Hidden among the shadows of comic book shop giants Tate’s and Past, Present, Future is a smallish, friendly, gem of a store store that’s kinda, sorta off the beaten path (well, off of 441 anyway). Unlike some of its larger competitors, which have a reputation for dealing with customers rudely and dismissively, the folks at Docking Bay 94 treat their customers like family.
The bigger stores can’t compete with Docking Bay because choosing a comic book shop isn’t about the product; the books are the same everywhere, and shops can special order just about anything that isn’t in stock. All mainstream comics ship out from the same distributor, Diamond, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to get the same products at any local shop. No, choosing a comic book shop is all about the human experience, and Docking Bay 94 is the warmest, friendliest and most inclusive comic shop in South Florida, which is why I’ve stuck with them even after moving 150 miles away.
I had a chance to chat with John Miller, one of the owners of Docking Bay 94, about owning a comic book store, his favorite books, and a personal journey that John has been sharing with his customers.
FGS: When did Docking Bay 94 open?
John: I opened the shop in 1998. I actually bought an existing comic store…so I had an advantage of having an established customer base to work from.
FGS: When did you know that you wanted to open a comic book store?
John: I guess I always thought I would be involved in the comic industry in some way from a young age (I had dreams of writing and or drawing comic books and still do). I purchased my first comics as a kid [in Cleveland] at the local drug store off a spinner rack. I soon discovered that there were actually entire stores dedicated to selling nothing but comic books! It was worth the trip by rapid transit and the city bus to get there!
FGS: There are dozens of shops in South Florida; what sets yours apart from the crowd?
John: I guess what sets me apart as a shop owner is the passion I still have for the industry. I talk to some shop owners, and they tell me that they can’t remember the last time they read a new issue of anything. That would drive me nuts. People love to come in and just shoot the s#@! about comics, movies, or the latest episode of Walking Dead. Friendly, personal service is the key. We also do mail order, but most of our mail orders are customers who moved from the area, discovered they weren’t crazy about their new local comic shop and have us ship them their books.
FGS: Speaking of the personal connections you share with your customers, you’ve shared the story of your weight loss journey with your customers and on Facebook. How was that been? Have people generally been supportive?
John: I decided to share my weight loss via Facebook for a few reasons. The main one was accountability. Knowing my friends and loved would be reading my posts encouraged me to try harder every week! And their support has been overwhelming! I have a few haters; its funny how supportive people can be until you weigh less then they do.
FGS: Well, you’ve lost over 200 pounds, and that’s awesome! I’ve been following your weekly updates on Facebook. Definitely putting the out-of-shape comic book nerd stereotype to rest. Speaking of comic book nerdiness, which books are you looking forward to this month?
John: Image has really been killing it this year! With books like Fatale, Peter Panzerfaust, The Manhattan Projects, Prophet, No Place Like Home, the list goes on. I don’t think I’ve read this many Image books in my life. They are definitely cornering the creative market for comics.
Upcoming new books, I’m curious about Earth Two #1 from DC, It will be cool to see the JSA back in Action and the different takes on the other heroes, written By James Robinson of Starman fame, another all time favorite of mine.
FGS: Looking back, which book was the biggest disappointment for you this year?
John: Biggest disappointment? That award goes to the Marvel Point One #1 one-shot. It’s a sore subject, and we eat many copies of this over-sized one-shot that promised “everything changing after this!” Marvel really needs to stop saying that about all their “event” book.
FGS: What’s in the future for Docking Bay 94?
John: It’s been an exciting year with the DC relaunch, the explosion of top talent at Image, and the success of series like the Walking Dead. We sold so many copies of the graphic novels this week alone after the Season Finale; people want to know the rest of the story. I was thrilled about Kevin Smith’s Comic Book Men TV show. I support any show that reminds the public that we, comic shops, are still here and more relevant than ever.
The future is looking very bright for DB94, with Free Comic Book Day fast approaching, and a big comic book movie summer with Avengers, Batman and the new Spider-Man movies. Hopefully this will spawn even more fans and new customers.
FGS: Thanks, John!
This is the first article in our new feature, “My Local Comic Book Store.” If you want your favorite shop featured on Florida Geek Scene, send us an email.