Aaron Flanagan

Aaron Flanagan will never forget the first time he picked up a comic book.

"I was five years old and not really interested in books. My dad was a big comic fan and thought they might help me develop an interest in reading. As soon as I looked at it, something just clicked about the way the words and art worked together. That was the day I discovered what it was like to fall in love for the first time!"

Even as a child, Aaron felt that whatever he ended up doing with his life, it would have something to do with comics.

He was right. 

Today, not only do Aaron and his family run a multi-award-winning comic shop, they have created their own comic book series "The Revenants", now a bestseller around the world. In the process they have become the hub of the comic book community in Northern Ireland, with over 11,000 social media followers.

Having talked about it for years, Aaron and his family took the plunge in 2014, opening Comic Book Guys in Belfast’s Great Victoria Street. They couldn't have picked a better time. Within a few months of opening, arguably the most obscure film based on a Marvel comic, 'Guardians of the Galaxy', was released. Suddenly, what had been seen as a slightly nerdy hobby was mainstream, cool and most importantly, for everyone.

"The Marvel Cinematic Universe definitely changed everything," Aaron says. "Now there are films and tv series based on comic books coming out all the time. Some of the greatest stories ever told onscreen all have their origins in the bright and colourful pages of a comic book"

Gradually, the store built up a huge following. The shop was the star and people came in droves. “The shop is like a time machine going back to the past but it’s looking to the future too,” Aaron says.

The shop has many famous comics from the golden age to now and they are the first company in Northern Ireland to be authorised and endorsed by CGC (Certified Guarantee Company) which means they preserve - through encapsulation – key and important comics for posterity. Overall, they have a catalogue of over 100,000 comics with nearly 20,000 actually on display for customers to hunt through.

But they also keep pace with everything that is happening now, and the shop is far from the cliché of the comic book store of old. Spacious and contemporary looking, it has features like the Han Solo Wall and a three-dimensional Joker coming though the wall, both of which are popular photo backdrops.

Aaron has traversed the globe, visiting the massive comic book conventions (often attracting over 100,000 enthusiasts) to make sure Comic Book Guys are at the cutting edge of the industry, while also promoting Northern Ireland to a worldwide comic book audience. 

The shop also attracts comic book related celebrities from around the world to their big events. So far, these have included, amongst others, Nicholas Brendon (Xander Harris in ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, a cult TV series and a bestselling comic) and Manu Bennett (‘Deathstroke’, ‘Spartacus’, ‘the Hobbit’ and many other films) who helped the Comic Book Guys celebrate their fifth birthday.

“When these celebrities come here, they love it,” Aaron says. “They can’t get over the friendliness of the people, the way we love the craic. Manu Bennett was meant to be at the shop for two hours and ended up staying for four. I ended up driving him around the countryside, he couldn’t believe how beautiful it was.”

The family patriarch, Daniel, has been a major inspiration. A comic fan since childhood, he remembers the comic book shops of the past and is delighted to see his sons’ role in the renaissance of the industry. He is also a big part of the brothers’ most remarkable achievement, their own comic book, ‘Revenants: Zombies on a Train’.

“Dad always liked writing, so he writes the script and we then use a collection of talented local artists to do the artwork in the books while we’re lucky to have some major comic book legends do our covers.”

The comic features the brothers Flanagan as the stars of the series, which is set in Belfast. It has now become an international bestseller with a third in the series to be released later this year. It’s a great favourite with visitors to the store who love the idea of buying a comic with a distinct Northern Irish flavour that is sold by its stars.

Comic Book Guys will always remain a passionate advocate for the comic book industry and the good it can do. “I do regular talks in schools on the importance of using comics in education,” Aaron says. “It’s a way of using your imagination to transport you to another place.”