For Dan and Katie Merritt, the love of comic books is a family affair. For 20 years, the married couple has been the owners of Green Brain Comics on Michigan Avenue in Dearborn.
The vibrant neighborhood--anchored by the City Hall ArtSpace Lofts-- is becoming a destination and Green Brain Comics is one of its top attractions. Featuring thousands of comic books and graphic novels of many different mediums, Green Brain Comics has something for everyone. There are the classics from DC and Marvel, but there are also engaging and eclectic graphic novels whose subject matter range from the maniacal and morose to lighthearted and fun. There are also dozens of imports from Asia and Europe that are sure to pique interest.
With a dedication to building loyalty, the store offers (and is expanding) a weekly subscription program. The Merritts have an intense commitment to building community in Dearborn and among fans of the genre through regular special events including book signings, live performances, and the area’s biggest Free Comic Book Day party.
But it's the knowledgeable, friendly customer service and relaxed atmosphere that makes Green Brain Comics so special. We sat down with Dan and Katie to talk about what they have learned most over the last 20 years.
Metromode: What developed your interest in comics?
Katie: I don’t know if there was any one thing that helped me develop my interest. Since an early age, I’d always gravitated to cartoons and comic strips. But, it wasn’t until I was 18 that I walked into my first comic book store. Then I realized that there was this whole world, I was just amazed at how many things were out there that I never knew existed.
Dan: I essentially taught myself to read with comics. My mom recognized that right away and she just fed me a steady stream. Because of that, I’m more familiar with the Marvel comics from the 70s, and the type of material that right now is super hot. It’s nice having that background. Right now, I read comics from every different genre, I do the purchasing so it's important for me to know what’s what.
Metromode: Is that one of the things you two had in common when you met?
Katie: We had mutual friends, we actually knew each other before I started working at the comic book store. But, when we would all good together it was good to have someone to ask, ‘What are you reading? What’s a good story?’”
Dan: Having a friend that worked a comic store was great, having a girlfriend who worked at a comic store was even better, being married to the woman who ran a comic book store… you would think I crested there. But then, being married to and running a comic book store with my significant other is a fun growth experience.
Metromode: The publishing industry has had a lot of ups and downs, how has that been for Green Brain?
Katie: It creates a lot of ups and downs in our business, and we just have to try to predict it and get ahead of it and know that that’s just a part of the business.
Metromode: How do you characterize your commitment to the Dearborn community and the region?
Dan: While we don’t live in Dearborn, this is the place where we spend most of our waking hours. The city and the business have helped us grow. It’s taught me a lot the responsibility we have here in the city to bolster the community and the neighborhood and to build and promote the city to our customers that don’t live in the city.
With the city hall building that has become affordable housing for artists, City Hall Artspace is an important anchor for us here in the neighborhood. And I was with the city and the DDA through that entire process. Now we have a lot of friends and colleagues who live there in the old city hall. It’s shown us the positive effects that we can have as a couple of business owners.
We get customers from all over Wayne county, as far out as Ann Arbor and the northern suburbs. It’s important for us to represent Dearborn for its strengths as well as it being a destination city. This neighborhood is being developed as an arts and culture district. I like to think that over the last 20 years working with the city, I’ve had a lot of input into that development and the direction we are going.
Katie: We read the books, we follow the stories, so people know that they can come in and ask us ‘what do you know’ or ‘what’s good?’ If we don’t read it, there is someone on staff who reads or follows different series. So, people know they can turn to us for information.
Metromode: You do a lot of interactive events, what drives that?
Katie: Part of our desire is to just have a community place. We just wanted to be a place where people of all backgrounds can come, and have that common ground in interest. We used to jokingly refer to ourselves as the Cheers of comic book stores. We know most of our customers by name and they start to get to know each other.
We actually have a lot of customers who have met other customers here and have become lifelong friends. We just had our first wedding in the store. It was a former customer who became an employee, and an artist who came to some of our artist events and that was how they met, and they were married right here in the building.
Dan: And i got ordained to officiate.
Metromode: I know you carry a lot of local artists and press. Why was that important to you?
Katie: The quality sells itself. There are a lot of really talented artists in the Metro Detroit area. We have some locally-created books that people really wait for.
Dan: I think we are also known to and have a responsibility to the larger comic creator community. We’ve built up a large contact list of creators who appreciate what we do. There’s a big difference in the comic book community and the larger novel community, comic creators are closer to the ground and more accessible in general. They’re craftspeople who do the time and create something special from the heart.