After more than 20 years in the business, prominent Phoenix, Ariz. retailer Mike Malve has closed the four area store of comic store chain Atomic Comics and declared bankruptcy. In an e-mail sent to comics industry professionals Malve cited "the economic downturn of the past 5 years" as well as a more than $1 million inventory loss caused by an uninsured minor crashing their car into the chain's Mesa location in 2006 as the key reasons for the chain's closings.

Social media reactions to Atomic's closing have been almost universally sympathetic, especially from creators, many of whom credit Malve and the store's employees with hosting successful signings and events. Given the chain's high profile among customers and creators like Mark Millar (who gave Atomic Comics a cinematic Kick-Ass cameo), the closings are considered by many to be both a symbolically and economically troubling blow to the comic book industry.Former Atomic Comics employee and current assistant editor at Dark Horse Comics Patrick Thorpe shared his experience working at the chain circa 2004-2007 in an e-mail to ComicsAlliance:

What separated Atomic from most other comic-book stores that I had frequented up to that point, was their attention to customer service. Atomic wasn't just a gentleman sitting behind the counter, it was a bunch of really fun employees forming relationships with customers. We'd get people coming into our Chandler Mall location saying, "They still make comic books?" and leaving die-hard fans.

Mike Malve is a marketing dynamo. We had some amazing signings. He reunited the original founders of Image for one. He encouraged employees to come up with events--movie nights, concerts, signings, etc. Public Enemy played a concert in the Phoenix store's parking lot. There was always an event to look forward to, and he was constantly thinking of ways to get people excited about comic books.

The majority of my friends from the Phoenix area are Atomic Comics alum, or former customers. I made lifelong friends there and I know that there are many others who did the same. I remember when we had a young driver plow through the front of our Mesa store in 2006, I believe it was, and hit a water main, destroying nearly everything in the store (except for the silver age comics, assistant manager Jeff Teston risked life and limb to save them) the outpouring of support from the community was tremendous. Atomic Comics was a place where people felt welcome, had a chance to connect with their favorite comic creators, and form lasting relationships with a bunch of fun, like-minded people. Thank you for everything Atomic Comics! You will be sorely missed.

Though its clearly a troubled time for he and his family, Malve's "My Final Report" message communicates an optimistic outlook on his future both in and outside of comics.

I know there are many people out there facing very similar situations in these difficult times and now I can definitely empathize with them. I have always been and will forever be an extremely optimistic person and will look at this situation as an adventure. I have very high hopes for the next chapter of my life. I have the support of my wonderful wife, Andrea, my kids, Alexandra & Jack, many loving family members, and lots of great friends. My passion in life, second of course to my family, is the comic book industry, of which I hope to remain a part of in the years to come.

While the closing of the Atomic chain could likely impact overall comic sales numbers in the short term, whether or not it marks the beginning of a troubling trend among other stores remains uncertain. The circumstances surrounding Atomic's troubles seem to have been a blend of general economic struggles and at least one very specific accident. In many ways, the takeaway from the closings seems like much less of a simple cautionary tale than an unfortunate climax to a story a few years in the making. For now, the most important thing to be gleaned from the Atomic closings may be Malve's dignified and hopeful approach to working through a major life transition.

[Via The Beat/Robot6/The Comics Reporter]