Renowned local comic book store celebrates history, pop culture

Colton Dempsey

Austin Books & Comics has been a local celebrity hot spot for 38 years. Robert Rodriguez comes in regularly, and Michael Cera, on Jonah Hill’s recommendation, bought his first copy of “Scott Pilgrim” from Austin Books only to be cast in the film adaptation six months later. 

Opened in 1977, Austin Books is Central Texas’ largest and longest running comic book store. The recipient of multiple Eisner Awards for best retailer, the store recently celebrated its anniversary by cutting the price of bagged and boarded issues in half. Store manager Brandon Zhuern has been working at the store since 2004.

“The highlight of [my] week was coming into the store and talking to people,” Zhuern said. “I basically just begged for a job.”

Unlike many other comic book shops, Austin Books & Comics displays their comics on wooden shelves rather than storing them in crates. Their walls are lined with comic book paraphernalia including toys, posters and games.

Zhuern said there has been a resurgence in public interest in comics since the boom of “The Avengers” and other superhero films. He said he frequently finds himself being approached by new readers for
recommendations. 

“That’s the advantage of a brick and mortar store,” Zhuern said. “We have a whole team of experts on comics that can help find what you’re looking for, even if you don’t know what you’re looking for.”

Austin Books has been an employer of UT students and graduates since its inception. UT alumna Katie Riggs began working at Austin Books while enrolled at the University in 2008 and said she still finds the work refreshing. 

“Everything’s constantly changing,” Riggs said. “There are new books coming out every week, so the stock is never the same and since we live so close to the University, there are new students coming in every semester, so there are always new faces.”

Riggs said she finds herself more intrigued by the comics who come into the store. While she says she tries to keep a “poker face,” she struggles to do so when an exceptionally rare comic gets in her hands. 

“You’ll always have the people that come through like, ‘Oh yes, my great grandfather died and this was in a box in his attic,’ and it turns out to be the first appearance of some hugely important character,” Riggs said. “As nerdy as this sounds, that’s as cool as celebrities coming into the store.”

UT alumnus Dan Rucker, who also works at the store, said he frequently finds himself in awe of the shop’s thousands of titles.

“One of the best things about working here is just the sheer magnitude of being able to find so much cool stuff under one roof,” Rucker said.

One of the store’s most utilized services is their weekly subscription, which reserves titles for customers weekly. The store’s employees varied in their recommendations for ongoing series. 

“I’m really enjoying ‘The Wicked + The Divine’ by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie,” Riggs said. “It’s really dramatic, but if I’m looking for humor, ‘The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl’ always brightens my day.”

Rucker, on the other hand, has found himself pleasantly surprised by a new slew of indie titles.

“One of the things I’m enjoying the most right now is the entire line of Archie books,” Rucker said. “Fifteen years ago, I never thought I would say that I’d be most excited on the weeks when a new Image Comics book and a new Archie book came out. Image and Archie Comics are just killing it right now.”