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The end of the Atomic age — now what?

Atomic Comics (Tim Hacker, East Valley Tribune)What a long, strange week it’s been. Last Sunday night I was sitting down to check email and make sure everything was ready for my first class of the semester at ASU Downtown, where I teach online media. I only intended to log on for a few minutes and make sure everything was in order — and maybe fire off a Nerdvana post for Monday to thank all of our little blog’s followers on its fourth anniversary.

Then, on Facebook (of course) I learned that Atomic Comics, a Valley institution for 25 years, had closed. All four locations. The end.

I was numb for most of the next two days. But what followed immediately involved hours of keeping one eye on Facebook commiserating and Twitter conversations while reaching out to contacts and doing research as I sought, first, to verify and ultimately to document the reaction to the startling news. Because that ultimately became the story — the reaction. While this wasn’t a national disaster and only involved several dozen people losing their jobs, it also represented the loss of an influential part of the community — and Nerdvana — suddenly wiped off the retail map.

Needless to say, it sucked the air out of any plans I had to celebrate Nerdvana’s birthday — although my evil twin good friend Jonathan Simon said a few kind words over at his excellent Arizona nerdblog, Lightning Octopus. But the ideas we’re kicking around for next year’s fifth anniversary will more than make up for it — though only time, and getting out there more to see the best our state’s pop culture community has to offer, will fill the void left by Mike Malve’s dream.

Atomic Comics was by no means the only place to get fresh ink or back issues in the AZ — and opinion has always been sharply divided on whether it was the best. I think, for all its problems, it came pretty darn close, and in my experience the people there always did their best to represent and serve Arizona fanboys and fangirls. Now it’s gone, but many of those same people will remain in the local comics community — indeed, some of the Atomic crew were back at work Wednesday getting new comics out when Phoenix’s Samurai Comics set up shop in a vacant storefront next to Mesa’s shuttered Atomic. Owner Mike Banks knew it was crucial to act fast if he was going to do this, but the enterprise wasn’t motivated only by self-interest: His operation became a sort of mini-distributor to other local comic book stores, using his position in the industry to get shipments originally meant for Atomic stores and making sure other businesses had the stock they needed to meet a sudden increase in demand.

Hopefully, many Atomic workers will be employed for years to come if Samurai’s first foothold in the East Valley endures.

So while Malve’s stores are gone, his influence will remain — and although he may be out of business, Banks said Malve’s already played a crucial role in getting those comics in people’s hands on time when most of us would be catatonic. In a bitter twist, the week after his business closed down was probably one of the busiest in Malve’s career. It’s too soon for anyone, including the man himself, to say what the future holds, but the same drive that created one of the nation’s most well-known and respected small businesses will find an outlet. Don’t count him out.

The real story, as I see it, is this: Spend your money where your interests are met with passion. We all have less to spend these days, but the people who sell the stuff we geek out about are in the same boat, and it’s often a lot closer to sinking than we might ever suspect. When there’s a business that meets your needs, and does it well because the people there love doing it, support it when you can. Because just like the rest of us, they probably worry about the future, too.

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