Alex Guy was 16-years-old when he fell in love with his first comic book, X-Men 205, a wolverine story illustrated by Barry Windsor Smith.
"The artwork was incredible," recalled Guy, now 34. Three months ago, Guy opened the Atomic Lounge, a comic book store on Neal Street across from the Del Oro theater in downtown Grass Valley.
Overnight, the store has become an instant hit among older comic geeks and local youth, who lounge on the red sofa watching movies and reading the latest $3 comics.
"I'm lucky I found a following. That's important," Guy said. He worked as a bartender for 10 years prior to taking a small business class at Sierra College and becoming his own boss.
"I always wanted a job. I could drink coffee and read comics all day," Guy said. Besides comic books, the store carries T-shirts, action figures, statues and other things pop culture related.
Many comic book characters derive their powers from atomic origins, explained Guy, thus the naming of his store.
Every Wednesday, new shipments of the week's current issues of comic books draw regulars such as Eric Bauch of Grass Valley. He bought $84 worth of books to add to his collection of 9,000 at home.
"I've been driving to Sacramento for the past seven to eight years to get this," said Bauch, who says he enjoys comic books for the escape of reading and the artwork. Before Guy opened his shop, the nearest serious place to buy comics over the counter was in Sacramento or Yuba City.
Collectors with specific requests for comic books such as Bauch are called "savers." There are 45 savers on file at the Atomic Lounge.
"A few of them have 30 different titles on their list," Guy said.
Children age 8 to 16 and adults 25 to 35 make up the bulk of his customer base, Guy said.
Comic books are enticing some children to read and put down their video games, some parents have told Guy.
"One kid left his piggy bank here," Guy said.
Though younger comic followers buy according to a budget based on how many lawns they can mow, older collectors seek out the expensive, harder to find books.
When he was 17, Guy sold a copy of Amazing Spiderman for $2,500 and was immediately hooked.
"The guy brought a suitcase of twentys. That issue is worth about $40,000 now," Guy said.
In recent years, Comic-Con, the world's largest comic convention held in San Diego has become a Cannes Film Festival of sorts, attracting red carpet stars such as Keanu Reaves and Samuel L. Jackson.
Big dollars generated by Hollywood films about Spiderman, Batman, Ironman, Hellboy and others has increased the demand for comic books.
"It's getting really big," Guy said.
To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4231.