Hollister Bill’s Bullpen comic book store inspires literacy and loyalty

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Owner Bill Mifsud is looking forward to Free Comic Book Day on August 14th.

August 14, Bill’s Bullpen will participate in Free Comic Day and owner Bill Mifsud hopes to beat his record of 1,800 comics distributed. For Mifsud, it is for a good cause: to make children read.

This is the 20th anniversary of the event, a nationwide promotion sponsored by Diamond Comic Distributors, and Mifsud, which was selling comics and graphic novels for 34 years in its Hollister store at 207 4th Street is dedicated to making the event a success.

“We have to buy the comics that we offer,” Mifsud said. “We don’t get them for free. But you don’t have to buy anything and you’re going to walk away with something anyway. You will bring home a bag of goodies, but you will also receive a free comic book. And that could be a start for someone to become a reader.

The annual giveaway is just one of the many ways Mifsud demonstrates their love of comics, dedication to longtime clients, and mission to nurture new generations of readers.

While Mifsud’s store is full of pop culture touchstones like baseball cards, Magic: The Gathering decks, Funko POP! sports-themed figurines and gifts, the heart of the store is tens of thousands of comics lining the walls and filling the revolving shelves.

Child-friendly comics

Mifsud said that over the years, publishers have made their comics more kid-friendly, which helps young readers transition from picture books to chapter-based books.

“At one point, big companies, like DC and Marvel, realized that there was a different market that they should tap into: children’s comics,” Mifsud said. “Each comic has an age classification. But they had never had books for all ages before and now that market has grown significantly. Anyone who walks around the store can buy one, and it’s a great way to start kids off.

Each book is written to have a separate start and end, so it can be read without a child having to commit to reading an entire series.

“These are all one-shot books,” Mifsud said. “There is no number 5 that you have to buy to find out what happens after number 4.”

The rise of superhero movies makes it easier for children to find reading material. “The movie industry has been great for us because the best movies of all time are comics related,” Mifsud said. “People who aren’t generally interested in comics will come here and say ‘I have to read the script for this movie.’ So you can always ask a kid “what movie do you like” or “what superhero do you like” and we can go from there and find something for them. Sometimes we can connect with them through the video games they play.

Mifsud sees books as a way to engage children beyond computers and video screens.

“The kids don’t have any more hobbies,” Mifsud said. “They don’t collect stones or stamps. The cell phone is my biggest competition. But our store is a sensitive type of store. You can own something that is not on your phone and hold it in your hand. You can look at the covers and illustrations and then maybe get interested.

Long-standing and loyal customers

The store offers a subscription service, allowing customers to pick up the latest versions every Wednesday, prepackaged in archival plastic sleeves and kept for them at the counter. Some of Mifsud’s subscriber customers have been with him from the start when he and his father founded the company, including Aaron Culala who was 13 when he started his first subscription 34 years ago.

Culala’s interest in comics was encouraged by her mother

“I was an only child and it was a way she found to make me read,” he said. “They were easy to get and I appreciated that they weren’t dumb. It helped me expand my vocabulary and increased my interest in other things. I encouraged my twelve year old son; he has six titles he’s subscribed to so I know he’s going to read every week.

More important to Hollister resident Culala, who coaches the Hollister Cowboys youth football team, the books offer real-world education.

“With Spiderman, the text is about family and responsibility. If you read the X-Men, since its inception, it’s about acceptance and fighting bigotry, with characters looking for their place in the game. Living vicariously through these characters, writers teach how to make the world a better place. It might sound funny from a comic book, but the lessons are there.

For Mifsud, each young non-reader who enters is an enigma to be solved.

“You can’t force people to read if they don’t want to,” Mifsud said. “So the challenge is to find something that will grab their attention. If we can do that, we can at least get them started. And if we can get them to read, we’ve done our job.

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