Sherrie Myers, Derek Myers, Don Myers, Cody Kastanek and Michelle Kastanek, from left, shuffle shifts to ensure The Comic Signal is open as much as possible. Courtesy The Comic Signal
The Myers family always has backed Don Myers’ 40-year passion for comic books. Now, he is entering his third year of passing it on to Grand Rapids fans.
Myers, owner of The Comic Signal, spent his boyhood immersed in Batman and Green Hornet cartoons and got hooked on anything superhero- or science fiction-related, such as Jonny Quest, Space Ghost, Herculoids, Spider-Man, Underdog, Scooby Doo, Super Friends and Tarzan.
In 1973, at age 9, he bought his first comic book, Batman No. 254, and so began his more than four-decade stretch as a collector.
After he had amassed 30,000 comic books and expressed interest in phasing out of his job in retail pharmacy, his wife Sherrie Myers, daughter and son-in-law Michelle and Cody Kastanek, and son Derek Myers convinced him to open a comic book shop to sell his collection.
“My daughter had gotten married and moved out,” Don Myers said. “My son’s in college. I thought, ‘If something happened, and I died, what would they do with these 30,000 comics I’ve collected?’ Michelle was at Grand Valley (studying public relations) and said, ‘Yeah, you can do it.’ She helped me get in touch with people.
“Michelle was my push.”
Don Myers spent about a year and a half researching the feasibility of the idea, getting business insights from SCORE and the library, and traveling to comic book stores in the region to learn about layout and inventory.
“I talked to the owners and asked, ‘Is print dead?’ You don’t see the magazine or newsstands like when I was a kid. They all said, ‘Nope, it’s very strong. The comics feed the movies, and the movies feed the comics.’ They all said it was a very healthy business.”
In February 2016, the family opened The Comic Signal at 4318 Plainfield Ave. NE, Suite H, in Grand Rapids.
The store sells old and new comic books, graphic novels, action figures, T-shirts, board games and card games.
Its name is a nod to the Batman signal that closed each episode of the cartoon show Don Myers grew up watching.
The location speaks to the Myers family’s longtime identity as Plainfield Township residents and supporters of Northview Public Schools. Don and Sherrie Myers met in Northview band, and Michelle and Derek went through the band program, too.
Don Myers said the storefront’s location, parking and 2,500-square-foot size have been perfect for The Comic Signal since 2016.
“It’s been good being here,” he said. “It’s been a blessing. It’s a community of like interests.”
The store, which turned a small profit in 2017, is a family business in every sense. It is owned and run exclusively by the Myers family, even as they are busy with other careers.
Don Myers still keeps part-time hours as a pharmacist at Cherry Health, while Sherrie Myers still is a registered nurse with Mercy Health Saint Mary’s.
Michelle Kastanek is secretary to the principal and founder of the drama program at East Grand Rapids Middle School, Cody Kastanek is a nerve conduction technologist at Spectrum Health Medical Group, and Derek is attending Grand Rapids Community College and soon will transfer to Grand Valley State University for accounting.
To work around everyone’s schedules, the store is closed Sunday-Tuesday and open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday and 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
During open hours, at least two people are on duty at all times.
Every other Saturday, the family offers board game demonstrations and play-through, a move they said has been instrumental in building community.
“It’s like ‘try it before you buy it,’ because some of the rules are book-length, and it can be complicated to learn the games,” Michelle Kastanek said.
The gaming events draw high school students through baby boomers, and the Myers family said the events are converting to game sales.
Since one of Don Myers’ passions is the art involved in comic books — his daughter referred to him as a “walking encyclopedia” on that front — he is in talks with an undisclosed artist who has worked with Disney and DC Comics to teach classes in the store on the creation of comic books.
During his interview with the Business Journal, Don Myers pointed to a wall behind his head that showcased posters done by the artist — of Venom, Batman, Wolverine, Green Lantern, Space Ghost and Captain America.
The Comic Signal keeps a loyal base of customers by offering a “pull list,” a subscription service whereby customers can list the comic series they want to get new issues of every time a new issue publishes — which usually happens bimonthly or monthly — and the store orders the copies and has them ready for subscribers before they become available on shelves.
Those on the pull list get 10 percent off all new comics and graphic novels, and their purchases come bagged and boarded to protect the comic books.
Don Myers also continues to sell from his legacy collection dating back to the ’60s; he estimates he has moved half his collection into sales and inventory so far.
“The bulk of our everyday sales are newer comics,” he said. “Sometimes, we’ll get people coming in looking for older ones.”
Michelle Kastanek said in addition to the pull list and the in-store events, The Comic Signal’s main draw is the relationship customers have formed with her father.
“Some people come in every day just to talk to him,” she said.
Don Myers has been facing health issues lately, and Michelle Kastanek said the level of community support for her dad has been overwhelming.
“We’ve had people offer to shovel our driveway, cook us food. It’s really cool to see how supportive the community is,” she said.
Don Myers agreed, citing the cards, thoughts, prayers and moral support from customers.
“It’s something you know, but until you experience it, you don’t see how incredible it is.”
In a way, the community to which he has given so much — stocking the libraries at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and D.A. Blodgett St. John’s Home, as well as donating to Cosplay Crusaders, the Northview Education Foundation, Northview Band Boosters, Rockford Band Boosters, Big Kidz Games and GR8Bit Live!, to name a few — is giving back to him.
That kind of community connection is the way Don Myers rolls.
“The biggest thing when I started pharmacy is you would talk to people,” he said. “You’d get to know them and learn things about their lives, and it would help you knowing what they’re going through to support them, to make suggestions or to listen to them. You got to know them as people.
“That’s what is so wonderful about this job. I love talking to people. … We talk about the new books coming out and the movies coming out, as well as what’s going on in their personal lives. We’ve all become friends.”