(SEYMOUR) - Seymour native Aaron Louden started reading comics in 2010 as he was taking care of his terminally ill father.
Boris Ladwig of The Tribune reports that Louden, 35, a probation officer in Jackson County, spent a lot of hours by his father's side, so to pass some of the time, Louden signed up for an online service and started reading "Captain America."
"It helped me get through the time when Dad was ill," Louden said.
"Captain America" remains his favorite comic book series.
Around the same time, because of his father's illness, Louden began donating blood at the Indiana Blood Center, 1435 N. National Road in Columbus.
In May, he found out through a friend that a new comic book store, Sidekick Comics, had opened in Columbus at 1608 Central Ave.
Since then, he has scheduled his blood donation appointments for Wednesdays, to coincide with the day that publishers release new comic books.
Though his donations must be at least three weeks apart, Louden said he frequently finds other "excuses" to come to Columbus on Wednesdays.
On donation days, he swings by the store, picks up a few comic books and reads them while donating platelets. His phlebotomist also happens to be a comic book reader, and the two frequently discuss plots and characters.
Louden said he switched from reading online, because he missed interacting with the comic book community.
He said Sidekick Comics encourages interaction through events, such as a midnight launch event for the 100th issue of "The Walking Dead."
For the event, Louden donned a zombie costume he had once worn for Halloween, and some of the patrons had their picture taken with him.
Dave Christian, who launched the store about three months ago, said he developed a lifelong passion for comic books through his grandmother, who bought comics for him when he was a child.
Now 36 and married, with five sons ages 11 to 16, the Columbus resident said his interest in comic books has turned into a family affair. His wife, Monica, and the children all take active roles at the store, with one son focusing on trading cards and another on novelty and magic items.
Louden said he was struck by how the whole family is cooperating.
"I just think that it's cool that the whole family is involved," he said.
The store, a narrow strip of real estate next to Kramer's Restaurant, covers about 1,000 square feet. Posters of comic books, such as "Before Watchmen," and movies including "The Avengers" line the walls above white shelves filled with about 5,000 comic books. A Darth Vader mask hangs on the same wall as a photo of Christian with comic book legend Stan Lee, co-creator of the "Hulk," "X-Men" and "Spider-Man."
The traditional superheroes share space with newer series based on popular books and TV shows, including "Game of Thrones" and "True Blood."
While new releases sell for a few dollars, collector items can cost thousands of dollars. Christian said sometimes collectors get lucky when they buy a box full of comics at yard sales. He owns a copy of the first "Avengers" comic from 1964 and the first "G.I. Joe," which he bought in 1982 and got the author to sign this year. Most of the very valuable items he keeps off-site, vacuum-sealed in a cool, dark place, or wrapped in plastic on card stock without chemicals, to protect the paper.
From "Transformers" to Disney, "Ren & Stimpy" to "Batgirl," Christian said he likes to make sure that he carries popular and independent series.
"Whatever you're interested in, there's probably a comic book to fit your taste," he said.
Christian, who formerly worked for the city of Columbus and the local international school, has a soft spot for independent comic book authors in part because he knows first-hand of the difficulties of bringing an idea to paper. He has created and self-published a series about an alien superhero who fell to Earth and doesn't remember his past. Illustrated by an artist from Texas, the first printing of the "Jedediah Starr" series sold out.
Louden said he plans to buy a copy as soon as the next printing is available. He said he also was impressed by Christian's local outreach, which includes a kids club and co-hosting events with local organizations.
Christian said the roughly 30 members of the kids club get a goodie bag and a free comic book on the first Friday or Saturday of the month, and he looks forward to working with the Bartholomew County Public Library to host a monthly comic book night and bring in some writers and artists for presentations.
On Oct. 14 at Yes Cinema, to celebrate the start of the third season of "The Walking Dead," Sidekick Comics will present a free event that will include watching the premiere episode on a movie screen, trivia and giveaways during commercial breaks.
Christian also writes comic book reviews for the monthly Comics Buyer's Guide, designs web pages and is studying web design at Ivy Tech - but he said running the store has been a lot of fun.
"It's always kind of been a lifetime dream of mine to open a store," he said.
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