Shaman Drum has closed, and Borders is struggling, but after three expansions comics emporium Vault of Midnight is celebrating yet another profitable year–and looking beyond Ann Arbor.

Co-owner Curtis Sullivan says Hollywood helped insulate his niche from the sales slump that’s hit books and magazines. “Comics have had steady growth for eight years now because we have these billion-dollar commercials out there,” he says. “Batman, Iron Man–the list goes on and on.”

Sullivan and Steve Fodale–who met in first grade at Bach School–started Vault of Midnight in 1996 with about $500 in capital. “We were like little kids,” Sullivan recalls. “We didn’t have a business plan. We stocked what we liked, and that was about it. It sounds really cool, but I wouldn’t recommend it.”

Yet within two years they were doing well enough to move the store from an old house on Ashley to a former gas station at the corner of Huron and Fourth Avenue. Two years later they moved again, to the basement of the Darling Block on Liberty across from the Federal Building. And three years ago, they made the big jump to Main Street, taking over the former After Words store just north of Liberty.

Sullivan credits Fodale for much of the store’s success. Though Fodale no longer works in the store (he’s now a full-time accountant with the Charles Reinhart Company), he still keeps Vault of Midnight’s books.

Sullivan, who looks like Mickey Rourke’s punk cousin, works hard, too–he figures he puts in sixty to sixty-five hours a week at the store. His life partner, Liz DellaRocco, also works there full time. Their kids–Dana, sixteen, and Kiley, twelve–help out, too.

Sullivan was raised poor and struck out on his own as a teenager. Fittingly, the comic book character he most identifies with is the Orphan: “He comes across as pretty cool, but he’s super-sensitive, so he’s hyper-affected by everything around him.” DellaRocco’s favorite is Zero Girl: “She reflects kind of how I am: tenacious. She encounters a lot of trials and adversity, and she handles it the same way I would: with fervor.”

The Vault’s owners recently replaced the store’s front door, sales counter, and many of the shelves, and added new signs. But they’re already looking beyond Main Street–to Chicago. Sullivan says they plan to open a second Vault of Midnight there by the end of next year.