Story near end for Grand Rapids comic shop owners

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - Ask Kirby Tardy what makes a good comic book and expect to get an earful.

Important is whether “the creative team is putting love and care into it. In other words, it’s not just a job to them,” Tardy told The Grand Rapids Press ( http://bit.ly/1pZWVvC ).

But that’s not all.

“The story needs a beginning, middle and end,” he said. “I don’t want to read something that’s a forever-going soap opera.”

“I need to know there’s an end somewhere.”

Tardy’s own story arc is nearing a conclusion at Collector’s Corner, where he and wife Debbie are planning in the next year or so to pass on the torch of the comic book store, which recently turned 35.

Tardy’s shop, a longtime survivor of the Seymour Square Business District, is shoehorned in between a bail bond office and an under-the-radar neighborhood deli known for its gyros and cheesesteak sandwiches.

A destination stop for comic lovers in West Michigan, Tardy likes to brag a little that most other comic book shop owners in the Grand Rapids area originally started out as Collector’s Corner customers.

A drawing of the affable proprietor, depicted in superhero getup as “Captain Corner” hangs in the store. Tardy, grandson of former local grocery magnate L.V. Eberhard, is passionate about supporting local comic artists and writers, and has been known give away comics en masse just to give them some exposure.

He’s something of an expert when it comes to vintage or oddball comics, “but I don’t keep up with the superhero stuff anymore,” he said.

In contrast to the shelves of superhero figurines, T-shirts, Beanie Babies and other memorabilia common among surviving comic and niche collectable stores, Collector’s Corner is fairly spartan in its accoutrements. Aside from a few non-comic items in the display case, the vast majority of Tardy’s inventory is single copy comics and graphic novels.

“We’ve never chased fads to make money,” he said. “That’s maybe a failing. We could have a lot more cash in our pockets, but I feel pretty good about what we’ve done. We’ve inspired a number of people to get into the industry.”

The comics-only ethos is a departure from the days when Tardy’s was located downtown across from the Pantlind Hotel. The store, then called “Opalias Amorphium,” sold jewelry, coins, magazines, comics and had a guy who assembled computers in the basement.

That store began downtown in 1979, but the Tardys lost the location when the building’s ownership changed in advance of the redevelopment of the Pantlind into the Amway Grand Hotel complex.

Tardy moved and the store expanded into several storefronts now occupied by the Black Eagle Trading Post, a planned Peoples Cider Co. taproom and Bartertown Diner. They moved to the store’s current location in 1983, when Tardy bought the property on a land contract.

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