Pencil artwork of Batman takes up wall space; small statues of an X-Man, Spiderman and Captain America sit in glass cases also occupied by “G.I. Joe” action figures; an Invisible Man modeling kit has been placed, still sealed in its box, above them; a poster of Superman breaking free of Kryptonite chains hangs over just some of the many boxes containing the hundreds of old, in some cases decades old, single issue comic books that occupy The Zone, a small Court Street comic book shop in Pekin.

Scott Au, 44, has been a comic book shop owner since Nov. 8, 1994. His first shop was in Creve Coeur. He spent two to three years there before moving to 206 N. Main St. in the village, where he stayed for 17 to 18 years. He took the business to Pekin in September 2015, after the waterline kept breaking at the second Creve Coeur location.

Now working out of 521 Court St. in Pekin from noon to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, The Zone is a purveyor of old and new single issue comics; trades, which are generally hardcover or paperback collections of the single issues of an ongoing comic book series or mini-series; trading and competitive card games like Magic: The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokemon; toys; and small statues depicting well-known and obscure comic book characters.

“I don’t even know how I ended up (in) downtown Pekin,” Au said. “I stumbled onto this place.”

A couple years ago, Au got to talking with Joanne Falkingham, the building’s previous owner, who ran One More Time, a used furniture store. The two got along, Au asked about buying the building, Falkingham said yes, and that was it.

Opened since Sept. 1, 2015, Au doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic. Most of the people who come in are either regulars or they’re newcomers visiting because of word of mouth from other customers or other comic book shop owners, who have referred people to The Zone.

The current popularity of superheroes and superhero movies has helped the shop, but the threat of the internet and online shopping has negatively affected many physical comic shops across the country. In fact, The Zone, Acme Books & Comics in Peoria, and Zeek’s Comics and Games in Washington are the only comic book shops in the central Illinois area.

“I want to say, ‘Sure it’s affected my business,’ but I have loyal customers,” Au said. “And people still want to go out and hunt and still feel the book and look at the book when they buy it instead of looking online. Because when you do it online, you can’t see what you’re getting sometimes, and when you get it, you’re not (always) happy with the end result. So, I think brick and mortar stores still need to exist.”

One of the benefits of physical locations is the hosting of trading card competitions events like Magic: The Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh!. The competitions — held at 7 p.m. Fridays and 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays — are easy to get into for those unfamiliar with the games and everything needed to start out is provided for free at the store during competition days.

Shaun Kelly, 26, of Pekin, has been coming to The Zone for 10 years. Primarily a trading card player who usually comes in daily for a few hours, he said The Zone is a great, much more easygoing environment than some comic book stores he’s been to.

Au is friendlier than certain other comic shop owners, Kelly said. The card players that come in don’t take the game too seriously either, which is good. Kelly believes hardcore players that take the games super seriously can drive not only him but others away from stores. For Kelly, it’s about having fun and interacting with people. At The Zone, he said people are nice and welcome players to come and join a game.

Kelly likes the store’s variety of customers and card players. He said all sorts of people from different jobs and different trading card interests stop by.

“It gives me different interactions with different people,” Kelly said. “I could have a business man coming in (and) play Magic: (The Gathering), and we just talk, hit it up and talk about different things we like about Magic. It’s just (an) easy way to get down to people, communicate (with) them on a level we all can agree on and understand.”

While Au’s average clientele is in their 30s, the variety of customers has opened up over the past few years.

“I think it’s changed a lot,” Au said. “I mean, it used to be, I guess you would call it, nerdy people (coming in). Now, it’s more mainstream. You know, your football players, your baseball players, anybody who has interest in stuff like this will just come in. I have lawyers coming in, police officers coming, young kids coming in.”

Some are extremely young kids, he believes around 6 years old, stopping by to purchase Pokemon cards. They also purchase 50 cent comics to read or, for those who can’t read yet, look at the pictures. They just want to get into comics, Au said. Marj Oesch, a teacher at L.E. Starke Elementary School in Pekin, has even brought in her second graders on a field-trip to look at the comics.

The only advice Au would give to those wanting to get into comics is to have an idea of what they want to start reading. He can help stear customers in the direction of good stories to start with for different characters, but he needs to have some clue as to which comic series a newcomer wants to begin reading in order to offer those recommendations.

While some might be worried about the popularity of comic book movies and TV shows dying down and hurting business, Au is more optimistic.

“I don’t know if there’s going to be an end in sight for comic related movies,” he said. “Sure, they might not make as much money, but I don’t know if they’re going to stop.”

Au is getting cramped on Court Street. He still has plenty of storage space in the business’s basement, but he would like to expand to a larger location. Due to the lease on the current building, though, he’ll have to stay at 521 Court for at least a few more years. He’s also looking to the future in more ways than just a new shop.

“I think when I first opened the store, I just wanted to open a store to get people product ... I don’t think I had a goal in mind when I first did it, but I think my thought has changed. I feel that I’m setting things up for my kids now,” Au said. “I want to leave them with stuff ... This way, they’ll have something to do if they want to do it, or if they want to go to college, or if they want to sell this to buy something (like) a car, (a) downpayment on a house or whatever the case may be.”