Librairie:The 4th Wall co-owners Ryan Sohmer and Randy Waxman. Chronicle, Jacques Pharand.
In person, Ryan Sohmer, the comic strip writer, looks quite a bit different than Rayne Summers, the hip, 20-something bar-hopper whose politically incorrect romantic misadventures are a large part of the Dollard des Ormeaux resident's online comic strip, Least I could Do.
"Rayne Summers is pretty much me 12 years ago in terms of wish fulfilment," the 31-year-old said with a laugh, sipping a Red Bull energy drink as he sat down on one of the couches at a corner of Librairie The Fourth Wall, a barely month-old comic book store he opened up on St. John Boulevard at the strip mall just north of Fairview Shopping Centre in Pointe Claire.
Whereas Summers is frequently depicted wearing a flashy shirt, Sohmer was dressed down in a casual sweater, and though his comic book alter ego sports a full head of hair, he is clean-shaven.
A fan of comic strips since a very young age, Sohmer starting writing Least I Could Do as a web comic six years ago. The series has gained quite a following since then. Blind Ferret Entertainment, the multi-media entertainment company that owns the rights to it, co-founded by Sohmer, is even now trying to develop it into an animated series. "We had a deal with (Canadian animation network) Teletoon," said Sohmer, but they opted out of it once they found they would be losing too much creative control over the property.
Sohmer is now in negotiations with an American network, which he did not want to name since no deals have yet been signed, but he said things seem to sailing more smoothly.
As for setting up shop with a comic book store in the West Island in the middle of an economic recession, he said he wanted to "prove a point," show that "small business does well in an economic downturn." Nevertheless, when he first approached his friend Randy Waxman, president of Blind Ferret, with the idea of setting up shop, the latter conceded he was concerned. "I'm always worried about Ryan's ideas," Waxman, who has known Sohmer since their days as day camp supervisors at John Abbott College, said with a laugh during a telephone interview.
However, he also said he has come to trust Sohmer and his ideas since many of them have taken off successfully.
Librairie:The Fourth Wall certainly looks different than the average comic book store. Its interior walls are not plastered with brochure-thin single issues.
Instead, book shelves align them at regular intervals, holding thicker hardcover and trade paperback collections. Transparent tables in the store also show what's available. "I don't want every centimetre to be cluttered," explained Sohmer, adding he took his inspiration for the spacious look of the store from consumer electronics giant Apple's approach to marketing.
He is also hoping to bank on what he sees as the future of the comic book industry: thicker graphic novels, which have become more and more popular in the last half a decade, that usually collect single issues the more rabid fans pick up on a monthly basis. "We can order single issues for you (as a customer)," said Sohmer, but not all of them will be ordered at the store itself.
As for a potential audience in his business, he said the West Island is rife with 16-30-year-old males, the now typical audience for comic books.
With no store of this kind in the area, Sohmer said local comics aficionados have gotten used to getting their fix elsewhere, but that does not have to be case.
As if to prove his case, representatives from the local Westpark Elementary happened to walk in during the interview. "What is this place?" Asked Eda Anisnan, part of the school's Home and School Committee, to her friend Wendy Berenbaum, as the two marched into the store on a tour to get local businesses to donate gifts or gift certificates for a fundraiser event at the school. "My kids would go bananas in here," Berenbaum said, looking around.
Meanwhile, Sohmer, who still toils away at Least I Could Do on a daily basis with artist Lar De Souza, would also like to tackle other projects one day. "I want to do Deadpool right," he said, of the chance to work on a more famous comic book property, naming a relatively obscure character belonging to Marvel Comics. Deadpool's only exposure to mainstream audiences has been through a small appearance in the last X-Men movie, a far cry from the likes of Batman or the Hulk, characters whose likenesses decorate the bookstore, that have been a looming presence in pop culture for decades. "Would working on Batman be any fun?" questioned Sohmer, noting how much control is exerted by DC and Marvel over their big cash cows.
He only recently got back into reading mainstream titles, he said, after Marvel revitalized some of their properties at the beginning of the decade by giving them a modern edge, handing them over to a then-unknown comic book writer, Brian Michael Bendis.
Sohmer, who shares his lack of a hairline with Bendis, has even been mistaken for him. "That's a nice Brian Michael Bendis costume," he said someone told him at a comic book convention in Baltimore two years ago.