The year was 1992, Ross Perot had just ended his campaign for President of the United States, Honey I Blew Up The Kid was winning in theatres over A League of Their Own, Wayne's World was coming out on VHS (because YES kids, that's how we got our movies back then), a $5 Million Powerball Ticket was sold in Gary, Indiana and Chimp's Cards and Comix opened it's doors to the public.
On July 21, 1992, a small local business opened it's doors to the public at 1106 East Winona Ave., Warsaw, Indiana. That business was called Chimp's Cards and Comix, and it was owned and managed by one man, Tony Clay. The business was open seven days a week and carried many items the collecting community would enjoy. These items included comic books (new and back issues), sports cards, non-sports/comic cards, comic and card supplies and SAME DAY VCR CLEANING! (I honestly didn't know about this til I found the ad on Microfilm) The store was a little small at the time, being in a room about at 350 square feet. You would walk in and there was enough room for 2 people to squeeze by each other. The area behind the counter was only big enough for 1 person to walk behind and was the length of 2 six foot tables. There were wooden cases that held the more valuable sports card singles and binders behind the counter holding the more common singles.
Around this time, Image comics had started and every fan was collecting #1 issues and alternate covers of almost any title they published as if they were candy. It was not uncommon for people to subscribe to up to 10 copies of each book in speculation that these would be worth millions by the time they retired. Unfortunately, the publishers met the demand with supply and that ended up hurting the comic book market (more on that later). People then started doing the same thing with DC and Marvel and the publishers followed the trend. Comics were being published at a much higher quantity. It was not unheard of for comics to reach print runs in the millions (like the #1 Highest Selling Comic of All Time: Jim Lee's X-Men #1 as seen above with the "collectors cover" and the promo hologram given to stores that carried it). Lots of comics had fancy holographic covers (seen here). But it got better with Fatal Attractions! If you pre-reserved all 6 of the comics, you would receive a FREE Magneto #0!!! None of the new collectors realized that because of the higher quantity being printed almost none of their new collection would go up in value.
Tony had long time friend Wes Gearheart helping him out since almost day 1. Wes was able to help Tony by giving him some time off so that he didn't have to spend every day at work. Within a week of the store opening it's doors, Nick Kelley's dad (Howard Kelley) told him about a new comic book store opening in town. Since Nick had become a huge comic book fan after being introduced to the industry by 2 of his childhood friends, Jason Boyd and Robert Gillespie, he was very interested. Nick hopped on his bike and rode to the store. Within a few weeks Nick was hanging out in the store every day and learning the NEW game Magic the Gathering! Packs were IMPOSSIBLE to find since Wizards of the Coast could NOT keep up with demand. Finding starter decks and packs was so difficult that Nick's first Magic deck was put together by one of Tony's friends and sold to him for $10. This deck had one of Nick's favorite cards which was "Blaze of Glory" and was put together right after Arabian Nights had released (December 17, 1993). Tony had picked up some Beta and Unlimited products and with his luck, pulled a Black Lotus from EACH PRINTING! (And NO, this story is NOT made up, everything here is TRUE as this stuff was not uncommon during the early days of Magic)
This was very much a "heyday" of pop culture. With the success of Magic the Gathering, other companies were throwing their hat's in the ring to ride the wave of CCGs (collectible card games). Sports cards were booming, comics were booming, variants were huge and new games were coming out very regularly. During this era they had Spellfire, Star Trek CCG, Star Wars CCG, Jyhad, Wyvern and over 100 more in the first 6 years.. 1992-1994 had a lot of things booming in the "geek" industry.
In fact, Magic cards and packs were so difficult to find, that when word would spread of ANY store having any, people would drive long distances to get them. There was one time they were all playing Magic at the store and a customer came in. He said there was a store in Fort Wayne, Indiana that had Antiquities packs. One of the players immediately dropped out of the game and took orders from anyone who was there playing. He then got in his car and drove all the way to Fort Wayne and bought the store out of them completely! He returned pretty quick and all the players that he could score packs for were excited. This same thing happened when Legends came out, but those were gone before he could even get there.
Nick had been hanging out every day and playing these games with Tony. During this time, they played for ante in Magic. One day Nick won Tony's Beta Black Lotus! As anyone would feel, Tony was not happy about this as this was the first time Nick actually beat Tony in a game of Magic and it was his best card up for ante. Nick didn't want to upset Tony (as he really wanted to work there), so he traded it back to him as they always offered it back to the player they won it from in kindness. He actually traded it for an Arabian Nights Mountain. Yes, this is true too. During that time, even basic lands were impossible to find and if your deck didn't have enough, you were out of luck. This game was a 3 player game, so since Nick won, he also won a Circle of Protection Artifacts (from Antiquities). This one he didn't end up trading back as he was working on a complete set of the Circles and this was the only one he was missing and the other player didn't have any cards he was willing to give up that Nick actually wanted.
Eventually Nick asked if he could work in the store. He knew he wanted to do this for a job and he was learning all kinds of comic history from Tony and Wes. Tony offered to let Nick sort a new collection he had taken in recently and his reward was an Uncanny X-Men #266 (First appearance of Gambit which he still owns). Nick became a big fan of Gambit from the 1990s X-Men Cartoon. After showing his worth processing the new collection, Tony asked Nick if he would be interested in running a booth at a sports card show at the local Ramada Inn. Nick would work with a young Joel Savage (who grew up to own/run Savage's Ale House in Muncie Indiana). Shortly afterwards, Nick was still determined to become an employee. He kept persisting and it wasn't long until Tony let Nick work the Sunday shift. Now this would probably be unheard of in today's age, since Nick was so young. He volunteered to do it since he just wanted the experience.
1992 also marked one of the biggest events in comic history: The Death of Superman. This series marked the first appearance of Doomsday in Superman Man of Steel #18 leading up to the actual death of Superman in Superman #75 which came out November 18, 1992. This issue came in a normal cover and a black bagged edition that came with a black armband in remembrance of Superman. There was even a very hard to find platinum edition where the bloody red "S" on the black bag was in silver. This issue was hitting $100 within a few days of release. People were really wanting this issue as they believed it would be the last published Superman story ever. People took this so seriously that creators on the book were receiving death threats. This storyline shook the comic book industry to it's core and would lead to DC changing up their heroes or putting them through some of their roughest stories at the time.
Such as 1993's Batman Knightfall which had Bane breaking Batman's back and Bruce having Jean Paul Valley (Azrael) replace him. Wonder Woman Diana Prince getting replaced with Artemis, and the death leading into the huge Reign of Superman event. That led to Hal Jordan going crazy and killing the Green Lanterns and becoming Parallax and even replaced by Kyle Rayner. During this time, it was truly believed that Superman was going to stay dead and the Reign of Superman started with the white bagged Adventures of Superman #500 which marked the first appearance of Superboy (later known and Conner Kent). Marvel ran Fatal Attractions which had Wolverine's Adamantium ripped out by Magneto and the Clone Saga had began in Spider-man.
DC Comics even ran the event Zero Hour: A Crisis In Time. A light sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths. The series started at issue #4 and counted down to #0. All the titles for a month had special #0 issues. This event was another soft reboot of the timeline. Tony had received a special VHS promo advertising this story. SPOILER ALERT: Nick borrowed the VHS and came to the conclusion that Hal Jordan Parallax was the villain of the story. Tony and Wes would not believe it. That's not the Hal Jordan they knew. Turns out Nick was right and this story would have ramifications in Green Lantern books for many years to come.
Business continued to grow so much that after the second year, they moved to a bigger location that was about three to four times the size of the old store located at 919 East Winona Avenue Suite 5. They started holding Magic the Gathering tournaments regularly thereafter and were able to expand their back issues. The DCI/WPN had not yet come into existence so every tournament was house ran. Each tournament was a $5 entry fee with a percentage being given in cash to the winners at the start only to later being changed to a percentage of the entries prized out as in store credit.
They had started to hold doubles tournaments which was their own house rules and different than the two-headed giant tournaments of today. They followed the normal Type 1 (now mainly known as Vintage) rules of the time but had 2 cards that were restricted in house: Icy Manipulator and Maze of Ith. It was 20 life per player, 2 passes of cards between partners which could count as cards in play or in hand and the last team with a player still in play won the game. Tony and Nick partnered up frequently but when one customer claimed they were rigging the games (which they never were), they both stopped playing in their own tournaments UNLESS someone else ran the whole thing. This is still how we run tournaments to this day with our employees. If one of our employees play in our tournament, they are not allowed to enter in results or set up matches.
The clientele was growing and they even had 1 customer who would make custom Magic card proxies for them. They used to have to write on the cards for proxies for tournaments (since deck sleeves didn't exist yet and they didn't want to damage their harder to find cards). Now they could actually have computer generated versions that looked more fancy (as seen above). As technology increased on these, the proxies have gotten even better over time.
1994 marked the release of Magic Revised core set. This set was similar to Unlimited with some cards reprinted from Arabian Nights and Antiquities. It even had the 10 original dual lands in the packs, but pulled the Power 9 and overpowered cards. Packs were $2.49 a pack and were made of such a poor thing plastic packaging that you could see through them and see what cards were in the pack prior to opening them. This was the first Magic set that you could actually find for sale. This is when Tony and Nick really started to teach new players to play. Tony taught people in store and Nick taught people at school. Magic was really taking off, but for people who know how much dual lands are today, they were only $1.50 each for singles back then. Magic cards were getting more and more collectible and Ultra Pro just started making Deck Protectors (1995). Most cards were played without sleeves prior to this and therefore finding mint condition cards is difficult.
Everything in the "geek" community was booming and people were enjoying themselves, but things were about to change for the industry.
End Part 1...
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