Acme Comics celebrates its 35th birthday, Free Comic Book Day and local talent
When Acme Comics opened in downtown Greensboro in 1983, superheroes hadn’t conquered pop culture. Superman III, the second sequel to the first big-budget superhero spectacle in Hollywood history, was such a financial disappointment that its producer Alexander Salkind sold the character to Cannon Films, the low-budget home of Chuck Norris, ninjas and horny teenagers. Marvel’s only live-action success had been the Incredible Hulk T.V. series that ended the year before. And the first Free Comic Book Day was two decades away.
Thirty-five years later and now at 2150 Lawndale Dr., Acme has become one of the most successful comic book shops in North America. Free Comic Book Day, which is held on the first Saturday in May and started the same weekend as the opening of 2002’s Spider-Man, is in its 16th year. Both birthdays can be celebrated this Saturday when Acme honors the community that’s supported it for over three decades by spotlighting local talent.
“There are incredible creative artists right here in Greensboro, and we want to make them visible on this most important of days,” said Acme’s general manager Jermaine Exum, who has worked there for 22 years. “When a person wants graphic design work, specialized art, or tutorials for the young artist in their families, we want Greensboro to know who is right here that can help with those needs.”
The local talent that Acme is spotlighting includes Chris Gunter, Rickie Hopkins, Merryn Kepchar, Kev Lyerly, Jody Merriman, Jordan Morris, Griff Person, Brian Richardson, Dora Salinas, Brian Shearer, Shayla Simons, Barrett Stanley, Riley Till, Rodney Traynham, Sara Winans and Colby Ziglar. These artists will be displaying their work and doing sketches for fans at The Free Comic Book Day Local Heroes Event hosted inside of Smallcakes Cupcakery & Creamery in Lawndale Shopping Center at 2138 Lawndale Dr. Ste. B.
“Acme has been a mainstay throughout my life,” wrote artist Jordan Morris, who designed the new version of Acme’s logo, in a recent email. Morris, who described himself as a faithful customer since he was 9 and when Acme was on High Point Road, said he’s recently begun doing illustration and event work for the store. “It’s surreal to go from going there as a kid to an adult, and now actually working with them doing what I love. These are great humans and don’t get near the amount of credit they deserve for the job they do.”
Acme has also been a mainstay of Exum’s life. Exum told me he discovered the store two years after I did when his family moved to Greensboro in 1985. “It wasn’t as easy to get to as Bessemer Curb Market or other convenience stores, so I couldn’t go all the time, but it was a destination for sure.” He said he remembers seeing the comics that I was buying in the ‘80s, such as Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, but passing them over for GI Joe or Star Wars or some other series that had my young attention.”
Exum said he was first hired as a sales clerk at Acme in 1996, after volunteering there upon graduating from Grimsley in 1994. His sales expertise eventually earned him a management position and the nickname of Lord Retail, a title bestowed on him by longtime Acme customer and award-winning science fiction writer M. A. Foster. “I tell people that I didn’t just start calling myself that one day, but I don’t think anyone believes me.”
I asked him if Free Comic Book Day has changed much over the past 16 years. “The shape and scope of it have, but the goal is the same, and FCBD remains a day when we can say thanks to the public that has kept us a part of their routines since 1983.” He said he wants to thank all the people who have made Acme Comics a destination location that they visit whenever they come to Greensboro, no matter where they live in the United States or abroad. “When you’re a part of a community like that, you know you’re in the right place.”
In past years, fans celebrating “Nerd Christmas in May” have camped out all night outside of Acme. This year, the store will open its doors at 12:01 a.m., although the Acme website cautions that “this special FCBD launch will end promptly at 2 a.m. regardless of how many people remain in line or how close they are to entry.” The doors will then re-open at 10 a.m. and remain open until 7 p.m. More information can be found at www.acmecomics.com.
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.