Over the last four decades Phil Boyle and his team have built the largest chain of comic stores in the southeast from the ground up. We spoke with him about the journey from start up to opening a ninth location.
Give me a brief bio/background on you, are you from Orlando, and If not how did you end up there? Did you go to school/work in Orlando, if so where?
I moved to Florida from western New York when I was 11. After a few years in Bradenton, the family moved to Orlando. That was in 1979. While in Bradenton, I was a paperboy for 3 years. After moving to Orlando, I started washing dishes and then cooking at now-defunct Sambo’s restaurant. I spent all my money on comics. I went to UCF, cooked at Denny’s, and opened my first store at 20. I don’t remember sleeping a lot during those early years of Coliseum.
In regard to comics, when and how did you first get into comics, what was your first comic shop you had a pull at, and what were some of the titles you had in yours?
A friend of my brother’s introduced us to comics when we lived in Bradenton, and I never looked back. We started ordering comics through the mail as there were no comic shops. Nothing like buying back issue comics for .35! I always saw comics as a collectible entertainment, so I bought what I liked. And then I bought a LOT of what I liked. I was buying 30 copies of the Claremont/Byrne X-men, Frank Miller’s Daredevil, and some other amazing titles off the stands as they came out.. It was a great time to be buying comics.
Comic shops were a rarity then. When we moved to Orlando, there were two(!) comic shops. Cartoon Museum by Jim Ivey was my favorite as he had a back room of comics, and the atmosphere was very relaxed. Enterprise 1701 was the other and they tended to get in fewer back issues but always worth the visit.
When did your first Coliseum of Comic store open, where was it, and How did you fund the first opening (self/loan/blind luck)? \
I opened the first Coliseum of Comics February 1st, 1983 on 45th Street, which was a side street off Orange Blossom Trail. I had 16 boxes of comics, a smattering of gaming items, and not much else. I did have the aforementioned X-Men, including eight copies of Giant-Sized X-Men #1, which were the hot commodity at the time. I opened on about $4500 in total, which today isn’t enough to put all the deposits on a new location. My first month in business I did a whopping $1300 in sales.
How long before you opened your second store, and how soon after that did the other stores begin opening?
I opened the second and third stores in 1989. I had no business expanding that quickly and it almost destroyed the nascent chain. We closed the Pine Hills location after our first lease, but the Kissimmee store is still going strong after 3 decades. After some reflection, opening new stores would be a much more carefully thought-out process going forward.
Now at 9 stores and counting and approaching the shops 40th anniversary in 2023, what are some of the biggest challenges and the biggest rewards of being at the helm of an operation managing multiple stores, a warehouse, and events.
No doubt it’s been rewarding to see the company grow and expand into new areas. Having people recognize the brand outside our current markets is something I’m constantly amazed at when it happens. One of our team had a Coliseum shopping bag while walking in New York City and someone stopped him and asked excitedly if Coliseum had a store in NYC. That was kinda cool.
Some of the challenges have been getting over the hurdles of logistically serving 9 locations within a budget to keep the stores stocked. We have a team of 6 full-time people who do nothing but process back issue comics and it seems like we’re always behind, needing more. Keeping up with all the distributors and vendors, changes in ordering, and maintaining a full record of each has been challenging as the markets expand.
Orlando is big market with a lot of competition, what do you feel sets Coliseum of Comics aside from other shops/chains, some that also had multiple location that have come and gone (like Bad Apple Comics), that makes Coliseum of Comic such a success?
Our success has always been focused on our customers and what they want more than what other stores are doing. If we continue to keep the stores stocked, have a knowledgeable and friendly team, and be part of the comic and gaming communities, we don’t have to worry about other stores. Focus on what you do well, and the rest will take care of itself.
In recent years you’ve branched out to open multiple locations outside of the Orlando area including our home base Jacksonville, FL. What brought you to Jax over other cities and can you tell us a little bit about your experience here so far (the goods and bads) including closing one location, absorbing some other local shops, and opening some brand new locations. Also can you tell me about the background in keeping the original Borderlands signs on display inside the Arlington location gaming area.
I was offered Superhero Beach and Superhero Hive in 2017. The owner wanted out, but I wasn’t really looking to expand to Jax at that time. I never walk away from a viable opportunity without exploring it so the further into exploration we got the more viable it became. We bought the two stores as a package deal but knew the beach location would be a challenge. We moved the store, but it wasn’t working. As that lease ran out, we bought Borderlands, a comic and game store that’s been part of the Jacksonville landscape for more than 3 decades. The store had a great reputation but needed a new location. We combined the beach and the Borderlands locations into what is now the Coliseum of Comics Arlington store. We loved the Borderlands community and wanted to honor Chip – Borderland’s owner – for the years he spent creating that community. We felt refurbishing the original sign and bringing it into the store, and naming the gaming center Borderlands, kept that legacy going.
Over the decades, what have been some of the biggest good/bad changes in the industry that have affected the comic industry and comic shops specifically?
I’ve been an advisor to Marvel, DC, Image, and a dozen smaller publishers over the years. Sometimes they listen, sometimes they lose money. I think too many publishers and creators are bringing their personal politics into comics when comics should primarily be a break from all that. Comics are a Big Tent sort of thing. I despise censorship but a lot of voice are being censored. Let the market decide what voices are sellable and which are not. With the current sales of many comics, some expansion of voices would be welcome.
What are some of your favorite comic titles today?
Image is doing some great books outside anything you’ll find in a cookie-cutter house style at the Big Two. Lot of projects with an original bent to them. A lot of titles started as Marvel or DC projects that were too edgy or not deemed sellable for those publishers but have found a home at Image. Boom is doing some fun horror books and there’s a few new publishers coming into the market that I’m looking forward to seeing, including Frank Miller’s Ronin II and Sin City titles.
Do you have any side projects/business you are into outside of Coliseum of Comic? If so, please elaborate.
I’ve written a few books, one of which is on Amazon (love ‘em or hate ‘em, they own the market). Search for: The Banhurst Faction: Sanctified Ground. The second book in the series is with my editors and the third is in my final draft before it goes to the editors. I’ve also dabbled in movies. My daughter and I sold a script and after the production company failed to get it made in the time allotted, we got the rights back. Getting that film made along with some other projects is something I’m very excited about.