John Hitchcock has owned Parts Unknown: the Comic Book Store at 906 Spring Garden Street for the last two decades. August has already seen several big comics related events in Greensboro with more coming when September brings Greensboro ComiCon. But the 28th anniversary of the Little College Hill Comic Shop that Could shouldn’t be forgotten amidst the four-color hoopla.
Living close by, I’ve visited John Hitchcock’s store almost every week for the past two decades. In 2014, when leukemia left me with crushing medical bills and the inability to concentrate on anything longer than a 32-page comic, Hitchcock gave me my monthly books for free until I was well and back at work.
This past weekend saw the first of two sales Hitchcock is having in honor of his store’s anniversary.
“We opened up at Cotton Mill Square back in 1989,” Hitchcock said as we watched a customer in an oversized paper mache Joker head navigate his front steps. “We’ve been in this location for about 20 years. I’ve always loved the area. It’s got a real ‘60s kind of vibe. Everybody seems to be real nice. The college kids keep you on your toes, keep you fresh, with a lot of new blood coming in and out.”
Twenty-eight years ago, Hitchcock had been selling comics at a store downtown when he decided to invest his own money in his own place.
“I’ve always had a passion for comic books,” he said. “I started collecting them when I was 10 years old and am still collecting then now, 50 years later.”
Hitchcock said his favorite comic book creator would have to be Alex Toth because the late artist is known not only for his expressive line and masterful story telling, but his designs for Saturday morning animation.
“Alex and I became friends in 1981,” Hitchcock said. “I saw his address in the Comics Buyers Guide, a great trade magazine I wish still existed. I wrote him a letter, and he sent me back this incredible card. I wrote him another letter and he was really excited that I was approaching him as a storyteller and talking about the nature of story telling. Everybody into comics knows Toth’s stuff, but also the animation designs, his work on Space Ghost, The Herculoids, Josie and the Pussycats, practically everything Hanna-Barbera ever did. I was so attracted to the genius of the guy.”
They were friends until Toth’s death in 2006, but before the two collaborated on a book called Dear John: The Alex Toth Doodle Book. That book, which was nominated for the industry’ Eisner Award, included not only Toth’s unpublished sketches, but the artist’s incisive and sometimes devastating insights from their 25 years of correspondence.
Alex Toth didn’t live to see a printed copy, but John said he approved the final draft.
“At the San Diego ComiCon, I was able to give copies to his four kids, and they were thrilled with it,” he said. “The vast majority of the money we made selling the book went to a scholarship in Alex’s name in Minnesota with his oldest son Eric. I feel really honored to say I was his friend. I was in a documentary on his life that was put out on the Space Ghost DVD as an extra. Now there are multiple coffee table books on Alex and his genius is widely recognized.”
Dear John is not Hitchcock’s only work as an author. “My next book is going to be The Stories,” he said. “It’s about working in the comic book field and knowing the artists, the writers and editors, about talking to them, cutting up with them, joking with them, because that’s the first stuff in history that disappears.”
John has also written Front Row, Section D, about professional wresting from the ‘60s to the ‘90s.
“Double A, Arn Anderson the Enforcer,” Hitchcock said of his favorite wrestler. “He might not have been the greatest of all time – that was Rick Flair – but he was my favorite. He would always shout out ‘Hey, Greensboro!’ whenever he saw me in the audience.”
Parts Unknown: the Comic Book Store will be having a second sale on the weekend of Aug. 18-20. From now until the end of the month, anyone who comes into the store and mentions Yes! Weekly will receive a 10% discount.
Ian McDowell is the author of two published novels, numerous anthologized short stories, and a whole lot of nonfiction and journalism, some of which he’s proud of and none of which he’s ashamed of.