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Comics are big business—at least in Hollywood—with new silver screen adaptations of Batman, The Avengers, Superman, and Spider-Man coming soon. But the superhero obsession isn’t news to the employees of Salem’s Harrison’s Comics and Collectibles, who have been satisfying local superhumans with comics, gear, memorabilia, and more since 1996.

Not every comic book store can boast an employee who’s actually involved in creating the comics, but that’s the case with professional inker Jim Tournas, who adds ink over artists’ pencil drawings. “I don’t need to do it for a living,” he says of inking. “I do it because I like doing it.” But then again, Harrison’s Comics and Collectibles isn’t really your typical comic book store. In fact, owner Larry Harrison prefers to call his 5,200-square-foot Salem shop a “pop culture emporium” because it carries everything from Star Wars action figures to KISS bobble-head dolls to trading card games like Yu-Gi-Oh. In addition to the main

Salem location, there are two others—one in Medford and one in Nashua, NH. Not bad for a store that started with a few comics on a six-foot table.

Since Harrison’s sells a little bit of everything, customers like Lynn resident Thomas Champigny and Peter Urkowitz have a lot to choose from besides comics. And employees like Ryan Anderson get to know what their customers like; Anderson says he can usually figure out what someone would like to read just by talking with them. “There are a lot of customers that will kind of beeline straight for me” for recommendations, he says. A writer himself, Anderson likes to read and create “grandiose, larger-than-life stories,” he says. “The real world is really boring, and I kind of like creating things that are a little less boring.”

Yeah, some of Harrison’s customers probably live in their moms’ basements, says Liz Manning, who, as the Salem location’s only female employee, calls herself the store’s “token chick.” But the former librarian says any group of people might have a basement-dwelling subset, and for the most part, comics’ nerdy image is fading fast. Plus, the growing number of female comic book fans is helping to buck the geek-boy stereotype. “I love seeing young women coming in and buying comics,” says Manning, whose interests include manga (Japanese comics), Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, and Star Trek. But even if you are a geek, Manning says there’s no reason to be embarrassed. “I fully admit to being a geek, and I wear my geek shirt proudly,” she says. “Nerd is the new black.”

Harrison’s manager Chris Berry has been reading comics since he was a kid. Growing up with an alcoholic stepfather, comics were an outlet. “It was my way of escaping stuff at home,” Berry says. “If I was depressed or having a hard time, I could always pick up a book…it would take me away somewhere.” Although online comics are growing in popularity, Berry prefers print. “I’m from the old school. I like the paper in my hand,” he says. Customer Christina Walsh agrees. “I hope the comic lives on,” she says, “even though there are so many screens to replace pages.”

Harrison’s employees, like Keith Portrait, are comic book fans as well as retailers. “My hobby is also my business,” says owner Larry Harrison, whose office is lined wall-to-wall with superhero and Godzilla figurines. “I tend to be drawn to more human characters,” Harrison says. “They can be who they are without their superpowers.” Customer Christina Walsh loves stories about the “hometown hero…the average sort of kid who goes on his adventure and shares his journey with everyone else,” she says. “I think people can be superheroes in their own way.”