A cure for all your comic needs in University Village
By Rachel Beilsmith
The bright red-painted door of First Aid Comics serves as a portal between the blustery streets of Chicago’s University Village, and a warm, colorful space surrounded by the vibrant images of super heroes and the soft aroma of freshly printed pages.
A row of windows lines the top of an exposed brick wall, each window sill populated with various action figures and models, many of them from Star Wars. Shelves upon shelves of comic books cover every wall of the shop, drawing the eye back through a seemingly endless library of artwork.
“There’s so much,” says owner Tom Seymour, 40, gesturing to his shop, which he opened in September 2012. “If you just look at the wall, to you it’s a wash of color, whereas my eye sees each individual image and what story lies within.”
You don’t have to be a hardcore comic enthusiast to enjoy a visit to First Aid. What keeps his customers coming back is the friendly way that Seymour interacts with them, no matter their level of familiarity with comics and nerd-culture in general.
“I love it because the atmosphere is so friendly,” says Rachael Mignin, 21, a friend of mine that first introduced me to First Aid Comics. “You won’t feel like an idiot if you’re not super into comics. It’s a lot less intimidating than other places, where it’s like you’re expected to already know everything about comics. It’s like walking into an ESPN studio without knowing anything about sports. There’s no pressure [at First Aid Comics]. You can just come in and talk to Tom, and he’ll have something to suggest for you.”
According to Seymour, the shop serves a diverse base of customers from the surrounding community and well beyond.
“I get a lot of people who just drop by… and honestly those are my favorite customers,” Seymour says.
All are welcome, from long-time comic book fans to students at nearby UIC to kids from the local elementary schools to young professionals looking to relax.
First Aid also serves as a local gathering place, where once a week Seymour hosts gaming nights for popular trading card games like “Magic: The Gathering.” The shop recently hosted a Pokémon-themed birthday party for a local elementary school student.
“It’s not unusual to find a few gamers in the store who just want to play,” says Seymour, “so we will set them up a table and they will just hang at the store with their friends.”
The shop is quiet, except for the faint chords of a barely audible rock song playing on the radio behind the register. A small table and chairs in the middle of the room invites customers to sit while flipping through a favorite edition or exploring something entirely new.
Seymour keeps his shelves well-stocked with the classics: “Watchmen,” “V for Vendetta,” a variety of Marvel and DC titles like “The Avengers” and “Batman.” According to Seymour, these are the staples that every good comic book shop should have.
However, there is never-ending stream of new and independent publications that Seymour also works to keep up with, to reflect the diverse patronage of his shop.
“The new stuff… that’s really where the challenge in this business lies. Every week I spend a lot of money getting the brand-new stuff…and it’s very hard to figure out how many and what to get. Because once it’s in the door, I’ve paid for it. So it’s mine. And if nobody buys it, then it remains mine,” Seymour says, laughing.
Seymour’s love of comics began at the age of 10, after years of persuasion by his friends. “I wasn’t into it. I thought they were stupid,” Seymour says. Until one day, he finally gave in. “I read an X-men book and it was really cool. After that, any chore I could do that would garner me some sort of money, every dime I could muster… it would be spent on comics.”
Flash back to 15 years ago, Seymour is a 25-year-old college graduate and living in Lincoln Park. A comic book shop opens up in the neighborhood and he seizes the opportunity. He walks in one day to see if they’re hiring.
“I got interviewed the next day… and I told the owner that he would be making a big mistake if he didn’t hire me,” Seymour says, “and so he hired me.” Within a year, Seymour became the manager.
After managing the shop for seven years, Seymour parted with what had been his first job in a comic book shop.
“I was starting to get a little older at that point, so I was thinking, am I really gonna work in comics for the rest of my life?” he says. “I should do a grown-up thing… get a real job with health benefits.”
A friend from college convinced Seymour to join him in a property management business, where he stayed for five and half years. “It was awful, just awful,” Seymour says. “Finally my girlfriend was like ‘My God you’re depressed every day… I just can’t handle you anymore!’” So once again, Seymour decided it was time to return to working with what he loves.
A friend with whom Seymour had worked during his years as a manager at that first comic book shop, James Nurss, had started the original First Aid Comics (a play on Nurss’ last name) in Hyde Park five years earlier. They decided together that two shops would be better than one, and Seymour chose to open the second First Aid Comics on Taylor Street.
I have always been fascinated by comic books, but severely underwhelmed by past experiences in comic book shops where I was treated like an alien after admitting that I have not read every single issue of Batman or that I can’t recite Stan Lee’s repertoire. First Aid Comics showed me that comic books can truly be enjoyable for everyone. I even walked out with a comic book of my very own.
“That’s my whole M.O.,” Seymour says, “I wanna find out what you’ve read in the past… novels, fiction, science-fiction, even romance… movies, television, whatever you like. And I will find something here you will enjoy.”