Jamie Sullivan recently opened his family’s dream store.
He opened I.E. Comics and Gaming in Hemet in July with Erin, his wife of 10 years, and held a grand opening on Aug. 28, which coincided with National Read a Comic in Public Day.
About 100 people were waiting outside the shop when it opened that morning, Erin said. And nearly 1,000 people visited the story during the day to check out the new store and make purchases, she said.
Jamie, 37, and Erin, 32, have lived in Hemet with their two daughters – ages 5 and 8 – for about two years.
“I wanted something myself, my children, and my wife could share as a family,” Jamie Sullivan, who previously worked for Disney as a product marketing designer, said in a recent interview.
His wife has a decade of retail experience under her belt and spent the last several years staying at home with the children – who also love reading comics.
Sullivan was tired of the commute to and from Los Angeles to work for Disney, and he felt his artistic talents were not being fully utilized by the media and entertainment conglomerate.
Plus, he always wanted to be a comic book artist.
Sullivan initially wanted to find space for an art studio. The plan expanded, and he subsequently decided to “have a comic book shop, too.”
The Sullivans looked at more than 30 locations – including storefronts in Menifee and San Jacinto – for a home for I.E. Comics.
“With all the vendors in place and finding the right location, it all came together at the right time,” Sullivan said. “The stars were aligned. It just felt right.”
The comic book and games retail shop is at 310 E. Florida Ave. in Hemet. It can be reached by calling (951) 392-3193.
I.E. – which stands for “Imagine Everything” – is a flavor the owners want their customers to savor every time they visit the store.
People might associate the “I.E.” with Inland Empire, Sullivan said. But he is steering away from a regional depiction because he hopes to eventually open shops in other Southern California locations.
He uses the back of his Hemet shop as an art studio. He displays his original art pieces in the front part of the store with the merchandise. Some of them depict well-known comic book characters such as “Wolverine” from the “X-Men” series.
Last week, Sullivan received four requests from customers who asked him to paint commissioned pieces for them.
“I am really happy about that,” he said “I am still drawing what someone is asking me to do, but I still have more creative freedom than I did at Disney. Just don’t ask me to draw Cinderella… I’m sure someone will.”
Sullivan was 14 when he landed his first job. It was at a Yuba City comic book store. The Game Warden went out of business long ago, but the memories of Sullivan’s experiences there still linger.
“It was a little hole-in-the-wall place,” he said. “I worked there every Saturday and Sunday, and when the store couldn’t pay me money, they paid me in comics.”
Even getting paid in comic books was a thrill, he said.
“I had the time of my life,” he said.
Sullivan said his favorite comics are “Star Wars,” “Alpha Flight,” “Grendel,” “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Watchmen.”
“When I read (Watchmen) as a kid, I was like, ‘Cool, neat,’ and all that stuff,” Sullivan said. “It was over-the-top, larger-than-life. As I got older, I could see the political undertones. And when I read it again at other times, it seemed bleak, morose. And another (time), it was hopeful. It depends on where you are in your life at the time you read something. It can have different meanings.”
From their introduction in the 1930s, comic books have been a popular medium for American youth. By the 1950s, the medium became a vital feature of American culture.
During World War II, the reading material was distributed to American soldiers serving in the trenches. The publications were also used to sell war bonds.
As violence and crime made inroads into comic books, some social activists claimed the popular publications were “corrupting the innocent minds of the American youth.”
A key goal of the store is to create a welcoming atmosphere for children. Sullivan said children can benefit from reading comic books, because it’s better than not reading at all, he said.
The store will also cater to young readers’ comic-book collecting parents who may have preferred video games to classic literary works when they were children, he said.
The store – which typically has 10,000 to 20,000 comic books in stock – offers a variety of games, toys, and other collectibles as well.
Sullivan hopes his family’s store will help revive the shopping and entertainment business hub around Florida Avenue and State Street.
“We like the downtown feel, and hope to be one step that helps rejuvenate the area,” said Sullivan. “We also want people to come to our store from out of town.”
Some residents of Hemet used to drive to Temecula, Murrieta or Moreno Valley to shop at stores like I.E. Comics.
Sullivan said he knows his store won’t make his family a lot of money. But it has turned heads, and even a City Council member has expressed an interest.
Jerry Franchville, Hemet’s vice mayor, wrote a guest column about his recent visit to I.E. Comics that was published in a Hemet-based newspaper.
“Many may not know this, but I enjoy collecting and reading comic books as it offers me an escape from my sometimes busy and stressful life,” the councilman stated.
Franchville told of his delight for an I.E. Comics subscription program in which customers can have the store hold comic book titles to ensure they don’t miss any issues. The customer can pick up any held issues whenever it is convenient for them.
“I.E. Comics offer more than just comic books, and I encourage everyone to visit the new location and support our local businesses,” said Franchville.
One customer expressed his gratitude in a recent comment on the I.E. Comics Facebook site.
“Thanks again for helping me out today, Jamie,” Jason Brown of Hemet wrote on Sept. 2. “The kids at my work thought those Batman booklets were really cool. I’m sure you’ll be seeing me around in the store every so often.”
I.E. Comics plans to hold special events throughout the year.
On Fridays, beginning Oct. 1, the store will hold tournaments for Magic: The Gathering – an interactive card game.
On Halloween night, the store will hold a costume contest with prizes and youths who trick-or-treat at the store will receive comic books instead of candy.
Students in the Hemet Unified School District – which includes Anza and Aguanga – can receive a 10 percent discount on store purchases when they show their Associated Student Body identification cards.
Sullivan said his family has become adept at welcoming customers and tailoring the shop and its merchandise to patrons’ expectations.
“We are really appreciative of all the support we have gotten from the community and the surrounding communities,” Sullivan said.