Jay Bardyla jokes that he looks the part of the stereotypical comic-shop guy. He wears shorts even when the snow is flying outside; he’s often seen wearing a Justice League t-shirt, he’s got the long hair.
But he and business partner, Sylvia Douglas, believe that Rolling Tales Pop Culture is more than a comics and games shop located in a Terwillegar strip mall. They want to be a community hub. They want to nurture the comic writers and artists of tomorrow, and they do outreach programs in schools.
Rolling Tales works with librarians and teachers, showing that comics are what Bardyla calls a “literacy tool.” And they work to supply schools with affordable books. Sure, there’s a business case for what they do, but there’s a deeper connection, there.
“We also want to be fostering the next generation of storytellers and creators, and comics are a fantastic way to do that,” says Bardyla.
Bardyla used to run Happy Harbor Comics, located downtown, before selling it in late 2018 (Douglas worked there too). Bardyla admitted that “retirement” didn’t suit him. He saw that Douglas was also “between jobs” and reached out with a crazy idea — why not launch a new comic shop?
They brought back something that was a mainstay at Happy Harbor — the artist-in-residence program. Chelsea Wong was in-store on weekends, available for commissions.
“She got to keep income from prints she sold, but she also chose to do commissions for Food Bank donations,” says Douglas. “We want to be more than a store. We want to be a community player.”
Bardyla says the store wants to stock a diverse selection of comics to include more readers. It’s a strategy that is sometimes pushed back against by the old, white, male guard of the comics community — people who complain about the rise of female and BIPOC heroes in comics, and are happy to see Batman beat the crap out of the Joker 12 times a year, every year. He says that Douglas is an invaluable ally, to help him past his own blind spots.
Douglas says Rolling Tales is a product of the customers who have made it their preferred spot to celebrate their fandom.
“It couldn’t have happened without the loyal group of people we have. It’s not just about books on the shelves or the dice in cases. It’s about people who want to engage and talk about the things they love, and share their hobbies.”