James Cagle, co-owner of Rock Bottom Comics

As Rock Bottom Comics celebrates its 45th year, James Cagle still remembers the first time he stepped into the establishment at 11 years old. 

James Cagle’s fascination with comic books started when he was 8 years old. If Cagle behaved and did his weekly chores around the house, a family friend would bring him a stack of comics. A few years into this arrangement, Cagle tore one of the issues, which eventually led Cagle to Rock Bottom Comics. Four decades later, he now manages and co-owns Rock Bottom with founder Glenn Brewer.

In his teenage years, this Columbia native became affectionately known at Rock Bottom as a “shop rat.” He spent nearly every moment there, and at 19, he was offered a job. Then, one morning the manager handed the keys to Cagle. “Don’t f--- this up,” the manager said as he walked off. Since that moment in 1987, Cagle has been a fixture at the store, eager to share his passion with customers. “There are literally people who come down here, who budget an hour of their time, to listen to James talk about comics and movies,” Brewer says.

Who was the first superhero you remember latching on to?

Iron Fist. But, the one I remember more than any other, just being like ‘this is my guy,’ was Iron Man.

What are some of the best comic book runs happening right now?

Jason Aaron’s Thor. He’s been around for five or six years. It’s incredible. The Fantastic Four has a lot of promise to it. Immortal Hulk, I haven’t been able to read a single issue of because it continuously sells out. Marvel’s handling of the Star Wars properties has been phenomenal — particularly Darth Vader.

Why do you think comics attract people across generations?

The combination of the visual art and narrative — it just really comes together. It is accessible, and one of the beautiful things about archetypal characters is that they speak to many people. The fact that there is so many different types of comic books and you can put any type of genre in a comic book.

Do you think Ms. Marvel and other diverse characters have led people into the shop who otherwise might not have sought out comics?

One of the things that Marvel started, and I think DC jumped onto later, was hiring writers outside of the comic industry — screenwriters, television writers. When we had successful diversity in comics, that didn’t hurt. Multiple billion-dollar movies certainly didn’t hurt either. The female reader base is bigger than it’s ever been, and it’s great. At one point a guy would come in and his girlfriend would be like, ‘Ugh.’ And so now I see women bringing their boyfriends in, and the boyfriends clearly not caring about this crap, but they’re putting up with it. I’m like, ‘Oooh, how the times have changed.’

Marvel and DC have ramped up advertising for their respective digital subscription services. How do digital sales affect local shops?

The estimates I’ve been hearing are that at most digital accounts for about 12 percent of the industry. When the trades started coming out — or graphic novels — people were like: ‘Oh my god! The sky is falling! Single issues are gone.’ Of course, it never happened. I know for some people reading is more than just the words. It’s an overall tactile experience. It’s the weight, it’s the feel, it’s the smell. 

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