Twenty years since purchasing Heroes, Alan Bahr still anxiously waits to see what goodies will walk through his doors.
If you live in the South Bay, chances are you’re aware of Heroes Comics, even if you’ve never read a comic book in your life. The shop has been open since 1985 and in its current location since 1990, and its sign—“HEROES” in black block letters accentuated by an “O” that resembles Captain America’s shield—dominates the East Campbell Avenue and Winchester Boulevard intersection. You might say it’s the unofficial gateway to downtown Campbell.
But take a closer look. Step over the threshold for the first time and be transported to a lush collector’s paradise of trading cards, action figures, graphic novels, and vintage comics. Original art adorns the walls while posters cover nearly every inch of the ceiling. If you’re looking for an out-of-print release or a rare alternate cover, chances are it’s here, lovingly tucked away on an overstuffed shelf.
After you speak with Alan Bahr, the shop’s owner for over a decade, it becomes clear that while the shop may be a business, its walls are an outgrowth and celebration of his own love for comic collecting. The decor seems to substantiate his belief that comic dealers aren’t a lot different than the collectors they sell to.
Though he’s lived in the Bay Area since 1985, Alan is native to Bagley, Minnesota. Bagley is a small town, and in his early years, Alan recalls picking up comics from the small selections of the only two local drug stores that sold them. Reading DC titles like Batman and Superman as a young child led to Marvel’s X-Men and Avengers issues in his early teens. But he fell out of collecting a few years later, gravitating toward cars and girls until he picked up the hobby again in college.
“I don’t think [collecting comics] was something that you were ashamed of in those days, but it wasn’t something that you would broadcast,” he recalls. “Now it really is much more mainstream and acceptable than it ever was.”
Settling in California came as a result of knowing the right people at the right time. A friend had moved to the Bay Area for a tech job and needed a roommate. Alan was fresh out of college and welcomed the offer to relocate, ending up in sales positions at Cyprus for more than a decade. When he had the chance to purchase the Heroes shop in 1995, he jumped at it. “It seemed like an opportunity that would be fun to try,” he says. He’s never looked back, and he’s still drawn in every day by the mystery of what might be in someone else’s collection.
As both a fan and a vendor, he particularly treasures original art pieces because each one is unique. And he still picks up World War II–era comics for his own collection whenever he can, even though nowadays his personal interests are largely satisfied by the shop’s inventory.
“When you’re a collector, every day to some degree is a treasure hunt, whether you go to a shop on your lunch break or go to a flea market when you’re in town,” he notes. “You never know what you’re going to find in that box. The greatest thing about owning the shop is all the stuff that walks in. It gets me up and going every day.”
It’s obvious that Alan values the rapport he’s been able to establish with his clientele. He says that 80 percent of his customers return weekly to check new inventory, and some have been popping in for over 20 years. When asked why comic books in particular seem to elicit such a passionate response from fans, he smiles and says, “Comics have a magical quality. For some people, when they hold an old comic book, it makes them feel like a 10-year-old again.”
Inside the cramped walls of the Winchester shop, customers get to experience the “a-ha moments” for which collectors live. Heroes Comics allows Alan to give back to the culture he fell in love with when he first picked up a Batman release in the back of a Bagley drugstore all those years ago.
Written by Brandon Roos
Photography by Daniel Garcia
This article originally appeared in Issue 8.0 Explore.