Action figures, Star Wars ship models and special variant comics fill the clear glass counter display while freshly printed comics line the shelves of the store. Every Wednesday, when comics are released, customers who walk into the shop are greeted by name. The two Western graduates across the counter grab comics from subscription boxes to hand to their customers.
Though the two Western alumni, Roman Stadtler and Jeffrey Figley, graduated about 15 years apart, they both wound up working together at a local Bellingham comic shop called The Comics Place.
Stadtler started taking classes at Western in 1992 and officially graduated in 1998, though he tells people he graduated in 1997 because he took a year and a half to finish an incomplete class for Irish literature. He graduated with an English literature degree and a minor in film.
The Comics Place opened in 1982. Stadtler, who has been reading comics since he was a kid, first worked at the store while going to school at Western in 1993.
He credits his roommate at the time, who was also a comic reader, for letting him know that the owner was looking to hire someone, Stadtler said.
Stadtler worked at The Comics Place off and on over the years. But when he was diagnosed with cancer, he had to leave to get treatment in Seattle. With his cancer in remission, he came back to work in 2007, but a relapse forced him leave again soon after, he said.
When Stadtler was sick and going through chemotherapy, he was inspired by the comic book superheroes that he had grown up with and had been reading to help keep him going through difficult times.
“Spider-Man, Ben Grimm, Steve Rogers, Superman,” Stadtler said. “None of these guys would ever give up. I’ve been reading these stories my whole life. If those stories are going to mean anything and have value, I can’t give up either.”
Stadtler came back to work full time at The Comics Place in 2009. Even though he had to leave a few times over the years, he was drawn back to work there, he said.
“I’ve ended up coming back here because it’s always been flexible and it’s just one of those jobs you keep coming back to when everything else gets all bollocksed up,” Stadtler said.
In 2013, Stadtler hired Western alumnus Jeffrey Figley, who graduated that year with a degree in psychology.
“Spider-Man, Ben Grimm, Steve Rogers, Superman. None of these guys would ever give up. I’ve been reading these stories my whole life. If those stories are going to mean anything and have value, I can’t give up either.”
Before being hired, Figley would be one of the first people at the shop every Wednesday and would sometimes be waiting for Stadtler to open up for the day to pick up his comics.
When Figley was trying to get the job, he wrote a fake resume with letters of recommendation from different Marvel and DC Comics characters. He thought Stadtler would like it, but still didn’t think he had a chance at working at a comic shop, Figley said.
“I wasn’t really trying to get a job here because I didn’t think there was any chance that I would ever be so lucky as to work at a comic book shop,” Figley said. “There were just these cool guys and I was like, ‘I’m never going to fit in and be cool like them and their comics.’ I never thought I would get to work at a place like that.”
Figley was top on Stadtler’s list of people he was looking to hire, but Figley was planning on moving to Seattle, Stadtler said. When Figley ended up staying in Bellingham, Stadtler happily hired him.
Figley is younger, so he brings a different type of energy and perspective to the shop. They complement each other well, Stadtler said.
Senior Kyle Banks has been going to The Comics Place to pick up comics since his freshman year, he said. He goes down once a week to pick up comics and talk with staff, including Figley and Stadtler.
The staff members are friendly and learn their customers' names quickly, which makes for a comfortable experience, Banks said. During his time going to The Comics Place he has gotten to know Figley and Stadtler.
“They’re both really cool guys,” Banks said. “Roman can be quiet, but he has a very good sense of humor and he seems more wise than his age lets on. With Jeff, he’s just a top notch character.”
Figley talks about comics in a fascinating way and makes it feel like a normal conversation, Banks said.
“It’s very interesting to see the way he talks about comics,” Banks said. “Especially when it’s about his favorite writers, Grant Morrison and Jonathan Hickman, two writers who are very intelligent. When you speak to Jeff, he can make it seem like an everyday conversation.”
After customers are handed their comics, some stick around to hang out and talk with the staff.
Once they have finished perusing the store and buying their comics, they say their farewells while the Western graduates continue working at a place they are so passionate about.