Hi De Ho Comics draws in fans on Free Comic Book Day

Gordo, an employee at Hi De Ho Comics in Santa Monica, makes sure complimentary comic books are well stocked for Free Comic Book Day.
Gordo, an employee at Hi De Ho Comics in Santa Monica, ensures complimentary comic books are well-stocked for Free Comic Book Day.

“You want a free ‘Watchmen’ poster?” asks Gordo as he sits in front a glass display case with about 15 stacks of different comic books at Hi De Ho Comics & Books with Pictures on Santa Monica Boulevard, a couple blocks away from 3rd Street Promenade.  “Wanna free holiday issue?” he later asks a teenage boy eyeing the free comics.

The store participated in the international Free Comic Book Day Saturday, May 2, and Hi De Ho Comics co-owner Bob Hennessy says there’s been a noticeable number of people coming in for the event.  At the time of this blogger’s visit, there was a steady flow of 30 to 40 customers at any given time in the 2,300-square-foot store.

“Comic books are a subgenre of literature,” says the 60-year-old Hennessy, who co-owns the Santa Monica store with his 59-year-old brother, Mark.  “There are some things that the medium does that other media can’t,” says Bob, sitting in the store’s back office.  “It’s enchanting.”

Now more than ever, he says, great comic book writers and artists are emerging.  More recently, there have been some great non-fiction graphic novels. “It really is good story-telling,” he says, adding that many of the best writers who earn a living elsewhere and stray from comics eventually return to the art form, “not because of the money,” but because they truly love the genre, says Hennessy.

In addition to its bricks-and-mortar front, the store also sells on eBay (where they’ve had over 2,300 transactions) and just recently joined Twitter (“Holy moly, there’s a lot of people here for free comics” someone posted around noon on Saturday).

And despite the constant gloom-and-doom headlines about the economy, Hennessy says his business has managed to stay afloat.

“We have felt it…but not as heavily as the automobile industry,” he says.  “When we first started reading the horror stories in September [2008], I just assumed it would [affect business],” he says.  Americans seemed to internalized the media’s message of “be afraid” when banks were failing and foreclosures were nothing new, and that fear began to take a toll on their business in the fall of 2008, says Hennessy.  But after the smoke began to clear and people were “looking around…[seeing that there were] no bread lines around the corner,” comic book fans came back, he says.  “It’s absolutely getting better.”

Hennessy and his brother grew up reading comic books back when the only means to buy them were through catalogs, before there were stores.  Eventually, the brothers were buying, selling and trading books at conventions.  Finally, they found a storefront in 1977 in West L.A., where rent was only $90 a month (A price the brothers were willing to take a chance on, Hennessy says).  As business grew, the store relocated, and it’s called its current location – the third one so far, which is “as big as we’ve allowed it to get” – ‘home’ since 1982.  Hennessy estimates the number of comics they’ve sold as in “the tens of millions.”

David Moreno, who is perusing the store’s south wall with his friend, Frank Cervantes, always noticed the store as he passed it on Santa Monica Boulevard, but never made time to stop.  It’s his first time stepping into Hi De Ho, he says while clutching “A Death in the Family,” a book in the Batman series (He had always been meaning to catch up on parts of the series, he says).  Rattling off names like Joseph Linsner, Frank Frazetta and other artists of which this blogger is oblivious, the 30-year-old lists just some of his favorites, adding that he usually never shops for anything specific, just “whatever I’m in the mood for.”  He’s currently building his own portfolio, he says, because he’s “hoping to get into the comic business.”

Gordo, who has been working at the store for 14 years, says he hasn’t noticed fans shying away in significant numbers from collecting comics because of the economy.  Many Santa Monica residents work in the film and arts industries and are regular customers, he says.

“It’s the right thing in the right place,” he says.

For more photos, click below.

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