Alter Egos is a column that highlights talented geeks in the Chattanooga area, tracing the origins of their favorite pop culture obsessions to their present-day hobbies.
For Meagan Frey, her love of comics stemmed from reading anything she could get her hands on at an early age.
“We didn’t have a ton of money growing up, so literature and movies [and] TV [are] definitely what I connected with,” she says. “I remember every Friday before school let out I would go to the library and pick the biggest, most complicated book I could find (the kinds that were leagues above my comprehension) and lock myself in my room all weekend until I was finished. AR (Accelerated Reader) points were like a drug to me.”
When she wasn’t reading, the 28-year-old co-owner of Infinity Flux Comics would spend her holidays watching marathons of the Twilight Zone until the early morning. By 15, she had discovered John Waters’ cult classic “Pink Flamingos.”
“I hadn’t ever connected with a movie that way before,” Frey explains. “I was immediately mesmerized and convinced I needed to go find my own group of ‘Dreamlanders’ friends.”
As time went on, she got into comics because she felt they were the perfect middle ground between the mediums she grew up on — books and film.
“It’s also a low-cost way for creative people to express their ideas, usually with a lot less oversight and censorship,” she says. “For example, if you want to make a movie, there are tons of people [who] are involved, and usually a lot of money at stake. But with comics, you can visually tell any story you want with a good artist and a good writer.”
Frey counts indie comic lines such as Dark Horse, Image, and After Shock as her gateway into the comics world due to her love of horror and weird stuff, but she also sees how versatile comics have been from the beginning.
“Comic reading used to be the norm in America back during the Golden Age of comics,” she says. “There were, of course, the books for kids, but women had their romance comics and men had their war and superhero books. You can see societal norms, values, and interest shift over the years just by picking up a stack of comics [over] the years.”
Honing a Homegrown Comics Experience
Infinity Flux was started by a few of Frey’s friends and she began managing the shop’s online presence. As the shop — and its catalog of comic lines grew — her role expanded, too. Initially, the comic store was like many in the Scenic City, with its mix of new releases and an area for gamers. Now the shop has its own space for comics, graphic novels, and comics-related merch.
“As far as how we’ve tried to stand out, we have a dedicated store just for comics,” she says. “That’s actually kind of rare because a lot of time you have gamers mixed with comics, and a lot of readers don’t care for that. Gaming stores can be crowded and loud. Having the dedicated comic storefront lets us provide that atmosphere.”
The comic store staff is small and tight-knit, as well as avid readers. They want anyone who walks in that door to leave with something new and exciting to read.
“This isn’t just a job for us — we’re not trying to sell you a product we don’t even know about,” Frey explains. “We all really like and care about this stuff.”
The store itself has become a way for her to be creative and make the shopping experience more personal for customers.
“From our shelf-talkers which describe what the new comics are about to the handcrafted shelving which holds our back issues that we built with our bare hands … we do these things to give our customers (and ourselves) the experience of shopping in a place that is truly locally owned and operated and not at all like a big box store. When people from other cities come by, they are always extremely impressed and that’s a very humbling experience.”
This year the store will begin stocking more toys and statues, due to customer demand. Since indie comics were one of her first comic loves, she keeps a good mix on hand and often recommends them to customers.
“If I like it and know the taste of the customer, I can recommend it to them,” she says. “If they like it, they add it to their pull. We have a dedicated section for our indie books, and we make a point to give it prominence.”
The shop regularly hosts a variety of events and Frey loves being at the forefront of planning something fun and memorable for comic fans and geeks alike.
“I love to decorate, come up with themes and games, and just provide a space for people to have a good time. I feel like I come alive during events, so I definitely push for us to have a lot of them when appropriate.”
Out of all of the events they’ve hosted so far, the midnight release of the Doomsday Clock series has been her favorite.
“First of all, I love the enthusiasm that drives 35-plus people to come out after midnight on a Tuesday to get a new, groundbreaking comic. That’s just incredible,” she says. We ordered pizzas and I decorated them with pepperoni fashioned to look like the [Doomsday] clock itself. We had music and ‘The Dark Knight’ playing in the background. It was incredible to see so many like-minded folks meet each other and talk about things they love. I’m a ridiculous romantic and it just made me want to cry.”
Connection is an important aspect to Frey, and she wishes more people would turn off the Netflix and come out and see what’s happening in town.
“I know work, family, and obligations can really keep people confined. I’ve worked enough 9-to-5’s and I don’t misunderstand how tough that is,” she says. “But it’s getting out there and actually attending some of these events and activities we already have in Chattanooga that will make everyone’s lives more fulfilling.”
Creating a Co-Op of Artists and Writers
Infinity Flux has also become a hub for artists and writers to meet monthly to create their own comics via the Chatt Comix Co-Op. This group is something Frey has nurtured from the beginning.
“Local artist and self-published comic creator Tara Hamilton came by Infinity Flux one day to hang up posters for her then online-only comics support group,” she explains. “It was providence that we were actually looking to start something like this of our own. Together, Tara and the shop helped create what is now a group of 30+ people who create original comic work together. We hope to see our members eventually get their works published and become full-fledged members of the industry and see their creative endeavors come to life.”
Again, she feels building that connection can help people’s creativity flourish and take flight. While group members are mostly Chattanooga-based, it’s not uncommon for artists from other parts of Tennessee and Atlanta, Georgia, to pop in for meetings.
“Creating art is difficult. It takes a lot of effort, time, sweat, and lost sleep,” Frey says. “It’s much easier for most people to create something when you have support from others who are creating their own things as well. We really do like to think of the Co-Op as a support group for local comic creators to transform what is in their mind to something physical.”
Together with WonderPress, the shop helps fund the production of Co-Op books, allowing artists and writers to concentrate on the most important part — the creative process. The first comic anthology theme was Chattanooga, and since then has branched out to other subjects.
“Right now we’re wrapping up an anthology titled ‘Mixed Emotions,’ which has to do with various emotional states,” Frey says. “This is our most ambitious work because it’s such a complex topic, but I’m excited to see how great it’s going to turn out. We’ve really focused on workshopping every aspect of it, so I know the quality is going to be our best yet. When other artists [and] writers from out of town come by they are always impressed and often envious that their city doesn’t have a group like this.”
The Co-Op has also hosted comic professionals at meetings and allowed them to share their experiences of working in the comics industry.
“We’ve had some amazing guests come through, [including] Mimi Pond, Shane Berryhill, Alex Ogle, Andy Duggan, and Richard Starkings,” she says. “Richard has been great because he’s so easy to talk to and genuinely wants people to succeed. I appreciate how much he’s come around even beyond being a presenter to give feedback to our members and help them grow.”
As for what the future holds, Frey wants Infinity Flux to become a Chattanooga staple, and the place out-of-towners associate with the Scenic City when they’re driving through.
“When you go to big cities, there are always a few places you just have to visit that scream ‘hey I visited X city!’ [Places] like Junkman’s Daughter to Atlanta or Sci-Fi City to Knoxville,” Frey explains. “That’s what I ultimately hope for and envision with the shop. With the continued support of people who care to see Chattanooga grow to be as cool as it can, we hope to reach that level.”
Rachel Stewart grew up in the ’80s on a healthy diet of pop culture. In 2005, she discovered “Doctor Who” and never looked back. Since then, she co-founded the Tennessee Who Authority — a “Doctor Who” fan group — and has served as a panelist at fan conventions across the Southeast, including Chattacon, Con Nooga, Wholanta, Hurricane Who, and ConGT. She also reviewed “Doctor Who” novels and Big Finish audios at “The Oncoming Storm” podcast. Want to be featured? Email Rachel at [email protected].