Serving the Fullerton Community Since 1922

The Hornet

Serving the Fullerton Community Since 1922

The Hornet

Serving the Fullerton Community Since 1922

The Hornet

Latest Print Issue

A Deep Dive into Downtown Fullerton’s Nerdy Side

Logan Martinez
A group of cosplayers dressed up as the Ghostbusters at Comicbook Hideout’s 7th anniversary event posed with Glynnes Speak.

It’s a cool morning in front of the Comic Hideout Inc. Glynnes Speak, the owner of the Hideout, opens the door without stepping out from behind the counter. The store isn’t open yet, and only a few essential lamps are on. There are the shapes of long boxes all stacked neatly in their own displays. Keychains and artwork adorn every square inch of the front counter.  This isn’t just a comic shop, it’s a museum, a celebration of the things we find nerdy or geeky. 

Geeks, as defined by Marissa Mayer, former CEO of Yahoo!, “are people who love something so much that all the details matter.” Less than a decade ago, these were insults meant to poke fun at the comic book loving, video game playing, and movie passionate individuals. Words like dweeb, dork, four eyes, trekkie, and indoor kids were all used to describe the personalities and appearance of people that were perceived as being nerdy. Even to this day, you can hear people shouting “NEERRD!” in the streets.

Now, we see nerd culture step into the spotlight with the spectacular success of superhero movies such as “Avengers: Endgame,” which earned $2.5 billion in just 20 days. According to Comicchron, comic book sales hit an all time high in 2018 with sales reaching $1.095 billion, which was a 7% increase from the year before and a 26.5% increase from 2012, when the first Avengers movie premiered. 

Video games have also seen an explosion over the past two decades.  A recent study conducted by the Electronic Software Association found that approximately 65% of American adults play video games. Gaming’s new popularity has helped cultivate a competitive scene known as e-sports that has since taken off with 84 million viewers and made $1.1 billion in 2019 so far. The normalization of gaming has created communities online via streaming platforms such as Twitch, which sees more than 15 million active users a day.

You can see those changes taking place here in Southern California. Take a stroll down Commonwealth Avenue and you’ll see that among all the downtown bars and eateries there are these nerdy gems opening in the community.

Browsing through the endless Comics on display. (Ian Barr)

It’s the afternoon now, and the Comic Hideout is open for business. With the lights on now, it’s easier to make out the comics wrapping the walls and displays of action figures that are peppered throughout the store. There are a few people browsing the store talking about Magic the Gathering as they wait for the shop to begin the tournament, and Speak is at the front talking to a mother and her two kids about some “bad ass comics for 8-year-old girls.”  

Comic book shops have always been the place to meet your nerdy friends. Even with the internet keeping people connected and comic books being delivered digitally to your phone, shops have always been a center for the geeky. 

Established back in 2012, the Hideout has always been a hub for anyone with “geeky inclination,” says Speak. 

“I don’t usually read comics since Spawn #1-13, but I have been going to the shop here and there since close to Glynnes opening the store,” says customer Michael Mastros. 

Originally located near the AMC theater on Lemon Avenue, Speak moved her shop to the heart of downtown Fullerton eight months after opening in order to attract more foot traffic as downtown was being revitalized.

With the bigger space, she decided that she wanted to do more than just sell comic books. Speak wants her shop to be a defined community center/art gallery/music studio/gaming hall/comic book shop.  

With their grand re-opening in 2013, the Hideout also started offering classes to anyone in the community who wanted to learn “how to be creative.” In 2017, Speak built a studio within the comic shop to offer music lessons taught by her old friends Brittany Lark and John Lovero. 

She was in a position as an entrepreneur to “gift opportunities” to local creatives who needed an outlet for their craft. One way was to start offering consignments for local artists to sell their work there. 

“You can always buy a Deadpool keychain at Walmart that’s been mass produced hundreds of times,” says Speak, “or you can walk into the Hideout and find something unique made by someone local.” 

“I’m really appreciative of Glynnes for the opportunity to teach classes in her shop,” says Lark, “It’s helped me to be more independent and feel confident in my career.” 

Bryce Rankins paints a mural at Comicbook Hideout’s anniversary event, for customers to pose with. (Logan Martinez)

The Hideout isn’t the only shop in town that’s offering a new spin on the comic book store. Enrique Munoz’s shop, Comic Hero University, has been a staple in Fullerton since late 2012. Originally located by the train tracks on Santa Fe Avenue for the past seven years, they have relocated the shop into a new, bigger space at 1001 Lemon St. near the AMC theater.

Although it’s a comic shop, if you walk into the back room you’ll find the University’s retro arcade, which houses new and classic arcade games as well as an impressive pinball collection. From time to time, the shop will host gaming tournaments where players have a chance to win comic books, special edition figurines, and even cash prizes. Out of all the products up for sale at the University, the arcade is what keeps people coming back week after week, according to Munoz.

Arcades aren’t a new trend and have been around since the late ’70s, but really took off in the ’80s with games like Pac-Man, Asteroids and Defender. Arcades saw a resurgence in the ’90s after the release of Street Fighter II ,which went onto popularize competitive fighting games. Like comic shops, arcades were places where you met your nerdy friends to hang out and pass the time playing video games. 

“There is a very nostalgic crowd who were around in the ’80s and remember those classic arcade games,” explains Munoz. 

Munoz and a close friend have a rotating roster of new and classic pinball games that have helped them to build a strong bond with their pinball players. “Pinheads,” as Munoz calls them, come into the store often to put in some practice on the newer machines.  After they’ve gotten familiar with the machines they record their scores to be submitted into scoring contests for that specific machine. That’s why they keep switching out the machines, but Munoz believes in keeping a few old favorites like Monster bash on hand in case anyone gets bored of the newer games. 

The pinball machine is considered to be one of the earliest arcade games to date, tracing its origins back to the early 16th century in Europe. As time went on, the machines were modified with spring launchers, coin-operations and flippers to make up the arcade games that we know today. Pinball was really popular in arcades in the ’80s, which even saw some cabinets themed after different figures in pop culture like KISS, The Terminator and Jurassic Park. 

“We like to keep a mixture of new and classic pinball machines so that the pinheads have something familiar to go back to,” says Munoz. In their new space, the University will feature 16 new and classic arcade machines and 22,000 comics on the sales floor.

The University is a great spot to hang out if you’re waiting for a movie, but if you’re in the heart of downtown Fullerton then the Lost Levels arcade is your best choice for classic arcade games. Located on North Harbor Boulevard, Lost Levels arcade is the newest addition to the downtown geek community. Matt Vazquez and Steven Torres opened the shop in 2016 with the goal of emulating the arcades of the past while also embracing the future of gaming. 

The arcade’s rotating roster of games features a mixture of classic arcade cabinets like Ms. PAC-Man and Galaga to newer games like Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution. The arcade also boasts a few cult classics like the original Killer Instinct, Metal Slug, and a class NeoGeo Machine. The Lost Levels even provides multiple consoles set up throughout the arcade for anyone interested in playing some of their favorite childhood consoles like the Nintendo 64, GameCube as well as a PlayStation 2.

“People come in all the time on their lunch break or if they’re walking by,” explains Vazquez. “There’s a good community that want to help each other out in downtown.” (Ian Barr)

The shop isn’t just an arcade. There are displays with new and used console games from the Xbox 360 to the original Nintendo Entertainment System and every generation in between. There’s also merchandise ranging from hats and wallets to board game versions of some choice video games like the Fallout board game and Monopoly: Fallout Collector’s Edition. The arcade also acts as a repair shop, selling different parts and accessories for your video gaming needs. 

Amidst the bars and coffee shops the downtown area is known for, these citadels of geekdom have done more than just survive. Lost Levels, the Hideout and the University all thrive on the downtown foot traffic and word of mouth of their geeky clientele. All of these shops can be found online either through Facebook, Instagram or even YouTube, but nothing beats the community of small business owners. Just like with every other community, people try to help one another out through word of mouth. 

“Nerd used to be a bad word,” says Speak. It was an insult for individuals who were intelligent or showed any interest in fantasy or sci-fi. Now, “nerds have reclaimed the word for themselves,” says Speak, and all those with a “geeky inclination” have come together to wear the term as a badge of honor.