Traveling Comic Book Store returns on Saturday

Comic book artist Sam de la Rosa draws the Spider-Man character Venom at his booth at Spa-Con at the Hot Springs Convention Center in September 2019. De la Rosa has worked for both DC and Marvel comics. (The Sentinel-Record/File photo)
Comic book artist Sam de la Rosa draws the Spider-Man character Venom at his booth at Spa-Con at the Hot Springs Convention Center in September 2019. De la Rosa has worked for both DC and Marvel comics. (The Sentinel-Record/File photo)

The Traveling Comic Book Store is returning to Hot Springs on Saturday.

The event -- sponsored by the Odessa, Texas-based shop Kenny's Comics--will be held at Comfort Suites Near Hot Springs Park, 320 Nash St., from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

Admission is $1 for adults. Children 12 years old and younger will be admitted at no charge. The admission price includes entry into a raffle for $50 in store credit, with the drawing at 2:30 p.m.

Kenny's Comics is owned and operated by Kenneth "Kenny" Simpson, who told The Sentinel-Record he wanted to give back to the comic enthusiast community, as the digital age has reduced access to comics outside major metropolitan areas.

"When I was growing up, comic book stores had a larger reach -- they were in a lot of smaller towns, smaller cities," said Simpson. "And that's just not the case anymore for the last 20 or 30 years. So that's the concept behind bringing a comic book store to a lot of the places I do now."

The population of a potential site for The Traveling Comic Book Store is a key factor in Simpson's decision-making about whether to set up shop. He said he targets places with modest populations lacking a local comic book brick-and-mortar, and he's got plans for expanding his reach.

"We pretty much do a show every Saturday. While we do repeat shows -- like we're coming back to Hot Springs -- most of the time they are unique, like the first time we've been there," he said.

Simpson detailed recent expansions into Mississippi and also said he would like to enter markets in Nevada and Missouri. The store visits upward of 35 different new places per year, without taking into account towns and cities where the event takes place recurrently, like Hot Springs.

This will be the fourth year The Traveling Comic Book Store comes to Hot Springs. "There's a good little comic community (in Hot Springs) ... and it's a beautiful place, we love going," Simpson said.

A typical set-up takes place in a hotel meeting room, with merchandise lining the perimeter of the venue.

"We have thousands of comic books ... and we bring toys, we have manga, and we've gotten into music more recently ... physical media, CDs, cassette tapes, just whatever kind of comes along," he said, noting the collection is constantly evolving yet always "a pretty good reflection" of the superhero-driven American comic market.

"We have a bit of everything. Our dollar section has not only superhero stuff but pretty much every genre --ma lot of independent books," Simpson said.

"Whenever we get into books in the general price section, that's kind of shaped by past sales and what people have wanted. While it's largely superhero, there have been a lot of adaptations of horror movies and video games ... that's represented in there, too," he said.

The selection also spans the eras of comic book production, from the mid-century "golden age" of comics to the modern day. Simpson sources recent publications from major publishers' distributors, while more vintage items come from people's personal collections. "Batman" and "Spider-Man"remain popular standbys.

"If you've seen them on the movie screen, they probably sell pretty well as a comic book," he said.

"At the very root of what we're doing is people (have been) enjoying the superhero genre on the movie screen ... while we have the Internet and you can order -- and there is a lot of convenience there, and that's great -- a lot of comic book customers, they no longer have what they grew up with," Simpson said.

"That's kind of what we have wanted to bring back to people ... letting people actually see the book that they are buying, be able to go through boxes and have a bit of what the ... experience was before comic book stores became more scarce to the average American," he said.

"It's a service," said Simpson. "It's also an experience."

He compares the resurgence of interest in hard-copy comic books to the rebirth of the record industry, as media consumers have gravitated toward physical media and vintage items that offer a distinct quality not found in digital versions.

"We just have fun. We try to bring things that I hope bring joy to people's lives. Something that they'll enjoy reading or enjoy the art of ... everyone's a little bit different. Whether it's the smell, whether it's the feel, you enjoy talking with other people and talking about comic books, all of that happens every Saturday, and I just help that along."

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