Aw Yeah Comics is looking to be an 'Aw Yeah' addition to downtown Skokie.
The shop at 4933 Oakton St. is sort-of open for business. While their official grand opening is May 5, doors are still open to customers in the meantime.
Art Baltazar, one of three owners at Aw Yeah Comics, is also a cartoonist for DC Comics. The artist gets to draw iconic characters like Superman, Batman and Aquaman. His style, however, is more cartoonish and animated; all the characters look cute and huggable. That's why it's no surprise that his biggest fans are children and parents.
Yet Baltazar wasn't drawing for DC Comics on Monday, he was painting his walls. While Aw Yea Comics is open for business, Baltazar and company still need to display their inventory. The creativity, however, is starting to shape up.
Inside, colorful red and yellow walls surround the store's interior. A coffee table stacked with children themed comic books and four rocking chairs sits in the center. Comics are organized in white cardboard boxes and a plethora of toys are being prepped for display. For a "soft open," the store seems inviting.
"I have a longstanding theory," said Marc Hammond, Baltazar's business partner. "A business should be like the bandstand on Main Street, USA. That's where people congregate, get together. That's what we want at our shop.
"There's this misconception that kids and families don't go to comic book stores," he added. "We want kids. We carry stuff for kids, families and the 18-and-older crowd."
Hammond recently made the move from Orlando to his new storefront in Skokie about two months ago. He said it's important that children still read books, and what they're offering is a creative spin to get kids to read.
Fans already lining up
"I drove delivery vans, worked at office max, cleaned toilets, worked at pizza places - I did everything to just pay my bills," Baltazar said. "I never accepted a promotion or raise because I never wanted to get too comfortable. I always wanted to create comic books."
All that discipline seems to have paid off. During our interview with Aw Yeah Comics customer Jamie Curran stopped by to snag a signed copy of DC Super Pets for her 5-year-old son, Cohen. The family of three made the trip from Mount Prospect to Skokie to check out the new store and get an autograph.
Baltazar's journey started with his self published series, Patrick the Wolf Boy. The children's themed comic caught the attention of DC Comic executives who were looking to reach a younger audience. Now, Baltazar is the main man behind DC Super Pets.
"I have two jobs - my full-time job at DC Comics and this store," Baltazar said. "I think I squeeze about nine days out of a week."
Why downtown Skokie?
It was a no-brainer for Hammond and Baltazar to open their store in downtown Skokie. Located about two blocks away from the upcoming Yellow Line stop at Oakton Street and Skokie Boulevard, the business owners saw an opportunity to bring something the village doesn't have.
"The thing with Chicago - we love Chicago - is there are a lot of comic book stores," Hammond said. "We want to be a destination; a bigger player on a smaller stage. That philosophy extends to the community. We want to be active and hopefully our traffic spills over to other stores."
The pair added that they choose their location because there are nearby schools - three to be exact - and no other comic shops in Skokie. The upcoming Yellow Line stop also sold them on the space, they said.
"We're not a comic bookstore in Skokie," Hammond added. "We're thee comic bookstore in Skokie."
Aw Yeah Comics will be holding their grand opening on May 5. Baltazar will be signing comics with author and Aw Yeah Comics co-owner Franco Aureliani. To find out more on Aw Yeah Comics, check out their Facebook page.