Lisa Vidaurri Bowling
Special to the Monroe News April 16, 2022
Wonderworld Comics is a new tenant at the Mall of Monroe, taking the space once occupied by Game Stop.
Owned and operated by Dennis Barger, the store offers a wide variety of vintage comics, games, toys, and Beanie Babies displayed in a retro, 1990s style.
The Carleton resident, who started collecting comics at age 11, has been in the comic book industry for more than 30 years and has owned businesses in the Downriver area.
Last December, he was celebrating his 50th birthday at Phoenix Theatres and was “shocked to see the number of people at the mall.”
The activity piqued his curiosity and he contacted mall owners about opening a retro comic store where he would sell old comics, games, toys, movies, and general merchandise.
In addition to selling, Barger also buys comics, games, and toys.
He said 99 percent of comic book stores in the country relegate their vintage offerings to long white boxes located at the back of the store with a $1 sign.
“I’ve always said this stuff is too gorgeous to shove in a box and I’ve been playing with the idea of putting those books on a wall so people could see all that gorgeous art, charge slightly more for it and get people to buy it,” he said. “We’re going to be using a 90s theme. Everything that was hot in the 90s, we’ll be doing it.”
Barger’s business strategy is to offer bundle pricing where retailers offer different products as a package deal and sell them to customers at a lower price than it would cost to purchase them individually. Barger estimates a high percentage of his sales stem from the bundle pricing strategy.
Branden Morrison and his family stumbled onto the new store by surprise while they were waiting to see a matinée movie. While Branden surveyed comics books, his wife April and sons, Bourbon, 8 and Gibson, 7, searched through sticker bins.
“This place is awesome. I didn’t know it was here,” Morrison said. “This place will give me a reason to come to the mall.”
Barger has seen a correlation with sales and comic book movies recently featured at the mall. On the day Wonderworld Comics opened, he sold large volumes of “Sonic the Hedgehog,” “Batman,” “Spiderman” and “Spawn” comics.
“One thing the comic book industry has been good at is refreshing the brand for the next generation,” he said. “Classically, from the late 80s to the early 90s is when most of the characters got a new look. Spider-Man got the black suit, then the black suit became (the character) Venom and at that same time, animated series like ‘Batman’ were being developed and produced.”
Despite a pandemic and challenging economic times, comic stores continue to set up shop across the country.
“I’ve been overwhelmed by how well we’ve been received,” Barger added. “I want to make comics affordable and fun.”
In the future, Barger plans to appeal to players of the game Pogs and offer retro Pog tournaments. Pogs is a game that was popular in the mid-1990s using cardboard discs. He will also continue working on the former Denniston Cinema at 6495 N. Monroe St., a location he purchased in 2017.
For now, Barger will focus on Free Comic Book Day scheduled for May 7. The event will include free comics, special offers and guest appearances like “The Simpsons” and “Futurama” comic artist Bill Morrison, the co-founder of Bongo Comics and “Star Wars” actor Jerome Blake.