A good comic book store is hard to find. One of the biggest reasons I fell out of comic book collecting as a hobby (besides space and expense) was a lack of options for buying comics. While the state of Vermont is home to some longtime mainstays, making a trip into Burlington to visit a venue like Earthprime Comics pick up my weekly subscriptions isn't something that's super feasible for me these days.
You can imagine my excitement, in turn, when I learned that a new comic book shop would be opening up just a few minutes away from my home in Williston, VT. Owned and managed by Rory Malone, Champion Comics & Coffee offers a robust selection of comic books, gaming gear, and as the name suggests - steaming java.
Rory was kind enough to respond to a few questions for me about his new business, his background with comics, and his hopes for the future.
Stew Shearer: Tell me about yourself! I know that Champion Comics & Coffee is a new direction for you. What did you do before this?
Rory Malone: I’m originally from Alaska and came to Vermont in 2000 for law school. Before my wife and I opened up Champion Comics and Coffee I spent the previous 18 years as a public defender here in Vermont, working in Montpelier, Franklin and Grand Isle Counties, and finally as the main public defender in Lamoille County. I always thought I would retire as a pubic defender. It’s more akin to a calling than a job, and for a long time it was how I defined myself.
There is a high burnout rate among PDs, but that tends to hit people early in their careers. I always found the work incredibly fulfilling and rewarding, and I thought that was enough. However, as time went on, I kept getting asked if I was happy with my job. That was a totally different question, and one I didn’t really anticipate.
When I started actually thinking about it, I realized I was not happy with the work. A good bit of that was due to the pandemic and its impact on how the job changed, the lack of client contact, the lack of progress because of pandemic-related issues, and the sudden confluence of work and home life. All of it added to the conclusion that I was not happy. I talked about it with my wife, and we decided I needed a change. Leaving the PD world for private practice was not enough of a change, so we decided to go in an entirely new direction, focusing on something that would make me happy, offer some flexibility, and lower stakes.
SS: What was your history with comic books before opening the shop?
RM: I’ve always liked comic books and superheroes in general. It goes as far back as loving Spider-Man on the Electric Company; waking up early on Saturdays to watch the Super Friends and Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends cartoons.
As kids we always had comics around. I read those old Richie Rich, Casper, Dot, and Archie comics. My mom used to use those digest comics as a way to keep me quiet while she was pushing me around in the shopping cart at the store. I started collecting comics in the mid 1980s when a friend introduced me to the Uncanny X-Men. I still remember reading Uncanny X-Men 133 and being introduced to Wolverine as he carved up the security guards at the Hellfire Club during the Dark Phoenix saga. I recall thinking he was the coolest thing I’d ever seen and just wanting to read and learn more about him. I was hooked.
I collected X-Men from that point on and branched out into Marvel’s other mutant titles: X-Factor, Excalibur, then The Hulk, Iron-Man,and of course a few “Spider” titles, Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man and Web of Spider-Man. I faithfully collected for about 8-10 years but it was difficult in Alaska to get access to comics. My “local” comic shop, Bosco’s in Anchorage, was hundreds of miles away.
I went to college at the University of South Carolina and stopped collecting comics while at school, and really for about 10 years after that. My collection was boxed up with my dad in Alaska, eventually making its way to a storage unit before it was lost to a fire while I was in law school. I came back to comics by reading a run of She-Hulk written by Charles Soule. She-Hulk is a lawyer when not off superhero-ing, and the Soule run was lawyer accurate enough to pique my interest.
Once I read it I was hooked and started devouring the past years’ comics.
The creation of apps and digital comics allowed me to access back catalogs for everything. I tore through titles like Batman, Detective Comics, The Sandman, more X-Men, Daredevil, Spider-Man, and lots of Star Wars titles, but also a lot of companies that were just getting started when I stopped collecting. Dark Horse, Image, and newer publishers like Boom or Dynamite. Now I read less and less of the large publishers and more of the smaller titles like Something’s Killing the Children (Boom) or Saga (Image). I still keep up to date on She-Hulk and have a loose knowledge of most other titles from reading previews.
SS: Why did you decide to make Champion Comics a coffee shop in addition to a comic book store?
RM: We decided to put Comics and Coffee together because the numbers for comics alone didn’t make financial sense. Sadly, we couldn’t stay open just selling monthly titles. My wife and I looked at sales numbers for everything we sell and still thought we needed another hook. I’ve always liked coffee, and the markup on a cup is significantly better than on a book, so it made some sense. I like the idea of someone getting a cup of coffee and browsing our stacks, and it seems like our customers do as well.
SS: You don't just sell comics and coffee! You also sell supplies for tabletop RPGs. Do you have any plans to host games in the future?
RM: We do sell gaming items and games. I we always planned on selling some RPG’s because there is a good crossover between comic fans and D&D folks. What we didn’t anticipate was the literal outcry in Williston for a place to game. We’re currently pivoting to get more tables and rearrange our floor space to accommodate gaming in-store. We should have that done in May (hopefully).
SS: I noticed, while browsing the shop, that you have a pretty thorough selection of comic books and graphic novels aimed at younger readers. Why is that a priority for you?
RM: Looking at our collection, we tried to look at what was selling. We sell comics, trade paperbacks, which are typically made of a collection of multiple successive monthly editions of the title collected in a single book, Omnibuses (much, much, much larger version of trade paperbacks), graphic novels, manga, and kids graphic novels and comics.
The sales numbers for manga in the US are increasing at a near exponential rate, and kid’s graphic novels are up something like 60% in the last few years. When we saw those numbers we knew both needed to have a significant place in our collection. I remember reading those Archie comics, or that first X-Men comic.
I also have a 7-year-old daughter, and the store needs to be a place that’s welcoming to her. I want to be a place that can introduce kids to these characters, or other characters and stories they’ll enjoy for a lifetime. We strive to have that in our collection.
SS: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions!