Origin story: Dearborn's Green Brain Comics

With Dan and Katie Merritt, comic books are a family business. The couple has owned and operated Green Brain Comics on Michigan Avenue in Dearborn since 1999. And they've been around comics even longer than that. 
It's that decades-worth of comic book knowledge that has established Green Brain's reputation as one of the region's go-to sources for the newest comic books and graphic novels, from the most mainstream superhero comics to the more obscure and offbeat independent books.

Katie Merritt first started working at a Wyandotte comic book store as a teenager and is nearing her 29th year in the industry. Her husband Dan began when the couple purchased Green Brain from former owner Gary Reed in 1999. Even their daughter--now an adult who grew up in the shop--works at a comic book shop out in California, a fact her parents get a kick out of. It's the family dynamic that has fueled Green Brain's growth throughout the years.

"I think the fact that we do this together is a perfect balance. It gives us the opportunity to pursue our own things outside the shop and not feel like it's all-consuming," says Katie. 

For Katie, it was a simple retail job as a teenager that completely shaped the course of her life. Visiting her future brother-in-law at Comic Gallery in Wyandotte, and soon started working there herself. That location closed and she moved to then-owner Gary Reed's other location in Dearborn, Comics Plus. Katie would go on to manage that location for ten years and meet her future husband, Dan Merritt.

When Reed wanted out of his comic book business, he first offered the store to long-time manager Katie. Unsure if she wanted to take on the responsibility of owning a business, she consulted with her husband. Dan, wholly unsatisfied with his career in manufacturing, jumped at the notion of the Merritts owning the comic book store. A purchase was completed and a name change was in order. Green Brain Comics was born.
Dan swears he can find a book to suit just about anybody. He says this is mainly due to the comic industry's increased diversity in offerings, especially over the past ten or so years. There are more types of books, more styles of art, and more topics addressed. It's a direction the comic book industry and the Merritts have embraced.

"Comic books aren't just for teenage boys anymore," says Dan.

While comic book stores can suffer from an insider's club mentality, a place where superfans gather to discuss the well-studied minutiae of a character that has been around for decades, that's not the vibe the Merritts look to cultivate. Green Brain isn't a clubhouse; it's a bookstore. The books just have pictures in them.

"We want it to be like the Barnes & Noble of graphic novels, of comic books," says Katie. "Anyone can come in. Families, people that don't know anything about comics can know that they can feel comfortable here and say 'I don't know anything about this' and no one here is going to make them feel bad, that they're the noob."

It's that desire for inclusivity that has spilled out of the store and into the neighborhoods. The Merritts are actively involved in the east Dearborn downtown community. Dan is chairperson of the East Dearborn Downtown Development Authority, and the couple frequently works with the Arab American National Museum on events. They once hosted President and Chief Creative Officer of DC Comics Geoff Johns, who created a new line of Green Lantern comics where the superhero is a Muslim Arab-American born in Dearborn. Dan is also working with the Dearborn Symphony Orchestra, curating a selection of superhero movie pieces that the orchestra will perform in April. Free Comic Book Day, kids outreach, family-friendly events and more, are all coming out of Green Brain Comics.

This January 21, Green Brain will host a tabletop gaming event, free and open to the public. It's just one more way for the Merritts to reach out to the community and invite them into their world.

Green Brain Comics is located at 13936 Michigan Ave. in Dearborn.

Name: Katie Merritt

Year Green Brain Comics opened:
The shop opened as Comics Plus (owned by Gary Reed) in 1985. I started working here in 1988. We became owners in 1999 and changed the name to Green Brain in 2001.

One interesting job you had before running Green Brain Comics:
When I was 14 and 15, I worked in a Dairy Queen-style ice cream shop. There were easy days and challenging days, but mostly I ate a lot of ice cream. 
What's the best part about running Green Brain Comics:
Making people happy by providing an engaging source of entertainment and a place to hang out with others who share their interests. Working with people who also share this passion and are fun to be with. Basically, I get to go to work every day and talk about things I love with people who love the same things.

 Your favorite comic book/graphic novel of all time:
There is no way to pick one favorite among the thousands of great books, but one of my favorite series is Love and Rockets by the Hernandez Brothers. It was one of the first comics I read when getting into them in the 80's and one of the reasons I fell in love with the medium. It showed that great comics don't have to be about superheroes. I love the intensely deep world building and that the characters have aged along with me for 30 years. 

If you were a comic book/graphic novel character, who would you be:
Right now, I think I would be Wonder Woman so that I could take my magic lasso to Washington D.C.

Name: Dan Merritt

One interesting job you had before running Green Brain Comics: 

I was a machinist for several years before entering the comic book retailing world. One of the things that made machining interesting to me was creative problem solving, and we did plenty of that in the small manufacturing company that I worked for here in Dearborn. It prepared me for running my own business in ways that I never expected. There are little challenges that pop up in the store, and it helps to look at them from all sides to come up with solutions that involve more than just duct tape.

What's the best part about running Green Brain Comics:

The best part about running Green Brain Comics is being surrounded by the medium that I love and spending time with other people that love it as much as I do. My partner Katie, our staff, and our customers, we all love comic books so much. Every day, I get asked to make reading suggestions to customers. It gives me a charge to help find just the right book for that person. And then to see them when they come back in a few weeks for the next issue or volume.

Your favorite comic book/graphic novel of all time: 

One of my favorite writers is Warren Ellis. Several years ago Warren wrote a series called Transmetropolitan. It's the story of a reporter styled after Hunter S. Thompson, who lives and writes in a near future world much like ours. His commentary on that society and the presidential campaign he is hired to cover is fueled by his contempt for it, and his very large appetite for designer drugs. So much that is written about in Transmetropolitan is disturbingly close to what we have experienced over the recent election cycle. For better or worse, this an amazing series that I go back to often for insight, entertainment, and a couple of laughs.

If you were a comic book/graphic novel character, who would you be: 

As corny as it sounds, I've always felt a kinship with Captain America. Not because I am particularly militant, more that I am inspired by his resolve to uphold the values that make us all Americans. Respect, perseverance, and the rights of all Americans have often been a hallmark of the best of Captain America's stories. And particularly, as a comic book retailer, our First Amendment rights are of utmost importance to me. Much like when Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," I use Cap as a role model to remind me that I need to stand up and speak truth to power.
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