Value Added: A profile of Barbarian Comics in Wheaton by Thomas Heath

Thomas and James Wu of Barbarian comic shop in Wheaton, Md.
Thomas and James Wu of Barbarian comic shop in Wheaton, Md. (Courtesy Of James Wu. - Courtesy of James Wu)
By Thomas Heath
Monday, May 3, 2010

Didn't everybody love comics as a kid?

My dad would pay me an allowance, about $1.50 a week, and I would run to the drugstore and buy the latest Spider-Man, Captain America, Incredible Hulk and, if I really had saved, some monster magazine that ran for at least $1. (I loved monster movies.)

Software specialist James Wu, 36, looked a little deflated when I told him I pretty much gave up the habit around age 12.

After all, he and his brother Thomas bought a Wheaton comics bookstore called Barbarian Comics for $150,000 seven years ago so they could indulge their passion for Spider-Man, Batman and other superheroes.

Barbarian comics is a labor of love.

"I can read all the stuff I want," James Wu said. "I like talking to other people who are passionate about the comics universe, and what is happening and what's going on."

Wu and his brother don't make any real money on it, but they hope to someday -- maybe after they retire. (Thomas works for a credit union.)

They have used the profits to pay down a $75,000 loan from relatives and are starting to chip away at their own investment in the company. The good news is that they are creating some equity in the business.

James Wu, a University of Maryland graduate who manages a software team at a Northern Virginia high-tech company, started reading comics in the 1980s at Montgomery Blair High School.

His family emigrated from mainland China in 1981. He worked part time at a drugstore, and spent $20 to $30 a week on comics. His father is a chef.

Wu has saved like mad since he started working (as do many entrepreneurs), which came in handy later on. Now he has around 15,000 comic books in his personal collection, including a 30-year-old Batman.

"Batman is what got me into comics," he said. "For me, it's the visual effect. I like the art."

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