is certainly gives something for everybody to enjoy but I think one of the best results of it is a dad that wants to spend more time in the shop that sometimes has a kid, “Oh, let’s leave. When are we going home?” Whatever. Now, they’re enjoying being here so that dad can spend more time doing what he really loves. It’s a great excuse to give mom, “No, we’re going to be there for an hour.” Instead of 10 minutes. [laugh]. It’s been a really good success.

How many employees do you have here at the store?

ADAM: Twenty at this location.

Wow. We didn’t even talk about the other location. There’s two locations in San Antonio and the other one … can you speak to that one real quick?

ADAM: The other is at 914 Pat Booker Road, it’s actually in a suburb of San Antonio, in Universal City, and they just did a small expansion over there. I want to say there’s somewhere in the 6,000 square feet range. They cater mostly to comics and Magic the Gathering Card Game. They do a little bit with toys and a little bit with some of the other games. It’s a cool store, that if you’re really big on comics or really big on Magic, you don’t have to go anywhere else. I love people to come to the largest store here, to see the variety of everything – and we sure do have everything – but that store really caters to those two real particular markets.

Yeah, “that’s my store”, since it’s like five minutes away from my house. Oh, and yeah, the other interesting bit – your brother runs that store…

ADAM: Yup. Mike Conley is the manager of that location. He’s been running that for several years and as I said with the Magic stuff, he’s built up the largest Magic the Gathering fan base or tournament scene in the city. I think that store has been around for a good 15 years or so in that location. It’s gone through a few upgrades and changes and that Mike being there is certainly as one of those. He’s been running the store now for about three years I guess.

Heroes & Fantasies – Pat Booker Location

What are your feelings on Marvel’s somewhat shameless / conveniently timed movie tie-ins, like Infinity coming up, taking advantage of Thanos and stuff. And actually, it was two years ago, whenever, Avengers came out – they actually released books from the Marvel Cinematic Universe or ones that were directly tied to the movies. Any thoughts on those?

ADAM: I think most of the hardcore readers that keep up with current continuity look at it as shameless or, “Oh, there’s just trying to make a few extra bucks on me.” Or whatever. The hardcore fan that just wants to see everything that’s going on will still pick them up, but from the business standpoint though, it’s actually a good thing because as I said earlier, there’s not a whole lot of direct correlation between the movies coming out and new readers coming in. Those that do, you’ve got to have something fresh within the store. If they come in the door saying, “I just saw the Avengers movie and I really liked it and I’d like to read an Avengers comic.” Well tell them, “Yeah, the story-line going on right now is on the issue 480,” that’s going to really deter someone.

Granted there are graphic novels or shorter story-lines, but to have something that relates to the movie, at least a little bit – Infinity with Avengers and that Thanos appearing in there, I think it’s great. It may not be a long term fit, but anybody who comes into the store to get into comics, eventually will adapt to the way comics normally work and then decide how far they want to backtrack. It’s just a really good introduction to the comic book world.

Thanks Adam. That’s all the questions I have. I appreciate your time.

Do you have any special events coming up at the store that you want to promote or get the word out on?

ADAM: We’ve got an incredible event coming up. I’m looking forward it to being our second free comic book day of the year. It’s going to be called Men of Action Day and it’s going to be on June 29th. We are bringing in several different people. First off, we’re going to be promoting Superman with the Superman movie releasing and Superman Unchained comic from Scott Snyder and Jim Lee. We’re going to be pushing that real heard and we’re even be going out to several theaters. I think we’re hitting up five different theaters in the city to promote this event and we’re going to be doing a lot of raffles and giveaways. We got a bounce house for the kids, a big Justice League bounce house – It’s going to be a lot of fun for the kids with that.

We’ll be having several superhero cosplayers. I think I’ve got two Supergirls – one wearing the Michael Turner dark Supergirl costume. Superboy and Superman will be here as well

The other big thing, G.I. JOE Issue #5 – Heroes & Fantasies will be the first ever featured comic store in a comic story. It’s never happened before and we’re really excited to be the first. We did a pretty major donation to Comic Book Legal Defense Fund to be eligible for IDW to do this for us. We are going to have some special coverage coming out and because of that, we’re going to have Fred Van Lente who’s the writer for G.I. Joe, as well as Robert Atkins who’s the cover artist for the special variant cover. They’ll both be here to sign autographs and do sketches and what not.

We are also taking part in Aspen’s “10 for 10 number one issues”. The book that releases in June is called Bubble Gun- we’re doing a special issue for that, and it is going to be donated to the local Public Broadcasting Station KLRN as they do an annual auction to raise money to keep Sesame Street and all the other shows that they have free to the city. The artist for that book is going be here as well that same day to sign autographs and do sketches…

It’s going to be a really exciting event. Lot of dressed up people, the bounce house I mentioned. A family friendly fun day all around.

For more information about this week’s featured Local Comic Shop, please visit the following links: Facebook, Twitter, and Official Website!

For the unabridged audio version of this interview, feel free to listen here.