Business

Passion for comics drives Hills of Comic owner John Hill

John Hill and his wife Michelle Hill, not pictured, are proprietors of the newly opened Hills of Comics shop in Auburn. - Shawn Skager/Reporter
John Hill and his wife Michelle Hill, not pictured, are proprietors of the newly opened Hills of Comics shop in Auburn.
— image credit: Shawn Skager/Reporter

John Hill wasn't quite ready to open his own comic book store.

It just sort of happened, said Hill, 43, owner of the freshly opened Hills of Comics store at 14 Auburn Way S.

"I planned on opening a store in Tukwila originally but not for a couple more years," said the Skyway native. "I've been doing trade shows and conventions for about 30 years (and was going to keep doing that)."

Hill, by day a custodian at Auburn High School, said he was happy selling comics and toys online and at conventions. But when a chance to lease the retail space in the Auburn Freemason's lodge popped up, he and his partner and wife, Michelle Hill, seized the opportunity.

"I'm a member of DeMolay, the Mason's youth group, and they said they had this open store down here and that I should think about opening here," he said. "So we did it, and here we are."

For the past month, Hills of Comics has been quietly doing business in Auburn, providing a haven for nerds, gamers and toy collectors to get their fix and hang out.

For Hill, the store is the culmination of a life spent around comics.

"I got started with comics because I have dyslexia," he said. "My mom was really a big part of my life. She was a single mom, greatest lady in the world. The school told her to get me reading, saying, 'If he wants Playboy at 8 years old and he'll read it, get it.' I chose not to read Playboy, though, I chose to go with comic books."

Hull said his mother, who passed away a little over a year ago, was instrumental in fueling his comic book passion.

"I was a little spoiled brat," he said. "We'd go to a garage sale and she'd tell me to pick out a couple books. But I'd throw a fit, saying I wanted the whole box. She'd give in. So I just ended up with a huge collection of comic books."

Hill said he was immediately drawn to Marvel's Iron Man, a character who uses technology rather than super powers to fight evil.

"Iron Man, that's the one," he said. "I read a lot of stuff, but Iron Man I could relate to. He was human, he had human faults. And who doesn't want to be Tony Stark, a millionaire womanizer?"

While most comic aficionados are content merely to collect and read, Hill found his passion in the selling and trading of books.

At age 13, Hill said, he met a comic book dealer who inspired him to branch out and start dealing books on his own.

"He told me he could buy them (my collection) from me, but instead showed me how to sell them myself," Hill said. "His name was Greg Shoepa. He showed me how to do it."

Hill said he's seen a lot changes in 30 years dealing comics. Not only with the books, the characters and the stories but also with the way society accepts the people who are into comics.

"When I started this, it wasn't cool," he said. "Everybody would make fun of you, your friends would make fun of you. And you'd go to the conventions and there would be three females there. There would be somebody's mom, somebody's sister and one of the guys would bring his wife.

"Now you go to a convention and there is 50,000 people there, and 20,000 of them are beautiful women. I'm like what happened? Where were all these people when I was young and single?"

Hill continued:

"I think it's the movies, and I think there are a lot of reality shows like 'Toy Hunters' and 'Comic Book Men'," he said. "It's just been thrust into a big media thing. It's not such a geeky thing anymore. The media has made it a normal, everyday way of life. It's not uncool to like superheroes anymore."

In addition to comics, Hill emphasized that his store is a safe haven for gamers into such fare as Magic, strategy games and role-playing games.

"There are lots of stores that have taken over the tournament scene for 'Magic' that haven't been doing it as long as me," he said. "They don't even play 'Magic' themselves. So that's why I opened the shop also. I'm a gamer, too. I opened it so I could have a spot so people could come here and play with me."

But Hill said his biggest inspiration was replicating the very stores that first drew him in as a youth.

"There would always be expensive stuff up on the walls, out of reach," he said. "But the store I went to, the guy's name was Mike, would let us get those on layaway. He had an Iron Man No. 1 that I made payments on. You finish payments and you can have it. It was $40 for that book. I still have that book. It's on my wall for $600. I get a lot of kids that want to buy stuff like that. I've had a few take me up on it.

"And I wanted to create a family environment where kids can come," Hill said. "That's what it was all about for me. And I want it to be friendly. There is a lot of elitism in games and comics. It's what it was originally supposed to be — a place for geeks to come and hang out."

Hills of Comics is open from 2 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, from 3 to 10 p.m. Friday and from 2 to 9 p.m. Saturday.

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