For Charlotte’s readers of comic books, graphic novels and manga, Shelton Drum has achieved the status of a local legend. Forty years ago, Shelton founded Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find, an independent comics shop, which is now located at 417 Pecan Avenue in Charlotte’s Plaza-Midwood neighborhood. Although he was only in his twenties at the time, he already had extensive experience collecting comic books. His customers appreciated his expertise and enjoyed talking with a fellow comic book fan, and he soon developed a loyal customer base. Nowadays Heroes (as the store is generally known) ranks among America’s most influential comic book retailers. For more information about Heroes, please click on the following link: http://www.heroesonline.com/about/
Two years after Shelton opened his store, he founded his annual HeroesCon. This family-friendly event has grown into one of the nation’s largest and best-run comic book conventions, and it regularly attracts many of the top comic book artists and writers. HeroesCon usually takes place over the Father’s Day weekend, but this year Shelton had to cancel his convention because of the coronavirus pandemic. However, next year’s HeroesCon is already set to take place at the Charlotte Convention Center on June 18-20, 2021.
Shelton’s store and convention attract a wide range of patrons, including children who are just getting into collecting comics, long-time fans of particular comic book lines, and readers of graphic novels. Alan Rauch, one of my colleagues in the English Department at UNC Charlotte, is an example of a customer who goes to Heroes to purchase graphic novels. He often teaches courses on graphic novels, including an honors course titled “Jewish Identity and the Graphic Novel.” For the purposes of today’s Storied Charlotte blog post, I contacted Alan and asked him to comment on his experiences as a frequent customer at Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find. Here is what he sent to me:
Most Charlotteans are probably only familiar with Comic Book Stores from venturing into Stuart Bloom’s “Comic Center of Pasadena” in “The Big Bang Theory.” To be sure, it is a parody of that type of store, and like most parodies it gets a lot of things right… but also just as many things wrong. Where it goes wrong is where Charlotte’s own comic bookstore Heroes aren’t Hard to Find goes right. Now in its 40th year, Heroes (as it’s popularly known) is still owned and managed by the remarkable Shelton Drum, who brings self-confidence, vision, and knowledge to his work where poor Stuart could only bring a sense of despair and insecurity. Forty years ago, we were all—young and old—in need of comic-book stores, as we watched mom and pop stores, with racks of magazines and comic book,s give way to corporate chains that could never thrive on the profits from the sale of a (then) 40¢ comic. The opening of Heroes also coincided with new visions of what comics should look like. The graphic novel, a now established genre of literature, was just emerging in works such as Will Eisner’s Contract with God and Art Spiegelman’s Maus, and Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta and Watchmen would be published within a decade. While it’s true that comics also became darker, more thoughtful, and more complex, they were always—from their inception– as Shelton understood, a vital part of the culture. (He might deny being a “scholar,” but engage Shelton in a brief conversation about comic history and you’ll see that the title fits.)
Shelton’s store was (and continues to be) a meeting place for everyone, whether they are children searching for delightful entertainment, adolescents looking for escape and validation, or adults eager to immerse themselves in new and challenging narratives. And yes, the audience includes girls, women, and persons of color too, as the genre has developed important characters who are strong, independent, and self-determining. One sees this not only in Shelton’s store, but in the remarkable annual conference called HeroesCon, which has drawn (before Covid) thousands and thousands of people, from artist and writers to cos-players to parents and kids, to Charlotte every year. Shelton recently made the conference free to children under 18, recognizing that all kids should be a part of the Heroes-Con experience. For me, Heroes (only blocks away from where I live), is a neighborhood experience. But I have come to depend on the store, with Shelton and the remarkably loyal staff he has assembled, including Seth, Elias, Karla, Samuel, and Phil, as a source of knowledge for the works that will appear in my Graphic Novel course syllabus. But the reach of Heroes and of Shelton’s impact extends beyond the neighborhood, not only to Charlotte, where it is a legitimate “institution” (sometimes a bit crazy, though certainly not like Arkham), but to North Carolina, the southeast, and across the country. So, Happy Birthday Shelton and “Heroes,” and thank you for making Charlotte a little weirder and a lot better!
As Alan’s comments indicate, Shelton Drum is much more than a successful business person. Many of Shelton’s customers see their weekly visits to Heroes as both a cultural and a community-building experience, and many families in the southeast incorporate HeroesCon into their Father’s Day celebrations. In the past forty years, Shelton Drum has contributed in countless ways to Charlotte’s community of readers and writers. He is one of Storied Charlotte’s heroes.