An interview with Doug Sulipa
– by Shawn Conner
Set in the New Jersey store owned by director Kevin Smith, AMC’s Comic Book Men features four guys who work and/or hang out at Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, as well as their customers. In between the in-store segments (and the occasional journey outside), Smith and his employees indulge in some (usually) comics-related geek speak, oohing and ahhing over a rare Superman comic and drooling over a real-life (‘60s)-style Batmobile that pulls up outside of the store.
It got me thinking about the comic book stores of my Winnipeg boyhood. Then when my cousin mentioned how, even in the ’70s, he and his friends would have to go the comic dealer’s homes to get their fix – before stores were plentiful – I decided to do some investigating.
The first name that occurred to me was that of Doug Sulipa. Sulipa opened Winnipeg’s first comic book store, and one of the first in Canada: Doug Sulipa’s Comic World. Currently, the former store owner lives in Steinbach, Manitoba, where he still runs a successful mail-order business (Doug Sulipa’s Comic World website). I called him up one Sunday afternoon to ask about the good old days of comic-book collecting, changes in the industry and what he thinks about Comic Book Men.
This is part one of a two-part interview; depending on the interest, we may turn this into a series – Canada’s Comic Book Men.
Shawn Conner: Where did it start for you?
Doug Sulipa: My dad bought me a couple of Walt Disney Comics and Stories for kids. That was ’64 or somewhere around there. Then my dad started buying comics off the stands for me. Then we discovered the secondhand stores in 1966, and that was around the advent of the Batman TV series. I remember finding an 80-page Giant Batman number five.
SC: Do you still have that copy?
DS: No. I have the issue in my inventory. I was a rabid collect from 1965 ‘til about 1990. Then I put my collection in my inventory. After doing it seven days a week for 25 years, you want to do something else.
SC: Why did you start selling comics?
DS: I wanted to further my collection. I started with my friends, and after that I put a table out on the street corner on Pasadena Avenue in Fort Richmond. That would have been around 1968, I would’ve been about 12.
SC: You weren’t doing this in the winter.
DS: By 1970, ’71, I was already selling back issues through mail order. I’d read all my comics cover-to-cover and was always looking at the ads, so I started ordering back issues over the mail to get all the older stuff. In the 1960s comics that were over five years old were so scarce you couldn’t find them. That’s why I started buying back issues through mail order. And I thought, I could do that too.
I think my first catalogue was in 1970. I’d originally called it KK Comics. And then I just started using “Comic World” rather than “KK”. I think I only used that for one catalogue. In ’74 I opened up my first store.
SC: How big was that catalogue – a few pages?
DS: Oh no. My first catalogue was 30 or 40 pages long. By 1970 I already had about 10,000 comics. It did quite well. Then, in 1974, I opened my first store, on Carlton Street. I was 17, going on 18. I opened it after school. I would get there by about 4:30, from Fort Richmond all the way to downtown.
SC: What were the hours?
DS: 4:30 to 9. It was 160 sq. ft on the second floor of an old converted house. On the first floor, an antique shop. On the third floor was a rock band. I think they just practiced there.
SC: Who were your customers?
DS: I’d met a lot of people in secondhand stores. Before opening the store the hangout in town was Autumn Stone, a record and head shop on Kennedy Street. In the back corner they had a little comic department. That was the hangout for collectors at the time.
I had the first retail comic store in Winnipeg. Within a month I probably had about fifty customers per week. There was actually quite a counterculture in Winnipeg at the time. The collectors were interacting and making fanzines as early as the mid-’60s in Winnipeg. Some of the biggest mail-order dealers in the country were there. Per capita, it was probably the number one comic city in Canada for 30 to 40 years.
SC: Who were some of the other dealers?
DS: Ken Mitchell, Calvin Slobodian, and Joe Krolik were all quite big international mail-order dealers for that period of time. And Ferd Bernjak, though he started later than the rest of us as a dealer. Those were the main people. We had probably half the major dealers in Canada in one city, at that point in time. We were buying up collections. Pretty much by the late ‘70s we’d wiped out Winnipeg for better back issues and we started going down to the U.S to buy collections. A lot of the bigger back-issue collections we found, came from dealing with people in the U.S. who didn’t have local dealers to sell to.
I put ads in the paper for probably a decade about buying collections. I don’t know how many collections I found. Those were the best source in the ’70s, newspaper ads, if you didn’t know the people. Back then I was doing newspaper articles, TV and radio would get ahold of me and then people would get ahold of me. The National Film Board even did a biography of me and my comics, and added some cartoons. It was called His First Million, The Tale of a Comics Czar , because in the late ‘70s I’d gotten my first million comics.
Next week: In the second part of our series Winnipeg Comic Book Men, Doug talks about competition in the Winnipeg comics scene, the speculator’s mentality that almost destroyed comics, and changes in the industry.