It’s been a roller-coaster year for state’s only Black-owned comics shop
February, Black History Month, was kind to Eric Childs.
KARE-11 News ran a feature about Childs and his Mind’s Eye Comics in Burnsville — Minnesota’s only Black-owned comic book shop.
The network picked up on it, featuring Childs in a national story on NBC News.
But in March, Childs’ dream undeferred almost ran aground.
“COVID-19 strikes, and we completely closed,” said the Burnsville resident and 1997 graduate of Apple Valley High School. “It was like a roller-coaster ride of ‘This is amazing, we didn’t know you were here,’ and then now you’ve got to close your doors.”
With the store closed from March 16 to May 18, Childs mused aloud to assistant manager Neal Wertanen that he might not be able to keep up with the rent and payments to vendors from whom “a tremendous amount of product” is delivered weekly.
Some unexpected help and creation of a GoFundMe page with an achievable $15,000 goal have Childs breathing easier.
“I’m heading there,” he said June 29, explaining that he launched the page after receiving a text from screenwriter, comic book writer and producer Damon Lindelof, whose writing credits include the shows “Lost” and “The Watchmen.” He had caught wind of online conversations about the store’s future and contacted Childs, offering support and promising to send online customer traffic his way.
“It’s just overwhelming,” Childs said of the help from “an army of angels, from places I never would have imagined.”
Love of comics
Childs moved with his family from Kansas City to Minnesota in 1991, the year he went trick-or-treating in the famous Halloween snowstorm dressed as Michael Keaton’s Batman.
The love of comics took hold in fourth grade, when his teacher coaxed the creative but not always diligent student with the promise of a comic book for completed assignments.
“She pulls the drawer open, and she had it all planned out — there were all these comics in there,” said Childs, who chose DC Comics’ “Superman in Space” as his prize. “For me it was like somebody opening up treasure, and it’s just glowing gold coming out of there.”
He was a customer from “day one” at the original Mind’s Eye Comics, which opened in 1998 and was located at the Thomas Lake Shopping Center in Eagan. Childs said he was heartbroken when original owner Andrew Troth announced his retirement two years ago.
Childs didn’t let his day job as a 3D graphic artist for the Travel Tags company get in the way of saving the shop. He closed a purchase deal in April 2018, stayed in Eagan for a month, was unable to come to terms on a new lease and moved what he calls “Mind’s Eye 2.0” to Nicollet Plaza in Burnsville’s Heart of the City.
The shop is highly organized and decidedly unshabby, an aesthetic Childs appreciated when Troth owned the place.
“As a comic guy I don’t mind going to the dungeon and digging and rifling through a bunch of boxes and just seeing what I find,” said Childs, now 41 and a married father of three. “That has its place and its purpose, and it’s still special.”
But it’s not for everyone.
“I have grandmothers coming in here with their grandkids,” Childs said. “I have church members coming in here with youth groups. I have educators coming in here to get things for their school. And they like to be able to come in and browse and peruse the shelves just like at any larger book retailer.”
The shop has merchandise walls — the all-ages wall, the Marvel wall, the DC wall, a new-release wall, a space for indie publishers of superhero books and a section for comics with licensing tie-ins to video games, movies and TV shows.
Black history is presented in a number of historical comics and graphic novels available at Mind’s Eye. Historical figures including Frederick Douglass, Nelson Mandela and James Brown are featured.
“There’s a lot of people coming in who want to support not just Black characters, but Black creative teams,” Child said. “I do reach out to minority creators and publishers.”
He has donated products to Minneapolis charter schools and to an after-school program at the Fred Wells Tennis and Education Center near Fort Snelling.
Comics and graphic novels can be important vessels of literacy and education, he said. And the fictional comics have no shortage of Black heroes.
“Everybody knows the Black Panther,” said Childs, who names Spawn as one of his favorite Black characters.
“You don’t know, because Spawn’s completely covered in a suit, so you never see his face,” he said. “There’s Black Goliath, there’s Falcon, there’s Blade — Wesley Snipes popularized Blade (in the movies). ... Wesley Snipes brought Blade back from the pages of Marvel and actually made Blade super cool.”
These days visitors to Mind’s Eye are asked to mask up and sanitize hands before shopping.
“Financially, it’s never been easy,” said Childs, who would like one day quit his day job and just run the shop. “We’ve managed to navigate the terrain that was out in front of us.”