The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

IC comic book community stays persistent amid national sales lag

Since 1986, the only comic book store in Iowa City Daydreams Comics has been providing a space for new and long-time comic book fans.
Ava Neumaier
Daydreams Comics Owner Zach Power hands out comic books and graphic novels on National Comic Book Day at Daydreams Comics in Iowa City on Monday, Sept. 25, 2023.

Behind the tinted windows facing East Washington Street live countless stories of inhuman strength, scheming villains, and endless cultural icons. Despite its unassuming exterior, thousands upon thousands of colorful comics line the inner walls of Iowa City’s only comic book store within more than a 30-mile radius — Daydreams Comics.

While Daydreams Comics is the only shop dedicated to comics in Iowa City, comic readers and its surrounding areas, it doesn’t stop the store from reaching a large base of superhero and graphic novel fans.

In recent years, a decline has been noted in the comic book industry. In the first two months of this year, publisher NPD Books noted a national decline in print sales for comics and graphic novels compared to 2022.

“The goal has always been to have something to fit anyone’s wants or needs, whether it’s in stock or available to order,” he said.

University of Iowa second-year Logan McCaw discovered Daydreams in his freshman year.

“I’ve been coming here ever since, pretty much every week,” McCaw said.

Daydreams was not Iowa City’s original comic shop, as current owner Zach Power explained. Previously named Barfunkel’s, the store was renamed in 1986, and its doors reopened to offer patrons the newest issues of Marvel, DC, and independent comics.

In addition to traditional superhero stories, the store also sells graphic novels and other pop culture collectibles.

Comics are usually released through weekly issues, which can range anywhere between 15 to 30 pages for a typical book. Publishing giants like Marvel and DC, which rose to popularity in the mid-20th century, often release multiple ongoing series starring multiple characters at once so stores can stock a steady flow of issues every week.

This release model is one that comics have followed throughout the history of the medium, relying on repeat business from week-to-week or month-to-month.

Graphic novels are important as well. These books, which are either separate stories told in a novel-length comic book style or collections of multiple comic book issues, can be more approachable for new readers. Graphic novels aren’t exclusive to comic book stores, unlike comic issues, and can be bought at most other bookstores.

According to Power, maintaining a large selection of new release issues as well as older back issues has been and continue to be the most important selling point for Daydreams.

Some of these back issues include limited-edition issues that can sell for thousands of dollars. Daydreams has a range of these rare copies, including a first edition of Daredevil by Stan Lee from 1964 priced at $4,000.

As the internet developed, digital comics and “webtoons” became popular as well. Publishers launched their own comic book streaming services, like Marvel Unlimited or DC Universe Infinite, to which readers could pay a yearly fee for access to backlogs of entire comic series and delayed releases of current issues.

While physical comic book media began to fizzle after the digital age emerged, comic book characters and stories were entering the height of their popularity. Comic book movies have been a staple of Hollywood for decades, but when “Iron Man” premiered in 2008, superheroes became pop culture icons.

On the big screen, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, brought lesser-known comic book characters into the public eye on a massive scale. The franchise has dominated the movie industry for 15 years, grossing more than $17 billion for 22 movies, according to the Harvard Business Review.

The superhero genre has long been a multimedia pop culture phenomenon. Shows like “The Boys” and “Invincible” on Amazon Prime have proved the genre can take many forms and cater to a wide audience outside of comics.

Nathan Parriott, Daydreams Comivs employee of over 10 years, noted the effect the MCU has had on physical comics.

“You’ll see Iron Man move from his pretty well-worn spot as a B-plus player to, you know, somebody that people actually show up for in the comic shop,” he said.

The shift from long-running weekly issues to a two-hour feature film was a definite leap for comic stories. Writers had to squeeze years of storytelling into a roughly two-hour time span.

The transformation from comics to movies worked both ways, as the movies have also had an impact on how comic stories are told. Comics have shifted from spanning hundreds of issues worth of tales to taking place in bite-sized miniseries.

“For example, instead of trying out a character with their own ongoing series, Marvel has put out a series of like four or five-issue mini-series and just called those each volume one, two, three, and so on. Then the volumes are all collected too,” Parriott said.

Collecting storylines and characters in volumes of graphic novels is not a new trend in the industry, but promoting these books makes it easier for newcomers to get on board.

“We’ve made the shop more curated to having quality over quantity in the graphic novels department,” Power said. “It’s satisfying helping new readers find something they can enjoy and providing more recommendations as they continue their comic journey.”

Daydreams also caters to an online customer base who collect comics. The store has a wide selection of backlogged comics available to collectors searching for every issue of their desired series.

“It’s a much better interaction when people are engaging with brick-and-mortar stores versus collecting via online options,” Power said. “Having to physically dig through boxes in search of that one issue you need to fill out a run is unparalleled.”

Readers seem to care about the physical collection of comics too, as UI third-year student Kian Pfannenstiel agrees.

“I like to support the brick-and-mortar stores and I like the physical thing because it’s more tactile, and you get better engagement,” Pfannenstiel said.

The importance of brick-and-mortar stores is about more than just the joy of physically collecting. Daydreams acts as a hub for comic fans and creators alike.

“We have a ‘Community Comics’ section in the store where we put out comics created by local or area creators. We are happy and willing to stock any new creations people come up with,” Power said.

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Charlie Hickman
Charlie Hickman, Arts Reporter
Charlie Hickman is a sophomore at the University of Iowa. He is majoring in English on the Pre-Law track with minors in Political Science and Cinema.
Ava Neumaier
Ava Neumaier, Photojournalist
Ava Neumaier is a first-year student at the University of Iowa, majoring in English & Creative Writing. She was the Editor-in-Chief of her high school yearbook in New York, and has interned for a New York Times photographer. She enjoys taking pictures of performances and student life.