Galaxy Comics, nestled in the corner of the shopping center behind the Western Market and Dizzy D’s, is Wenatchee’s own comic book headquarters. The Valley’s only comic book store, it’s been in business for 28 years.
And the sole man behind this comic book collection all that time, Dean Ball, is happy to share his passion for comics with any customer who walks in his door.
Ball, who was born in The Dalles, Ore., and attended Wenatchee Valley Community College, opened Galaxy Comics in 1986. Prior to opening the store, Ball grew up with an interest in comic book creation, syndicated his own comic strip to regional newspapers, and spent time as a broadcaster and director of regional radio stations for 13 years.
And after all of that, much like every hero in the store, Galaxy Comics came from humble beginnings.
“Back in the early ’80s there started to spring up a lot of specialty comic book stores across the country, and I knew someone in East Wenatchee who was running a small store out of his house. When I heard he was planning to get out of the business, he sold me his inventory, and the rest his history.” Ball said.
Ball moved his newly acquired comic books to a 350-square-foot office building at 1720 Fifth Street, Suite D and opened his store April 23, 1986. Galaxy Comics has remained in the same location, since. But don’t let the small space fool you, superheroes pack the shelves.
The Amazing Spiderman, Spawn, and Supergirl rub shoulders, while past issues of Captain America, Ghost Rider, and The Incredible Hulk lay upright, lined against each other in the back-issue bins. You can pick up any of your favorites at Galaxy Comics Wednesday (when new comic books arrive) through Friday from noon to 5:30 p.m., and on Saturday until 4:30. To find links to all the latest comics available at Galaxy, check out zcomics.net.
And whether you are looking for superhero sagas, arch-villain reunions, or the latest issue of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, chances are Galaxy Comics has it. And if you can’t find it on the shelves, Ball can get it into your hands.
“I can order just about anything in print for customers out there having a hard time finding a specific item.”
And that ability to special order, and the interest associated with it, is one of Galaxy Comic’s small secrets to success. Ball has nearly 50 customers who run an in-store subscription service with him. Customers write down which comic books they want to receive and reserve their slot, and Ball fills the orders each week.
Pay as you go or ahead of time, this method allows for easy pickup and delivery, and eases some of the guesswork for Ball when ordering new issues every week. And some customers, like Karl Beebe, like the on-demand style so much, they have been doing it for a very long time.
“Ball is the godfather of comics. His knowledge of the business, especially the Silver Age of comics (circa 1950s to 1970) is probably second to none,” said Beebe.
Beebe has been a customer of Ball’s since shortly after the shop opened. Beebe’s collection these days mostly centers on Batman, who much like Superman, is hovering around the 75th anniversary mark.
Including the subscription orders, Ball orders 1,000 comic books a month, with about 300 different titles. And after 28 years of placing orders, Ball has seen industry bubbles come and go.
A boosting moment for Galaxy Comics, just three years after opening, was Michael Keaton starring as the Caped Crusader in 1989’s “Batman” directed by Tim Burton. Batman comics suddenly weren’t the only thing flying out of the store; action figures, toys, mugs, and a lot of merchandising also became popular.
“I decided to go big with Batman. I ordered everything, and then sold everything,” Ball said.
And then there was the Death of Superman in 1992. As the Man of Steel battled the super-villain Doomsday throughout the streets of Metropolis, ultimately succumbing to this powerful nemesis, millions of readers were picking up D.C. Comics. Ball sold over 500 copies of this now-famous issue, topping the record for any comic book he’s ever sold.
But with the good comes the bad and the comic book industry is now facing a new era of superheroes flying on the screen, villains thriving online, and a new generation of tech-savvy subscribers.
Ball credits his subscription system and customers’ interest in the hands-on experience with his business remaining fairly constant. And Ball realizes the importance of introducing the world of comic books to a younger audience.
“There’s always a concern about getting the next generation interested in comics and not losing the readership. So anything like the children comic books, and how they are selling well, is a good sign.”
And there are indeed still children comic books. A lot of your little-one’s favorite cartoon characters sit on shelves at Galaxy Comics. From Adventure Time to The Powerpuff Girls, children can be introduced to the world of comic books one kid-friendly issue at a time.
Recognizing this same need to get comic books into the hands of a new generation, the comic book industry has also come up with a unique promotional tool to get everyone reading.
There has been a National Free Comic Book Day for the last 12 years on the first Saturday of May. This date, which coincides with the Apple Blossom Grand Parade, gives readers new and old a chance to head to Galaxy Comics to pick up free issues of their favorite superheroes. Over 200 comic book stores participate in this event across the country, and titles vary from The Simpsons to Superman.
And while you can pick up your favorite titles once a year for free, Ball also encourages anyone to bring in their collection if they are looking to make room in the garage. And while some comic books aren’t worth much more than the paper they are printed on, Ball relates a story of a surprising gem hidden in one customer’s collection.
Late one afternoon, a woman dropped off a dusty pile of old comic books and asked if there was any value to the collection. As she ran to do some errands, Ball looked through what she brought in. Amongst the spider webs and over-published titles, Ball found an interesting issue entitled “The Amazing Fantasy #15.”
Best known for being the first appearance of Spiderman, “The Amazing Fantasy #15,” published in 1962, is one of few comic books to have been sold for over a million dollars in mint condition. And even though the customer’s copy that day was far from mint, Ball valued it at over $300. And while not every comic book is worth so much, it goes to show what treasures might be collecting dust in your house.
As for the comic book master himself, Ball’s collection centers on Superman. Owning every issue that has come out weekly since 1970, plus collectibles and specialty items, it’s easy to say Ball is a fan. And what is it exactly that draws him into this vibrant world of superheroes and alter-egos?
“The mixture of the written word and illustrations to tell you a story, it’s not a passive thing, it draws you in. The whole idea of both pictures and text working together, it’s great to watch these fantastic visions come to life.”