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By Jeanne Lesinski

It's hard not to take a deep breath when walking through the door of Cashman's Comics on the corner of 22nd St. and Madison Ave. on the south side of Bay City. Ahh. The smell of paper and ink conjures memories for some and creates anticipation for others. Wednesdays are the busiest days at the shop, which carries a wide line of comics, graphic novels, and collectibles, because that's the day the new issues arrive.

Kids stuff? Not so, says owner John Cashman. "There is a common misconception that only kids read comic books, but I have many customers in their twenties and thirties," he says, adding, "Lots of my customers read comics when they were kids, and now as doctors and lawyers and teachers, they still like to read comics."

With Free Comic Book Day on Saturday, May 7th, Cashman would like to introduce potential new readers to the joy of comics by giving away free samples. It's even rumored that a special guest will appear.  

The samples include comic books but also collectible miniatures for the HeroClix game. "HeroClix is like Dungeons & Dragons meets chess," Cashman explains. "Players get to use figures from all kinds of comic books (Marvell and DC) and make teams.They play on a paper game board." Cashman moves a display and pulls out game boards, which he spreads out on the table. The shop hosts tournaments regularly at 5p.m. on Mondays and Saturdays, giving prizes—often figures that can only be won through tournaments—to the winners. "Sometimes players wonder about certain miniatures and want to find out more about them, so they read the books for background."

"There's nothing funny about comic books," quips Cashman. In an effort to promote literacy, libraries have added comics and graphic novels to their collections, and since 1997 he has worked with libraries across the state to build their collections. "I encourage people to go to the library and check out the comic book collections there," he says. "Then I hope they'll come back to the shop to buy books from me."

Comic-based movies and online games also have generated an interest in the books. Cashman remembers that as a boy he wasn't a great comic book reader until he saw the animated television show Superfriends, which was based on DC comics. In like fashion, some of Cashman's customers have come to reading comics from seeing live action movies based on comic book characters. While the early Superman and Batman films played well at the box office, it wasn't until the first Spiderman movie that moviegoers felt the need to investigate the books on which these action movies were based. "The first Spiderman movie really got people interested," he says. "The special effects really helped." Noting that we're currently in a "golden age for comic films," Cashman is looking forward to the June 17, 2011 premier of the Green Lantern.

Green Lantern is Cashman's favorite character, indeed the flagship character for the store. When he remodeled the shop a few years ago, he had the paint store match colors to a Green Lantern hue. Even the Bay Softball Southern League team the store sponsors—Cashman's—sports brilliant green t-shirts. In 2010 the team, which plays on Friday nights at Veteran's Memorial Park, was the league champion.

When asked about the photo behind the counter, Cashman lovingly shows the autographed photo of himself with Green Lantern creator Martin Nodell, taken in 2006 at the Motor City Comic Con. This convention of all things comic and sci-fi will take place in Detroit on May, 13-15th.

Cashman also operates an eBay site and prides himself on fast shipping. He has had 100% customer satisfaction and recently got a special surprise. Into the store walked an online customer, who happened to be in Michigan from Oklahoma and decided to visit the shop in person. "I rarely get to put a face on an online customer, so that was great."

Even though there are online comics, Cashman doesn't see them replacing paper products. "I think that people are always going to want the smell, the feel, and the experience of comics."  As if on cue, the door opens and in walks Nick, a customer whom Cashman hasn't seen in awhile, but who's glad to be back for the latest issue of his favorite comic. They chat like old friends.

Grinning, Cashman turns and says, "I can't tell you how many times I've had people come into the store, take a deep breath, and say, 'Ahh, the smell of comics.'"

© Jeanne Lesinski, 2011