FROM the outside, it looks like the Tardis in Doctor Who. Inside, it’s bright, and the sight of the comics and superhero memorabilia is arresting.
This is The Comic Vault, just off Parnell Place in Cork city, which was launched by Cathal Travers two years ago.
Tall, bearded and wearing a Hawaiian shirt, Cathal is talking at a supersonic rate.
How did this 29-year-old from Tallaght wind up in Cork city selling comics?
“I started the business trading online and doing conventions across Ireland and Britain,” he explains.
“At that stage, I still had a full time job and kept it as a side business.
“After a few years, I had built up a customer base across Ireland, but particularly in Cork and Munster, so after doing the bit of research, I opened the shop in Cork city.’
Not having formal training in business or marketing, instead coming in to it from his own interest, Cathal knew that it wasn’t so much a market he’d be catering to but a varied, niche community.
The whole comic book world has changed in recent times, with kids more likely to have their nose in a gadget than reading action strips.
Do kids still buy comic books, or is it now generally adults?
“There’s a big draw to children with all the superheroes on offer,” says Cathal, “but a lot of comics are aimed at the older audience.
“People start with superheroes, then their tastes get more diverse as there’s so many genres to choose from.
“Some of the biggest selling books aren’t from Marvel and DC but Image Comics.
“The blockbuster movies are a big help, sparking interest in all kinds of people into comics and reigniting interest from former readers and collectors.
“In an age of tech, I’ve seen that comics are a great way to engage younger children into reading — there’s so much to choose from that you’ll find something for everyone, all ages, all genres.’
However, in a world where Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is the richest man since the Pharaohs, isn’t a bricks and mortar comic shop like his a bit,. well, old-fashioned and even risky?
“We started as an online business but the end goal was always opening a physical store,” explains Cathal.
“The whole point is that it’s more personal with the customers.
“Our customers come in and chat to the staff and the other customers. They get advice and ideas on books, they get to browse and read a few pages before they have to commit to getting something.”
So, in the same way that niche record stores and vintage clothes shops exist, partly because of the human element to it, the same is happening with The Comic Vault?
“‘Exactly. The social element is huge in the shop.
“We also host a monthly book club, where we all get together and chat about the latest comics, books and even TV and movies.
“The Cork comic creators also meet up in the shop once a month to get a rundown of the local comic book scene and create their own comics. They launch one every year for the Dragon of Shandon parade.’
Let’s get down to the nitty gritty world of business, what are the biggest sellers in the shop?
“Graphic novels and comic books are our main thing and our biggest sellers, with all the characters everyone’s heard of,” Cathal replies.
“And we sell a lot of merchandise and collectable figures of them as well.
“But our gaming side has really taken off over the last year —people come in to play various games from Magic the Gathering, Yu Gi Oh, Pokémon and Dungeons & Dragons.
“It’s got big enough that we dedicated a part of the shop for people to drop in and play games and host gaming days if they like.’
Strolling around The Comic Vault, the buzz of energy is consistent, with people coming in and out, chatting and playing games. It seems to be doing well, and doing so against, supposedly, the big trends in how business will be done in the future.
Considering that Cork’s population is projected to expand by tens of thousands over the next decade, what does that mean for his shop?
“There’s huge growth happening in the city and we would like to be part of it.
“The comic book community is hitting new highs, all the movies and shows are bringing in new audiences all the time. It’s going to be whopper!”