He doesn’t don a cape and has no obvious super powers like the characters in the books that line the shelves of his shop on the Miracle Mile, but Al Greco is truly a legend to a lot of Stocktonians.

Any kid who grew up with a love for Batman, Spider-Man, the Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four or any other comic book hero kept abreast of those characters because of Greco and his son, Mike.

The two opened Al’s Comic Shop in 1979 on Harding Way and moved to Pacific Avenue a year later.

There the shop still sits, the first business a visitor finds open if walking along the 1800 block of Pacific past the shuttered Empresso Coffee Shop, Casa Flores and other establishments closed by building code violations.

The shop doesn’t rely on foot traffic as it did when parents took their kids to a movie at the Stockton Royal Theatre then wandered over to Al’s and let them pick out a comic book, a heck of a great double feature.

For those who walk through the door and ring the welcoming bell now, Al’s Comic Shop is a destination.

“If he wasn’t here, I probably would stop collecting comic books,” said Shawn Martinez, 47, who first discovered Al’s Comics as a 9-year-old and remembers the movie/comic treat. “I come to see him as much as to buy anything.”

Al Greco has that effect on visitors.

Warm and engaging, the 90-year-old has never read a comic book in his life. His son, however, learned to read with comic books and has always loved them. He talked his dad into opening the shop.

Al Greco was looking to end his 37-year career as an independent truck driver and said yes.

“It was something for me to do,” Greco said. “That’s what this amounts to. Instead of sitting at home like everyone does around a certain age, it was something to do. It has worked out OK. It kept my mind occupied and it’s kind of fun doing it.”

Sharp as a tack, the man who had jet black hair until he was 85, shows no sign of aging.

He greeted customers by name on Wednesday, which is the day new books come out.

Migquel Vazquez, 36, walked in and Greco took out a bag of books he had waiting for him under the counter.

Sometimes customers call and tell Al what they want to buy. Sometimes Greco puts aside something he thinks a customer will like. There’s no high-pressure sales going on. He invites people to read through books to find one they might like.

Greco isn’t selling comics to fund his retirement. He and Mike, 68, who spent 20 years working for Lucky Grocery Store, live on their pensions. The store pays for itself. It’s really just a hobby, Al said.

But for the thousands of kids who grew up visiting the magical store stocked full of colorful story books, Al’s Comic Shop is much more.

Vazquez said comic books helped him learn to read, just as they helped Mike Greco. Vazquez recently brought his 5-year-old son, Cole, to the shop and he took of photo of the little boy playing with toys in the box Al sets out for the younger set.

When Velazquez finished shopping on Wednesday, among books for his collection at home was a SpongeBob comic book.

StocktonCon founder Mike Millerick lived in Lockeford as a child and was a fan of the Fantastic Four.

“It was a big treat if you got to go to Al’s,” Millerick said. “It was the only comic shop in town. Everything there was everything a kid just loves. If my mom came in to town to go shopping, even if I had to go shopping where I didn’t want to be, I’d go if I could also go to Al’s.”

Artist Ramon Villalobos, creator of the popular new book Bordertown, grew up in Manteca and started going to Al’s when he was 15 or so.

“It was a 40-minute bus ride to get there and it felt like an adventure,” Villalobos, 30, said. “I remember the experience of walking in there. It had everything. I would go in there and he had all this old stuff in the back room with comics stacked to the ceiling. It was like a time machine.”

Villalobos and Greco formed a friendship. Shy as a teenager, he even showed Greco his sketchbook. Waiting for the bus home, he’d sometimes sit in the shop and draw.

“I could tell he was a natural,” Greco said. “Something would just come out of his head and he’d draw it. It would just flow. He didn’t have to look at a picture like some people. With him it was in his imagination.”

Villalobos always has a table at StocktonCon and Greco, who doesn’t sell books there, usually sits at Villalobos’ table.

“More people come and talk to Al than to me,” Villalobos said. “He knows everybody.”

Before there was StocktonCon, there was Al’s Comic Show. He and his son put on an event in 1979 with vendors and artists.

Greco’s other big venture was bringing the legendary Stan Lee to his shop in 1986.

As Greco remembers it, a customer suggested it and Greco reached out to representatives of the artist responsible for Black Panther, Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Mighty Thor, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Daredevil and Ant-Man.

“We had to collect 300 signatures and their phone numbers to they could spot check and make sure they were real fans,” Greco said.

For some reason Lee liked the idea of visiting the sleepy, agricultural community in the Central Valley and didn’t charge for the visit. Fans lined up around the block to meet Lee.

Some fans, like Frank Stone, who stopped into the store on Wednesday, were there that day and still have Lee’s autograph.

Among the memorabilia on the wall above the cash register is a photo taken that day of Mike Greco and Lee.

For Al Greco, it was an opportunity to make his customers happy. He really is that nice of a guy. He sells comic books because people enjoy them, and he's someone who can arrange that happiness for them.

It’s a simple strategy, but a reason that in a time when brick and mortar stores are struggling to stay open, Al’s Comic Shop is about the celebrate its 40th anniversary. Its owner is as special as its inventory.


Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or lgilbert@recordnet.com. Follow her on Twitter @lorigrecord.