Perky Nerd fueled by coffee, cats, Captain Marvel

Tiffany Melius dreamed of opening a cat cafe, but instead, her feline-inspired vision became The Perky Nerd, a sunny, welcoming comic book store in Burbank, Calif., with a focus on community.

As someone who came to comics later in life, Tiffany has a reputation for being sensitive to newbies, while fostering a lively, social shop atmosphere that includes cold brew coffee, two book clubs — The Perky Bitches and the Reading RainBros., as well as a calendar full of art shows, panels, gaming, signings, and other special events.

Tiffany’s formative fangirl experiences were centered around Rainbow Brite and Strawberry Shortcake. On a visit to a comic book store with her husband, she discovered Carol Danvers — then known as Ms. Marvel, the character will be featured in an upcoming Captain Marvel movie —  and the rest was nerd history.

Growing from idea to reality in a short five months, The Perky Nerd opened in 2016 to lines around the block and much fanfare. Tiffany quickly mastered the art of bagging pulls and talking shop while balancing a baby on her hip and has made a celebrity friend or two along the way, including swanky suit-wearing Ghostbusters director Paul Feig.

Along with possible Feig sightings, the Christmas shopping season is a great reason to visit The Perky Nerd, which carries a large and varied assortment of gifts perfect for the geeks in your life.

Upcoming events at the store include a SuperEmo Friends book signing from 4 to 6 p.m. on Dec. 1; an X-Men book signing with Eric and Julia Lewald from 2 to 4 p.m. on Dec. 8; and a Star Wars: Women of the Galaxy book signing with Amy Ratcliffe from 2 to 4 p.m. on Dec. 15.

For more info about The Perky Nerd, check out the shop’s website, Instagram, and Twitter.

You’re the owner of The Perky Nerd, a community-oriented comic book shop in Burbank, Calif., that also offers cold brew coffee, geeky merchandise, games, and events. I read that you and your husband, Jason, hatched the idea to open a comic book store during a trip to Chicago. Tell me about the evolution of The Perky Nerd, from idea to reality.

Well I had been researching a way to open a cat café and it was going to take a lot of financing for a building and everything. We love going to cons and collect comics and cosplay, so we decided to pare down my cat café idea into a comic book pop culture type shop that has cold brew coffee. The idea, process to opening, was just a matter of 5 months. Sometimes you just gotta go full-speed ahead and not look back, otherwise you might panic from the responsibility.

The store opened in April 2016 to crowds and a lot of fanfare. What were your biggest challenges in the early days of The Perky Nerd?

The biggest challenge was being there 24/7 with a 6-month-old baby. The community was so supportive and welcoming and patient. Bagging comics with a baby on my hip while carrying on a conversation about our upcoming events definitely helped me master the skill of multitasking.

The Reading RainBros. is one of two book clubs that meet at The Perky Nerd.

The shop is extremely focused on opportunities for socializing and hosts a ton of events, including art shows, gaming, panels, signings, and celebrity appearances. Why did you decide to put an emphasis on community?

I think when you have a baby, at least for me, you start thinking about the world you are bringing your child into and how can you make a positive impact on the world. For me, I decided to make a mark in the community he would grow up in.

Also, the world of nerdery has become more mainstream yet a nerd is still someone that might feel like an outsider. So I wanted to create groups to welcome comic book readers with Perky Bitches and Reading RainBros. Our art shows to support the artists in our community. Signings to support the writers and pop-up shops to help the con vendors find more exposure. We all have at least one thing in common and the shop helps bring people together. We need more unity in the world.

Director Paul Feig, center, at a Ghostbusters event at The Perky Nerd.

What are some of your favorite events The Perky Nerd has hosted?

Our shop seems to be a great place for all things Ghostbusters. Our first art show was a Ghostbusters art show and it was AMAZING! We had a Paul Feig panel and signing, which was awesome. He’s such a great guy. We even had a Slimer Day with Robin Shelby. We had some pretty wonderful Wonder Woman events too. Susan Eisenberg is absolutely fantastic.

You’re one of only a few woman comic book owners in the U.S. What has that experience been like?

For the most part, my experience has been great. I think people that appreciate what we are doing are our main clientele. I always say I’m sending out a vibration in the world to find perky nerds and that’s what we mostly attract.

You didn’t grow up going to the comic book shop. In fact, your first visit came later in life. Tell me about that, your discovery of Ms. Marvel, and how that brought out your inner nerd.

I went on a comic book hunt with my husband and he was like, you should find a comic too. I was definitely overwhelmed by the choices. Then I saw Carol Danvers on the cover of a Ms. Marvel issue and loved everything about her look. A badass in a leotard with thigh-high boots that can fly. I’m in. I got all the issues they had and then never stopped reading. I loved her strong personality and how she seemed like someone I would want to be friends with. Plus, she had a cool style and a cat named Chewy. Like I said, we could be BFFs.

Tiffany with Halloweentown star Kimberly J. Brown at a Buckle-Down Disney Villains product launch at The Perky Nerd.

Even if you weren’t into comics as a kid, you were still a fangirl. Tell me about some of your earliest fandoms.

I was a huge fan of Strawberry Shortcake and Rainbow Brite. I wanted everything to smell like strawberry and wanted a side ponytail and purple star on my cheek.

Does the fact that you discovered comics a little later in life influence the way you run your shop? The Perky Nerd is known for being especially friendly to comic book newbies.

Yes, because I’m very sensitive to the fact that it can be intimidating and you might not want to ask questions so you don’t look dumb. So I try to be as casual and light as possible so people don’t feel judged. I never knew what bags and boards were, so when I ask people if they want them and they seem confused, I know to act even more casual while explaining what they are so they know in the future.

Although things are changing, a lot of comic book shops still have the feel of a “boy’s club.” How is The Perky Nerd different?

From the moment you walk in the door to a bright, open, nicely decorated space, you can tell it’s different. I am complimented daily on how nice of a shop it is, which is reassuring that the feel is coming across.

The Perky Bitches book club meets at The Perky Nerd.

You host a bimonthly book club for women, The Perky Bitches. Tell me about the club and what goes on during a meeting. (There’s also a club for men, the Reading RainBros.)

It’s a monthly subscription. You get two books a month and a membership card that gets you 10% off comics, trades, and cold brew coffee. At the meetings, we chat about what’s happening that week and then dive into discussing the book. We have a core group of women that have been coming since we started in May 2016 and we still get new people every month. It’s pretty cool how our little community just keeps growing.

The Perky Nerd has a Heroes for Heroes program in which customers can buy extra books and put them in an ammo can to donate to soldiers stationed at military installations. Where did the idea for the program come from?

My husband is a Marine and he said he would have loved to have received comics in the service. So he wanted to create something to give back.

Tiffany and Ghostbusters director Paul Feig.

The Perky Nerd has several celebrity friends, including director Paul Feig, who you mentioned. I love that the shop has become a champion of sorts for the all-woman Ghostbusters. That was such an underrated movie. How did your relationship with Feig come about?

He reached out on Twitter when I started promoting the shop before we opened and said he’d love to come visit when we opened. Then we opened and he came! He’s a classy guy that’s been coming in regularly ever since.

Let’s return to the subject of Captain Marvel. With the movie coming out, interest in Carol Danvers and her saga is at a high point. What does that feel like for an OG fan of the character?

It’s cool that she will get more exposure and become mainstream, but at the same time I want to keep her all to myself. Mostly, because I really wanted to play her on the big screen ever since I started reading her comics. But the time has come for Carol Danvers and that’s pretty cool, too. Maybe people will stop saying “cool Wonder Woman bag” when it’s really a Captain Marvel symbol.

I understand you had a bumpy but ultimately positive transition when Ms. Marvel became Captain Marvel, thanks to the Kelly Sue DeConnick comics.

I always LOVED the black outfit and I feel like there’s already a Captain in the Marvel universe. So I didn’t love the new suit and name because I thought what she had going on was pretty amazing. Why change it? But I did love the Kelly Sue version. She did Carol justice and gave Chewy a bigger role. So you can’t complain about that.

Are there going to be some big festivities at The Perky Nerd when the movie comes out in March? 

You better believe it. I have some ideas. Stay tuned.

The Perky Nerd celebrated Leia Day in October, hosting five women who have voiced the Star Wars character.

You’ve said you’re “grateful that the MCU exists because it has made it easier for people to be nerdy.” In what way?

I think because of the MCU, these characters are more mainstream. Who hasn’t heard of the Avengers at this point? There’s merch galore, so you can really let your nerd flag fly. I feel like before people had a knee-jerk reaction to a person that liked comics being a mom’s basement dweller. When that isn’t true and even truer now.

What are some of your other fandoms?

Black Widow, She-Hulk, Squirrel Girl and Spider-Woman are some that I love outside of Carol Danvers. I also love Groot and Hulk. Oh, and I can’t forget R2 and Chewbacca. I am a huge fan of comedy, too. I love Wayne’s World and Adam Sandler movies.

You also enjoy cosplay. Tell me about how you got into that and some of the favorite ones you’ve done so far.

Ms. Marvel and Black Widow are close to my heart because Ms. Marvel was my first whirl as cosplay. Then Black Widow was one I went ALL out for. I’ve done two versions of Black Widow, too. She’s the reason I had red hair for so long. I didn’t want to do a wig, I wanted to have my real hair. Then it kind of stuck for a while. But right now I’m going back to blonde for my first fave, Carol Danvers.

Artist Paul Frank visits The Perky Nerd.

As a woman, is there anything you’d like to see change in the comic book industry?

I think it’s already changing. More women are present in the world, Hosting shows, blogging, and being a patron of female-owned or run stores. I also have seen the women in the books themselves changing. More women titles. More women characters. I have met many women writers and artists, too. I think it’s already changed so much in the 2.5 years we have been open.

What are some of your favorite recent comic books?

Paper Girls and Saga are some of my top sellers and I can’t get enough of them myself. I also recently discovered some older titles, Velvet, and Mockingbird, and Lady Killer are some of my top picks and go-tos to turn people onto something off the Marvel/DC path.

Do you have any future plans or dreams for The Perky Nerd?

Yes, I would love to expand. We need a bigger space. I would like to do my original plan for a full coffee bar, as well as a wine/beer lounge. I want to have a Perky Nerd line of coffee beans and drinks. And I’d love to design some casual cosplay wardrobes for the Perky Nerds like me. Ideally, I’d have a space for gaming and shows and a mini artist alley too. A nerd emporium!

Like many of the readers of No Man’s Land, you’re a Cat Lady. How is that currently manifesting itself in your life?

I’ve got too many. Plus, I adopted so many over the course of the years, I became known as the Cat Lady. So I wrote a one-hour one-woman show called “Confessions of a Cat Lady,” and that’s sort of what led me down the road to wanting a cat café, which ended up being the Perky Nerd. So I guess you could say cats are why I’m now The Perky Nerd.

P.S. That’s why there is a cat in my logo. I wanted to have a cat present in some way, since that’s where this all started.

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