Celebrating 30 years: How Iowa City daydreams


Free Comic Book Day

Daydreams Comics (21 S Dubuque St.) — Sat., May 7

He has a name worthy of a superhero, and has been using his powers for good as the owner of Daydreams Comics in downtown Iowa City since 2010. The store is celebrating 30 years in business in 2016. To mark the occasion — and in the run-up to Free Comic Book Day (May 7) — Power answered questions about the store’s past, present, and future.

Free Comic Book Day is also celebrating an anniversary, as 2016 is the 15th year of the event. Comics creators Skottie Young, Kat Leyh, Phil Hester and Eric Gapstur will be at Daydreams Comics on Free Comic Book Day, meeting fans, signing their work and just generally celebrating one of the best days of the year for comics lovers.

Give me a quick outline of the history of the store. I know it’s been in a few different spots over the years. How many owners have there been and what made you decide to dive in and become an owner?

Daydreams Comics was opened in fall 1986 in the Hall Mall (114 1/2 E. College St.). It started out in the large room at the top of the stairs and eventually expanded to include a back issue room at the end of the hall. In summer of 1993 it moved downstairs to what is currently TCB (114 E. College St.). Summer 1999 brought another move, this time next door, where The Saloon currently resides (112 E. College St.). Finally, in summer 2005, it moved to its current location at 21 S. Dubuque St.

Photo by Britt Fowler
Photo by Britt Fowler

Michael Zeadow was the original owner of Daydreams Comics. He eventually sold the business to Adam Mix (who started working here in February 1995 and would spend two decades here) in summer 2000. Adam in turn sold it to Don Hughes, another Daydreams employee, when he intended to move away from Iowa City. Plans changed and Adam then bought back 50% of the business. I started working at Daydreams Comics in November 2004 and purchased Don’s stake in the business in 2010, and eventually Adam’s stake in 2015. So through the 30 years of business, Daydreams has always stayed “in the family” so to speak. Which I think goes hand in hand with the success we’ve maintained. When you’re learning how the business works from the person you are buying it from, it makes it a lot easier to see what works and what doesn’t and keep things consistent.

My sense of things is that the comics industry has been up and down over the last 30 years. What has allowed Daydreams to survive through all of that?

A big reason Daydreams has existed as long as it has is because of Adam. He was able to keep the shop going when the industry took a nosedive in the late ’90s thru early 2000s … While they weren’t the best years business-wise, he figured out how to keep the store profitable and was able to keep the ship afloat until things began to pick up in the mid-2000s.

But the main reasons we have survived are simple: our customers and our location.

Without a solid, loyal customer base, we aren’t anything. We still have customers who come in every week that have been shopping here for 25+ years. That’s impressive on a lot of levels. And with customers comes customer service. I’ve been working here over a decade and from day one it was driven into my brain: It’s all about good customer service … I want to have a diverse selection for people to choose from. I want to have something that appeals to anyone who walks in the door. I’m happy to order something if we don’t have it in stock. I want people to browse through (but not read) something that looks interesting.

The move to Dubuque St. was the best decision in the history of the store, hands down. I worked at the Saloon location for a year before the move, and there was an immediate increase in sales just from moving basically two blocks … And in a city of landlords galore, we couldn’t have asked for a better one in Anne Rizzo. She’s been a big supporter of us and is always open minded and willing to help out with anything. You don’t find that much in Iowa City. And you can’t talk location without talking about Iowa City as a whole. There is so much support for literature in this place. It’s also amazing to look around this town and see so many locally owned and operated businesses that are thriving. It’s an amazing town and I’m glad to be a part of it.

Can you talk about the schedule for Free Comic Book Day, and why these particular writers/artists exciting?

2016 marks 30 years in business for Daydreams Comics, so I wanted to have a diverse lineup of creators who cater to our customers, as well as bring back … people who have been great supporters of our shop over the years.

Skottie Young will be in attendance this year. He’s been in twice before, but his career has really taken off in the past couple years, so I’m really excited to see what kind of a response he gets this time around.

Kat Leyh, who is originally from Ames (now living in Chicago) is currently writing Lumberjanes for Boom Studios, and has also done art on comics like Adventure Time and Bravest Warriors. We had an awesome response from our female customers last year when Brooke Allen (artist on Lumberjanes) was in for FCBD, so I want to continue to bring in female creators to interact with. It’s a growing part of comics and is great to see!

Phil Hester and Eric Gapstur will be stopping in for the afternoon as well. Phil went to school at UI and has been supporting Daydreams for a very long time! I even got my hands on an advertising poster he drew for Daydreams from back in the Hall Mall days. Eric has been a customer for some time now and works with Phil. He’s also been doing his own comic strip projects over the years. So I feel like we have a good mix of creators who can provide insight into both the writing and artistic sides of comics, as well as both male and female perspectives on the industry.

How important is FCBD to your shop in particular? Does FCBD bring you new customers?

We would be doing well even if FCBD wasn’t around, but it’s still a crazy good time. It’s been really fun to watch it grow every year. I can remember the first few years I worked here, we didn’t participate, and no one really questioned why. But after moving to Dubuque St. and streamlining what we did as a business, we decided to give it a shot … First year we did it was 2007, and we ordered a total of 423 comics to give away. For 2015 we ordered close to 3000 and ran out of 90 percent of the titles before the day ended. I ordered even more for this year.

It’s a significant investment on our part to do this each year, because while the books are free for people coming in, we still have to pay for each comic we give away. But it’s also turned into our biggest sales day every year, so it more than pays for itself. It’s a lot of work and makes for an extremely long day, but I’m fortunate enough to have a great staff who keep things running smoothly.

As far as bringing in new customers, I don’t feel like it makes that much of an impact. I look at it as more of an event to give people a good reason to drop by who aren’t regulars or who live out of town … We want people to want to come to our shop on FCBD because we go above and beyond and try to have some cool things going on that we don’t always have. For instance, this year we are planning to have multiple cosplay heroes on hand to take pictures with, which is something we hadn’t considered before last year.

We will also have a pretty cool exclusive item for sale that you can only get from us. We teamed up with Skottie to produce a variant cover edition trade paperback of his new Image Comics series I Hate Fairyland. It will have a different cover than the general release and will feature our logo on it, as well. It will be limited to 300 copies, so make sure you get here early! The cover is a nice play on our logo, so it’s pretty awesome. I’m really excited to be able to offer something like this to our customers, and to have Skottie on hand to sign copies for everyone. I’m really excited to see what people think.

Rob Cline seeks out the good and bad across the comics landscape as the Colorblind Comics Critic. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 198.

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