Santa Rosa comics store becomes ‘nerd haven’

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Comics FTW (For The Win) is a small hobby shop tucked away into a shopping center off of Santa Rosa Ave. But what it lacks in square footage, it makes up for with events targeted to illustrators, writers and fans of comic books, including a women’s-only club called “Girls With Issues.”

“We do a lot of community events because I feel like it gets people excited about coming to the shop beyond, ‘Hey, my weekly comic books are in,’” said owner Kris Bartolome, 31. “It’s a great way for us to attract new customers and build loyalty with our regular ones. Also, the events are just fun to me.”

Bartolome opened the store on Black Friday weekend in 2010 and, with employee Melissa Andrade, 28, has worked with customers to create a welcoming environment.

They started with a group of HeroClix players who wanted a venue for their tournaments, Bartolome said. “From there, we just planned events as people requested them.

“Folks wanted to play Pokémon, play Magic, hang out and make art, do trivia, and so on. But now we’re starting to present new events and gatherings that we think people would dig.”

On the first Tuesday of each month, an Expanded Reading Club attracts people of both sexes who like to read and discuss independent comics. The Girls With Issues comic book club meets on the third Tuesdays, and a Creative Workshop on the second Thursdays provides a space for artists of all kinds to meet. On the fourth Thursdays, a Writer’s Block Club gathers people to talk about writing strategies and share their stories.

One of the most popular events is Geek Trivia Night, held every other Saturday. Teams of up to six people pay a $5 entrance fee, pick a silly team name and play through five rounds of questions. The subject matter can range from old video game technology to pro wrestlers and movie quotes. Winning teams earn store credit, small prizes or free entrance to the next trivia night.

“I believe there was only like eight of us at the first one,” said Reo MC, 30, who has participated since it started. “I just like to show up. Otherwise, I go around quoting useless trivia. It validates my existence as a nerd.”

Player Pem Gregory, 31, describes Comics FTW as “a nerd haven that doesn’t stink.”

As many as 24 women now show up at Girls With Issues meetings to discuss comics and give recommendations. They also have started a zine that is now in the production phase.

Andrade and Hannah Lane, 26, started the group as a “place where women would not only feel comfortable around comics, but welcomed into it,” Lane said. “We kinda work like I’m the one with too many ideas and she’s the one who reins it back to make it work.”

Adds Andrade, “The Girls With Issues club is probably my favorite. Every month we get new members and great comic recommendations.”

Julie Hartley was the store’s first customer. “I waited outside in the parking lot for it to open, and rushed in,” she said. Now she belongs to both reading clubs and is starting a new Marvel club.

“Girls With Issues was so popular they wanted to make a club that was for both boys and girls,” Hartley said, “but the girls’ club has way better snacks.”

Ruby McNulty, 23, said she enjoys talking with other women about “the parts of the comic books that you don’t always get to discuss, and it’s nice to be able to do that without a male influence.

“Not that they don’t have valid opinions, but many times they can be a little bit louder with their opinions, and it can be hard to talk over them, especially in comics where they’re generally thought of as the majority. And they’re not.”

Comic artist Michael Conrad, 35, sells his books “Frown” and “A Minor Spell” at Comics FTW. He also attends the Writer’s Block and Extended Reading Club meetings.

“I prefer FTW because I feel like Kris is part of the community, rather than someone simply profiting from it,” Conrad said. “I have no issue with the other local shops, and they continue to get my business, but with FTW I feel like every dollar I spend goes to making sure that events like Geek Trivia, Board Game Day and Magic Tournaments continue on.

“The other shops provide similar stuff, but FTW has a genuine feel to it, and I know that at its core FTW really wants to be a destination where everyone can be themselves. And it’s working.”

Comics FTW, 1435 Santa Rosa Ave #5, is open at 11 a.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, noon Thursday through Sunday, closed Monday. 284-2272,,

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