With all the captains in comic books — Captain America, Captain Atom, Captain Marvel, Captain Underpants — it’s a little surprising that Lou Kizer got the name for his comic shop, Capt. Lou’s Comics and Games, from a snaggletoothed, heavyset professional wrestler named Capt. Lou Albano.
Well, Kizer will soon have one thing in common with Albano, something comic book captains rarely do: he’s retiring.
After 28 years in the business and a lifetime of comic collecting, the 50-something Kizer has put out an open call to comic book collectors interested in buying him out of his successful West Ashley store.
“It’s a great business right now and it’s making good money,” he says. “When stocks are high, that’s the time to sell.”
And business is a little better the past few weeks than usual. The delayed reopening of Atomic Comics downtown has sent a surge of business to Capt. Lou’s, causing the store to sell out of some titles.
Kizer, a shipyard worker, opened his first store as a part-time venture in Hanahan in 1978. He was entering a busy market that already had several bookstores and four or five comic shops catering to collectors. His first sales came from his own extensive comic collection that began when he was five.
“That was kind of hard to do at first,” he says. “I had complete runs of comics from the beginning. Number one Spider-Man. Number one Fantastic Four. Early Batmans.”
He’d sharply overpriced some of the books, a standard comic-book-nerd-turned-owner gaffe of tacking on sentimental value to a price, but over the years, he’s learned better. Another early lesson came in the naming of the store. The first name was Galaxy Bookstore, but Kizer found he was attracting interest from patrons that assumed it was an adult bookstore.
“I eventually changed the name of the store so it included what I sold,” he says.
The first few years were tough for Kizer.
“If I hadn’t had another source of income, I may not have kept up the store,” he says. “I’d have been eating bread and water if that was it.”
Kizer says he’s survived as others have come and gone over the years because he’s learned to diversify. Before you can get to the new comic books in Capt. Lou’s, you pass action figures, high-detail statues, shelves and shelves of bound collections, gaming cards, and special edition comic books.
In 1985, Kizer sold his business to spend more time with his family. While he was gone, the store shifted through several owners until it was closed. Nine years later, the announcement that the shipyard was closing sent Kizer looking for an alternative source of income and drove him back to the comic business. He opened two stores, one in Mt. Pleasant and the other in North Charleston, but eventually consolidated them in West Ashley, where he’s been for about 12 years.
While he was away, the comic book industry got a strong shot in the arm by superhero and sci-fi movies that continue to contribute to the industry’s success.
“After the first Batman movie, we were flooded with people who had never been in a comic shop before,” he says.
Kizer got another government job about 10 months after the shipyard closed, but the comic shop has been far from a part-time distraction.
“It’s been a part-time hobby, but even working part-time, I worked a lot after store hours and at home. You’re ordering books and going to shows to buy merchandise for the store that you can’t find in this area,” he says. “It was a part-time full-time hobby.”
It became Kizer’s full-time full-time hobby when he retired from the government a little more then a year ago, but the shops hindered some of the traveling he’d hope to start up in his retirement years.
“I want to travel for a month at a time and I want to be able to do the big (comic book) shows,” he says.
Selling the store will give Kizer more time to focus on his real passions, including underwater photography and collecting original comic book art.
“Sometimes I’ll look through an entire comic for the art and not even read it,” he says.
So with retirement plans in hand, Kizer sent out an e-mail last week to his patrons and friends, offering up the business for $150,000. It’s every comic book fan’s dream to run a comic shop, and Kizer says he’s received about six or seven offers. The right buyer will likely be like he was back in ’78.
“A lot of them are customers of mine. Some of them are at a time in their life when they’re bored with what they’re doing and this has been their dream too,” he says. “And that’s the kind of person who needs to take over the store.”