An open book

Neighbors: Profiles of our community

Alika Seki is the owner of Maui Comics & Collectibles in Kahului and the co-organizer the annual Maui Comic Con, which will take place Oct. 27 and 28 at University of Hawaii Maui College.

Alika Seki knows a thing or two about comic books. “I could talk about comics all day long,” he laughed. “I’ve been obsessed since I was a kid.”

Seki has lost track of how many he’s read over the years, but estimates he now has between 50,000 and 70,000 comics.

When Seki was 12, his uncle bought him his first four comic books. Seki says he was instantly enthralled by the characters, the stories and the art. So much, in fact, that he slept with them under his pillow every night. Needless to say, it was the perfect gift — and one that ignited a lifelong passion. (And, he still has those four prized comics.)

In the years that followed, he would spend hours hunting for comics at stores, yard sales and flea markets. By the time he was a senior in high school, his collection had grown from four to 1,000.

Seki went on to study civil engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and put his hobby on hold — it remained on the back burner when he came home to Maui after graduation to work at an engineering firm. But it wasn’t long before a familiar feeling began to take hold. “I really missed collecting comics,” he recalled.

In 2010, he met the late Bruce Ellsworth, a renowned comic book grader and senior adviser to the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, a reference source for collectors and investors. Ellsworth took Seki under his wing and taught him the nuts and bolts of collecting and grading (the process of determining the grade or condition of a book, which directly influences its value).

Seki quickly learned the ropes and discovered he had a knack for appraising comics. “Before I met Bruce, I was just a fan,” he said. “I learned everything about the industry from him.” But as he deepened his knowledge, Seki says something continued to nag at him: Wailuku’s longtime comic book store had closed its doors in the early 2000s, and he realized there was a void that needed to be filled.

Before his death in 2013, Ellsworth encouraged Seki to throw caution to the wind and open a new store. Two years later — and to the delight of aficionados islandwide — Maui Comics & Collectibles set up shop on Dairy Road; the store moved to its current location on Wakea Avenue earlier this year.

Not long after opening Maui Comics & Collectibles, Seki and a friend, Ken Gardner, began toying with the idea of bringing a comic convention (a multi-day event that gives fans an opportunity to mingle with comic book creators, artists, experts and fellow enthusiasts) to Maui. In 2016, the first Maui Comic Con made its debut at the Lahaina Cannery Mall with 2,000 attendees. The following year, the event moved to the University of Hawaii Maui College campus and drew a crowd of 3,000.

This year’s Maui Comic Con will take place on Oct. 27 and 28 at UH-Maui College. The free, family-friendly event will feature panel discussions, live drawing demonstrations and a cosplay contest. This year’s headliners include three comic artists: Steve Leialoha, who has worked for a number of publishers, including Marvel Comics and DC Comics; Trina Robbins, the first woman to draw the Wonder Woman comics; and Steve Lavigne, best known for lettering and coloring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics.

But you don’t have to wait until October to get your fix: Comic book writer, artist and editor Carl Potts will be at Maui Comics & Collectibles on Aug. 21 for a lecture and in-store signing. Potts is the creative mind behind the science-fiction series “Alien Legion” for Epic Comics, an imprint of Marvel Comics.

Today, Seki wears three hats: He’s a part-time civil engineer, owner of Maui Comics & Collectibles and a full-time husband and father. He’s also a member of the Hawaii Comic Book Alliance and an Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide adviser; he’s had articles published in the past six editions.

Running a comic book store in the digital age has its challenges, but Seki says it’s far from a dying medium. Chalk it up to nostalgia, blockbuster superhero movies, or the appeal of a tactile experience, but there’s been renewed interest in comics of late.

And it’s a trend that excites Seki, who is on a mission to keep comic culture alive on Maui. “I love it when I can introduce new people to the medium or when people tell me: ‘I started collecting again because you opened the store,’ “ he said. “When I see the community respond in such a positive way — that’s how I know it’s a success.”

Maui Comics & Collectibles is located at 115 S. Wakea St. in Kahului. For more information about the 2018 Maui Comic Con, visit www. mauicomiccon.com.

* Sarah Ruppenthal is a Maui-based writer. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at missruppenthal@gmail.com. Neighbors and “The State of Aloha,” written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays. This article includes a correction from the original published on Friday, June 22, 2018.

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