The Twin Worlds of Wonder at Captain Nemo/Cheap Thrills

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With only days away from Free Comic Book Day on May 5, co-owner Raymond Hanson of Captain Nemo Comics and Games is ready. He’s familiar with the beehive of activity the annual event generates. This year might see a spike.

Mr. Hanson’s love of comic books goes back to his childhood days when he would rent out comic books for a nickel every page — and he would spend the dimes he earned to buy comic books for himself. Now, he meticulously combs through seemingly countless aisles of comic books, making sure that the latest issue of each comic he supplies is front and center. When you browse through the comics, you have to smile. Several preceding issues of each comic book are conveniently placed behind the latest. Some are already packaged in clean comic bags and backing boards. This is the essence of Captain Nemo. There’s always more — and the more you find, the more rewarding the shopping experience.

Free Comic Day is on May 5

Standing between hundreds of comic books in one aisle and new/used DVDs in the other, a young man in his mid-20s slowly wandered down the wide aisles of Marvel and DC Comics. He carried at least a dozen comic books. After staring at a row of action figures above the comics, he set the books down briefly to read the latest issue of Avengers v. X-Men, a limited series comic book crossover that was released this month. The timing of the crossover series’ release was right on the beat of the street. The Avengers movie is due out May 4 — and on May 5 at 10 a.m., Captain Nemo will be celebrating Free Comic Book Day, an event celebrated by thousands of comic book stores worldwide.

“Over the years, Free Comic Book Day has been our way to show appreciation to our loyal customers and help new customers find interest in the wonderful art of comics. To coincide with Avengers: The Movie, we are giving away not one or two, but five FREE comics to all customers who visit our store,” says Mr. Hanson.

The upcoming event will mark their eleventh Free Comic Book Day. First held in 2002, the event is organized by a panel of members from the comic book industry, including retailers, publishers, suppliers and Diamond Comic Distributors. The event is meant to get people interested in reading comic books. Hailed as an original American art form, comic books provide colorful illustrations backed by comprehensive storylines. Within the past decade, comic books have revolutionized the movie industry with films like The Dark Knight (which grossed over $1 billion in revenue worldwide) and the Spider-Man trilogy. With Free Comic Book Day, attendees can buy and read the comics before they hit the big screen.

Captain Nemo will be handing out titles such as Avengers: Age of UltronStar Wars Serenity and Spider Man Season One. Kids will enjoy titles like Mega ManTransformersSmurfs and Yo Gabba Gabba!

“People love coming to Free Comic Book Day. We get hundreds of customers coming in. It gets busy in here, but we love it,” Mr. Hanson told The ROCK. “Then people start to explore everything else!”

How could they not? Captain Nemo — formerly a muffler shop — is stocked with the latest and greatest comic books, graphic novels, board games, trading cards, action figures, videos and DVDs. When they’re not packed with customers, Captain Nemo becomes a serene getaway where one could get lost in an endless sea of interactivity. As comic book and geek aficionados, the friendly, well-informed staff encourage random discovery. There is plenty of ground to cover. Captain Nemo makes it a relaxing experience for customers to freely browse the 3,000 square-foot space. Exploring the various rooms can convert shoppers to seasoned navigators like the original Captain Nemo himself as they sail through wide-open aisles of endless entertainment interrupted only by their own discovery of something else too compelling not to stop and grok.

To reach Nemo’s, you enter through the front doors of Cheap Thrills Records. Recently, Cheap Thrills celebrated Record Store Day, which took place on April 21. Many independently-owned record stores participate in this annual event. Each participating store releases event-exclusive special vinyl records and CDs and showcase special appearances. The event is meant to promote the brick-and-mortar music retailers, which event organizers say are integral to the global retail community. By introducing people to new music and artists, Record Store Day helps customers connect with independently-run retailers on a whole new level. Sure enough, Cheap Thrills keeps that spirit alive on a daily basis.

Typically, a 1970s or ’80s hard-rockin’, vinyl-quality jam is playing through store speakers. Founded in 1971, Cheap Thrills makes it plainly clear that old is new again — and age has only intensified the subtle sensations in yesterday’s grooves.

The majority of the store is dedicated to new and used music in multiple formats: CDs, cassettes, DVDs, EPs, singles, 7-inch records, 8-track and vinyl. Each of these formats is evenly distributed among multiple music genres. Their collection of vinyl is most impressive. Cheap Thrills owner Richard Ferris told The ROCK that he grades each vinyl record that passes through his store and wholesale website, Square Deal Online (

“We make sure that the quality is there,” Mr. Ferris told me. “The snap. The crackle. The high fidelity. All of it.” For a business owner to have a loft fully dedicated to vinyl indicate how passionate he is about the mostly phased-out fomat. With the rise of popularity in digital music, he makes a strong argument for vinyl superiority, even over digital. He talked about enjoying the nuances of different instruments as it was easy to tell them apart with vinyl-quality sound, unlike digital.

In today’s digital-everything world it’s surprising and refreshing to see how deeply Mr. Ferris and his employees care about music’s audio quality and physicality. “That’s where the music is,” said Mr. Ferris. He turned the conversation into a battle-hardened, philosophical musing about the state of the music industry. We talked about legendary artist Neil Young, who has repeatedly argued that the digital format should “burn out and fade away.” Echoing Young’s sentiments, Mr. Ferris complained that the emergence of digital format has forced consumers to choose between quality and convenience. Yet at Cheap Thrill’s, vinyl is conveniently in abundance, and the quality is guaranteed. Young would be proud.

Consistent with the “everything old is new” mantra, Cheap Thrills has a wide selection of retro video games — going as far back as the Atari 2600, ColecoVision and the original Nintendo — that seamlessly blend in with used and new titles from next-generation consoles such as the Nintendo Wii, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. The walls are covered in new/used games, systems and accessories at competitive prices. At first glance, there is a strong impulse to take a title off the shelf and passionately beg your parents if you can have it — even if you’re an adult, because that feeling will never leave you. No Best Buy superstore could faithfully replicate that feeling as strongly as Cheap Thrills. There’s no reason to visit Best Buy and buy games that you could get at Cheap Thrills: these guys will match the price. Some of the retro games are even in their original packaging, still waiting for the seal to be broken and the game to start.

Customers can buy, sell or trade records and videos. On the Captain Nemo website, they offer thousands of comic books and video games for sale online. The site is part of a family owned and operated business, Square Deal Recordings & Supplies, that was established in 1972. Square Deal Recordings & Supplies boasts over 9,000 different vinyl titles, 20,000 CD titles, and a wide array of pop culture merchandise. For people who like to shop online, the website is a lo-fi treat that is easily accessible and plentiful. Record collectors, comic book fanatics and hobby enthusiasts can benefit from the deep inventory. Customers looking for a good buy will undoubtedly be impressed with a selection that seems to go on for infinity — and that’s just their online storefront.

Situated in downtown San Luis Obispo, Captain Nemo Comics and Games/Cheap Thrills constantly instills the belief that it is perfectly fine to be a geek of any variety, any age. So walk or drive down, park in their generous off-street parking lot, and stroll into one of the most innovative small businesses in the County. Walk inside and you’ll see two different worlds with a similar business philosophy: the customer always comes first. No matter what. No empty walls. No dead ends. Everywhere in the maze leads to somewhere rich in pop culture collectibles with titles that come alive when you hold them in your hand. History and the passage of time has only proven that Captain Nemo’s commitment to the value of entertainment memorabilia has made them a cultural mecca across the Central Coast.

Free Comic Book Day will be an event that reminds everyone — from the casual consumer to the hardcore fan — about the everyday deals and, indeed, the cheap thrills of exploring the seas with Captain Nemo. There is nothing better than walking into a store and feeling like you’re on a relentlessly euphoric, lifelong journey that began in childhood and has yet to find childhood’s end.

— Aaron Ochs

Captain Nemo Comics and Games/Cheap Thrills, 563 Higuera Street, San Luis Obispo, California. Hours: Mon-Sat. 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. and Sun. 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Tel: (805) 544-6366. Website: or