Column: Free Comic Book Day is bittersweet this year

(Disclaimer: Any opinion contained in this column is that of its author)

(Featured photo is the profile picture at the Augusta Book Exchange Facebook page)

A bittersweet time approaches soon — one of comics, regular books, art, and of memories of one lost.

Free Comic Book Day on May 6 at Augusta Book Exchange this year will be a little sad without a key figure in the store yet full of fond memories.

In fact, being a lifelong patron of all of Augusta Book Exchange’s locations, including their latest, I personally dedicate Free Comic Book Day at Augusta Book Exchange to the late Donna Mallard, significant other of store owner Paul Rogers at the store and lifelong resident of Augusta.

Donna, a bespectacled employee there with a soft voice and smile for all, passed away on April 19 at the age of 65. She didn’t like to be photographed so I don’t have many pictures to share.

The annual event is just what it sounds like with free specially selected comics being available to patrons from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Not all comics in the store are free during the event.

Author and artist Travis Hollaway, who runs the C.S.R.A. Sequential Artist Group and plays a central role in the relationship between that group and ABX, said, “Donna, known as the “Hugger in Residence”, is a part of the DNA of the Augusta Book Exchange. She thought of you as family as soon as you walked into the door, which is why you love the ABX. I will miss her and the CSRA will miss her every-once-in-a-while welcome with a hug.” 

I also have my own fond memories of her. Donna always checked on my Corgi, Ziggy, and me when we would visit the store. She would pet Ziggy and give me a hug. I saw her do the same with others and their pets, so I can attest to Hollaway’s statements. To many, she was like an aunt or mother figure at ABX.

In addition, she always asked about my mother, who I returned to be a caregiver for in my hometown in 2015. Donna epitomized kindness. 

Next, Donna helped hold ABX together like proverbial glue. In fact, Donna was an avid reader and a meticulous sorter of the used books within that particular section of the store. I often saw her check in droves of tomes when the store still had an exchange program for books. In recent years, the store has moved more from the book exchange aspects of the store to the comics, gaming, and collectibles end. Used paperbacks and hardbacks have been greatly reduced for clearance purposes within the store. However, Donna played a large part in the books section of the store right up until the time she grew very ill.

Her significant other Paul and she just seemed to click in the store. He fulfilled the need for comics and gaming questions, and she fulfilled the need for book questions. Yet she was also knowledgeable about the rest.

Augusta Book Exchange on Gordon Highway. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

In the store, she helped take care of the resident cats and petted them as they pawed around the tables and floors. She loved animals as well as people.

One of my best memories of Donna was on the rare occasion when I would have a book signing without any sales in there, she would console me and do something else. Like a grandmother or auntie would do when you visit their house, she would sneak a crumpled $5 bill into my hand for what she called my trouble. “For your gas,” she would say in a raspy voice. And I would hug her and thank her.

She and Paul have greatly supported the author and artist community in Augusta. For many years, they have had Free Comic Book Day and Halloween Comicfest events and provide free tables for regional creatives as well as individual signings for authors and artists.

In fact, at this years’ Free Comic Book Day on May 6 at the store, the illustrator, digital photographer, graphic artist, and author guest list includes but is not limited to (at present): Bopper 9, Fox Si-Long, Jon Paschal, Josh Clark Goodman, Michael Rushbrook, Sheldon Eastman, Specks Thompson, Travis Hollaway and Xavier Jones. I will also be in attendance.

In addition to the selected free comic books, almost all merchandise is half price as Paul readies for a move from Gordon Highway to Martinez.

Many will continue to think about Donna and this great loss and grieve. (In fact, I cried when I heard the news and cried just before and just after I wrote this tribute.)

Such a kind spirit has left our world. According to Chance & Hydrick Funeral directors’ obituary for Donna online, she “…was the daughter of the late William N. Barnes and Sarah Ann Young Barnes. She was a member of Friendship United Methodist Church… Survivors include her children, Chad Mallard, and Adam Mallard (Melissa); her significant other, Paul Rogers; her sister, Lynda Anderson (Lonnie); a number of nieces and nephews.”

Remember Donna by supporting the store that she was such a part of and also considering contributing to something that definitely matched her spirit, Christian radio. 

She requested that memorials be made to WAFJ Christian Radio at www.wafj.com .

Songs about Donna’s kindness will still be played forever more in the hearts of those who visit Augusta Book Exchange. We love you, the mother and auntie of the creatives and self-labeled (in my case) geeks of ABX. I know God, Christ, and your heavenly loved ones are giving you the hugs you gave in life one hundred times over.

Ron Baxley Jr. is a correspondent for Augusta Good News. He’s also the author of several books inspired by The Wizard of Oz as well as a graphic novel based on his Corgi, Ziggy.

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