Two years after a sign about their wedding plans went viral, Gabriel Mendez and Kenneth Denson continue to have a special connection with shoppers at their Red Pegasus Comics shop in a converted house in the Bishop Arts District of Oak Cliff.
Mendez and Denson are both wearing Red Pegasus shirts at the store on a hot and gloomy Saturday afternoon. They're seated at a table that is often used for signings and other in-store events. This night, they'll host a writer/artist signing in conjunction with a shop in Portland, looped in via livestream.
Red Pegasus' events, including pop-up shops at movie premieres, a monthly happy hour and a book club, are befitting of the self-described "weird" comics store in town. It carries plenty of the big hitters from Marvel and DC, but it does really strong business with indie comics.
“I’m not saying other stores aren’t, but I like to think we’re really hands on with what happens in what goes on, who we invite into the store with signings,” Mendez says. “Also, we try not to dictate what’s cool. We just try to let the neighborhood tell us what’s cool, and we try to provide for that.”
Customer service is Red Pegasus' priority. Mendez and Denson don't want to fit the stereotype of the pretentious, judgmental shop owner.
“We wanted to be the opposite of Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons,” Mendez says. “That’s what people expect. They expect to be, in some ways, bullied or intimidated.”
“The customer will tell you what you should be carrying,” Denson adds. “So we don’t resist that. If customers are trying to buy this, we will carry this unless it’s completely incompatible.”
This philosophy led Red Pegasus to stop offering card games and tabletop games last summer. An older sign out front still advertises games, but a newer sign removes any mention of them.
“The numbers did not work for games,” Denson says. “We looked at the data after a year, and games were less than 10 percent of our sales mix, and they had a worse profit margin than the books side. ... We sell a ton [more] books now than we used to with games."
This naturally meant parting with a chunk of their customer base. But Denson and Mendez point out there are other shops in town that sell games and do game nights, like Oak Cliff Games and Common Ground Games.
Mendez and Denson feel welcomed by and a part of the comic book store scene in North Texas. They don't feel they're better than any other store just because they do some things differently.
“Dallas is a really good comics community,” Denson says. “The culture here is really good.”
They're also devoted to their location in Oak Cliff, even as construction in the rapidly developing area has hindered their business.
“Change can be a little painful,” Mendez says. “I think Kenneth and I are pretty devoted to Oak Cliff and making sure that change is going in the right direction.”
The store's development has been accelerated by some seemingly out-of-the-blue opportunities that have come its way, which Mendez and Denson have been happy to embrace.
Last year, Exxon Mobil asked them to modify their logo, saying it looked too similar to the Mobil pegasus logo. Although many other businesses and artists have done takes on the pegasus, for some reason, the oil giant went after the little shop.
Mendez and Denson complied without protest, and media coverage of the demand turned into great publicity for Red Pegasus. That's how local entertainment company Cinestate got wind of the shop and approached the couple about using Red Pegasus as a shooting location for its forthcoming horror film, Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich.
Thomas Lennon (The State) and other well-known actors filmed scenes at Red Pegasus on a Monday, when the store — like many Oak Cliff businesses — is typically closed. Since they could not get legal clearances for the popular comics in the store, Denson and Mendez replaced the inventory with only independent and local comics.
Another opportunity will arrive Friday, July 28, when they will set up a tent at Starplex Pavilion during the Dallas stop of Warped Tour. The tent will be a collaboration with New York City's Valiant Comics.
Mendez and Denson will not be manning the tent — they'll be overseeing an in-store signing with writer Charles Soule that day — so two volunteers will weather the heat and deluge of teenagers. The following day, Red Pegasus will set up another book booth at the first Texas Latino Comic Con at the Latino Cultural Center.