Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

January 3, 2014

Comic book heroes save the day

By Lindsey Ziliak
Kokomo Tribune

---- — Shawn Hilton almost failed first grade before he discovered comic books.

He missed preschool and kindergarten while his family was stationed in South Korea for the military. When they returned stateside, he was thrown into first grade.

He couldn’t read very well. It didn’t help that his teacher was making him read stories like “Dick and Jane.”

“It was so hokey,” he told me on a recent afternoon.

He had to learn somehow, though. His teacher was threatening to fail him, keep him in first grade.

Then he spotted a colorful comic book at the store and begged his dad to buy it for him.

“I was enamored,” he said.

That was more than 30 years ago, and he can no longer remember what comic book it was. But it changed him.

He was determined to finish the book. Hilton would find all the tricky words and have his new tutor help him look them up.

Before he knew it, he had read his first comic. Then he started reading more. He liked “Boris the Bear” and “Starman” as a kid.

I’ll be honest. I have no idea what these comics are about. If you believe Wikipedia, “Boris the Bear” is the story of an anthropomorphic bear that is soon revealed to be a robot.

It’s what Boris and Starman did for Hilton, though, that fascinated me most.

The complex storylines in those books, he said, dramatically improved his reading skills. He learned about foreshadowing and flashbacks in the pages of those books. By fifth grade he was reading at a high school level, and a year later, he was reading at a college level.

Since then, comic books have become his life – literally.

He opened Comics Cubed in downtown Kokomo at 11 a.m. on Sept. 25, 2010. Yeah, he remembers the time.

It was three months and four days after the comic book store he had worked at for years shut down.

At that time, comic books had kind of waned in popularity. He was nervous he would fail.

Three years later, though, customers keep showing up. Television shows like “Big Bang Theory” have helped him out.

“You have ‘Big Bang Theory’ making geek culture less of a stigma,” he said.

Hilton has about 150 regular customers now.

There are city and county employees, jail workers, teachers and even a dean at Indiana University Kokomo.

Hilton said he’s still having trouble getting kids to shop at his store. Only about four regulars are under the age of 18.

But he keeps his store stocked with 200 titles at any given time, and many of those are geared toward younger audiences.

There are even comic books for young children.

He has “My Little Pony” comics and “The Emerald City of Oz.”

He’s waiting for parents to come in and buy a comic or two for their struggling reader. Some of those books have been there a while. He’s not going to take them off the shelf, though. Some little kid may need them like he did.

“The next generation of comic readers has to start somewhere,” he said.

-Lindsey Ziliak

[friday] editor/ comic novice