Comics for the Community
Byron Canady and Sharmane Fury open a new inclusive comic-book store.
Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s the latest comic-book store in Houston!
Gulf Coast Cosmos Comicbook Company is a new e-commerce retailer for major and indie comic books, graphic novels, fan art, apparel, and more. The Houston store, located at 2306 Stuart Street near Emancipation Park, is owned by LGBTQ community members Byron Canady and Sharmane Fury, who both wanted to open a shop that would celebrate underrepresented groups within Houston’s comic-book communities.
“I wanted to have my own comic-book shop that could be a service to those in the Black and brown community,” co-owner Fury says. “Byron and I both had a mission to create a safe space for nerds of all kinds, with a particular goal to show that Black and brown people can be nerdy without shame or judgment. We don’t have a lot of places where we can be at peace with our interests.”
“Byron and I both had a mission to create a safe space for nerds of all kinds, with a particular goal to show that Black and brown people can be nerdy without shame or judgment.”
The chance to open a store was a childhood dream for co-owner Canady, who checked off all the geek boxes as a child. “I grew up during the ’70s and ’80s when pop culture was transitioning from disco to hip hop, and I was into every single minute,” he says. “I remember watching all the Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman cartoons on Saturday morning. I actually didn’t get into comic books until my dad brought them home. I’ve been reading and collecting them ever since.”
The dynamic duo says they feel lucky to have their own shop in the heart of the Third Ward, with hopes of providing other geeks and pop-culture enthusiasts the chance to express themselves in a space built solely for them.
“Expectations that come with stereotypes often prevent us from being able to enjoy things. [They can] remind us that we aren’t the intended audience. But things are changing, and we are finding that our stories are becoming more available,” Fury says. “We get to see ourselves being represented in all aspects of geekdom. That’s really exciting.”
Fury has seen people become incredibly excited when they step into the shop, and that makes her feel proud of what the store is doing for the local community.
“I get so emotional seeing people walk in the store and become overwhelmed by the posters of predominantly Black and brown characters on the wall—or their surprise at finding comic stories that feature LGBTQ+ characters,” she says. “We often hear people say that this must be what straight white people experience everywhere when they see themselves represented. That was what I had been missing my whole life, and to be able to provide that to the people of my community is amazing. Our customers get to see that they can find themselves in comics and graphic novels—not to mention it’s all happening at a place where the owners are from their community, too!”
Those kinds of emotional reactions from LGBTQ people in the local geek scene have not surprised the shop’s co-owners. As Canady sees it, the queer community is inherently drawn to pop culture and comic books because they are creative.
“The gay community’s general aesthetic is creativity [sparked by] a vast array of races, ethnicities, and identities who individually and collectively ‘flavor’ the world we live in,” Canady says. “It’s been my experience that regardless of whether it’s film, television, or comic books, minority groups strongly influence pop culture as a whole.”
So far, the response to the store has been positive, and the two plan to expand their presence in Houston.
“Sharmane and I have a very unique identity as comic-book store owners,” Canady says. “We are the only Black/Blasian/queer-owned shop in Houston, and that is our superpower. Our responsibility going forward is to provide an expanded view of the pop-culture narrative with community programming and various store events.”
The pair is constantly updating their collection of merchandise and books, curating them for their specific Black and brown audience.
“Our back stock and manga offerings are smaller, yet we continue to select and add items based on our repeat customers’ demand,” Canady says.
Comic-book stores have always existed as a way for people to escape, regardless of age or race—something many people are looking for after the last two years of COVID-19.
“These kinds of comics stores can be friendly and welcoming places,” Canady says. “Depending on who you talk to, those of us who aren’t straight, white, or male have often felt ‘othered’ and unsafe. Gulf Coast Cosmos Comics is a safe and welcoming space for all to enjoy.”
For more information, go to gulfcoastcosmos.com.
This article appears in the December 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.