Everyone knows the story of Superman: An alien is sent to Earth and given both the power and the drive to save his new home.
When Troy Nicholson left his Florida home for a new life in Costa Rica, he didn’t get any superpowers. But that doesn’t mean he had nothing to offer. Thanks to Nicholson, the man of steel and other classic heroes have hit the shelves in the country like never before, in Costa Rica’s first comic book store, Boom Shop.
“There have been other stores that stock a few comics here for a while, but every time I encounter a place that sells them, they charge double the cover price,” Nicholson said. “Boom Shop is the first place that sells comics specifically, and we only charge the cover price.”
Boom Shop opened in February with BoomCon, the first-ever Costa Rican comic book convention. Nicholson and his partner brought in famous artists from the United States and offered tables to locals. In August, the store relocated to the heart of San José.
Just around the corner from La Antigua Aduana, Boom Shop is small but chock-full of graphic novels, art books and, of course, comics, with new ones coming in every week. Nicholson hopes that his shop will fill a void in the comic book community in Costa Rica.
“I’m hoping to make comics available as regularly as they are in the states,” he said. “I want to have lifelong, regular fans of comics, like I have always been.”
The opening of Boom Shop is a significant step in the growth of the comic book industry in Costa Rica. With superhero movies lighting up theater screens in unprecedented frequency, comics have become more popular than ever in Costa Rica, but local artists still struggle to get their stories out to the public.
“Like many others here I am an independent artist with few resources just trying to publish my comics and distribute them to the public,” said Carlos Salazar, a member of Bocetos, a group of Costa Rican artists. “It is a very indie way of doing things, but it is truly the only path to do this type of work in the country.”
Due to Costa Rica’s long-standing trade relationship with China, Manga, or anime – animated stories popular in many Asian countries – was popularized here a long time ago, but comic books – specifically locally produced comic books – have been slow to take root.
Iván Ramírez, who along with his brother Andrés produces Costa Rica’s longest-running monthly comic book, “Ultracomics,” believes that Costa Ricans have yet to develop a hardline system for developing comics.
“In Costa Rican comics there is always a big boom in sales, but people don’t get the color pages and the glossy covers like they do with U.S. comics, and eventually sales fall,” Ramírez said. “The difference between us and them is that they have this system that has been developing for a hundred years; if we want to compete with that we need to come up with a structure that works.”
Despite the struggles that come with independently producing and selling comic books, the lack of a defined system has given creators a level of creative liberty that is relatively unheard of in the U.S. and other big markets.
“The U.S. is so desperate to sell that they don’t do anything regional,” Ramírez said. “They never try something new.”
Whereas in the U.S. comic books are produced by a team – usually a writer, a penciller, an inker and a colorist – the flexibility of the Costa Rican market has allowed the Ramírez brothers to control the entire production process and make something entirely their own.
These independent Costa Rican comics, while influenced by traditional U.S. superhero stories, often break the mold, with stories that more Costa Ricans identify with. Currently, Salazar is working on a story about robots taking over Costa Rica and how Ticos react to the event. Similarly, Ramírez tries to pull in events from his own life to create stories that are more realistic and less archetypal than most U.S. superhero stories.
Nicholson is hoping that his shop can help with this type of local development, and he is always sure to keep an Ultracomics stand and a table of local artists wedged in among the better-known foreign books, an encouraging sign for Costa Rican independent comics.
“At BoomCon we had a space for local artists right next to international comics mega-stars,” Salazar said. “Things like this and Boom Shop are making it much easier for us to get our projects out to more people.”