This Saturday, August 18, 2012, I received some of the worst news I’ve heard in a long time: Brian Kozicki, owner of my local comic book shop Buried Under Comics, suffered a heart attack and died. His business manager had picked him up for breakfast and he complained of chest pains. He was immediately taken to the hospital and rushed to the ER, but it was too late.

To most of us, Brian was more than just a comic book store owner, and Buried Under more than just a store. It was a second home, and Brian made it feel like a home. Because of him many of us have met our closest friends, or, yes, even the people they plan to marry. Some of us he gave jobs, myself included. Starting in early college he had me working there on new comics day and Saturdays, and even when the rest of life got in the way and I couldn’t work there for a while, he always welcomed me back. Working there on weekends for so many years was one of the best jobs I ever had, and all the friends who were there with me agree.

Brian was the antithesis of the stereotypical comic store owner, embodying everything the Comic Book Guy from “The Simpsons” wasn’t. Comics stores too often have the stigma of being run by scam artists trying to swindle people with overpriced collectors items, but Brian would have none of that. For as long as I’ve known him he always believed in comics as reading material and nothing more. It was far more important to him to connect a reader with a story they would like instead of taking their money for some “hot” item.

Local and independent artists had a champion in Brian. He wasn’t the guy to only carry the popular comics. He loved looking for new work from lesser-known artists, and stocked as many of those kinds of books as he could afford. If someone from the area showed Brian their work and asked if he would carry it, he almost certainly did. He appreciated the value of hard work and respected anyone willing to put themselves out there and try, and showed that appreciation the best way he could.

Brian spent hours talking to people, and I mean that literally. He especially loved talking to children. He firmly believed that comics were important in helping kids learn to read, and he was always giving out free books to kids, or donating comics to literacy programs in the local schools, and the like. He never talked down to children, but treated them as well as any adult.

His love for his customers went beyond just talking comics, too. He helped others when they needed it in his own way. One recent example is last October, when a freak snowstorm knocked out power to 90 percent of Connecticut. Because the comic shop was on the same power grid as the hospital, the store had power back almost instantly, when most people didn’t. So Brian told people that, if they needed to charge their phones, computers, generators, or whatever, they could bring them to the store. I can’t think of another business owner who would offer that and not at least want people to buy something in return, but he never asked for a cent.

I first met Brian when I was 17 years old, on my second visit to Buried Under Comics. To a shy, introverted teenager who was scared of his own shadow, Buried Under was a haven. It was full of comics and people who liked comics as much as I did, and Brian was at the center of it all. He was friendly to everyone who came in the door, treating the high-paying customers the same as the teenagers who could only get a few books a month. Brian spent hours talking to me about comics, life, and anything that might happen to come up. The time he spent with me helped so much in bringing me out of my shell and preparing me to take on a world the young, nervous me was just not ready to cope with. I will be eternally grateful for everything he did in helping me become the man I am today.

If all that wasn’t enough, Brian never stopped believing in me and my dream to work in comics. From my first day cartooning, he was one of my most vocal advocates. He talked up my comics to his customers and online. He was the first to ask to carry my books when I printed them. He always offered to let me have signings there. He even has a quote on the back cover of my “Gang From the Store” book – a comic about my time working there, remember – and he was SO happy he got the chance to do so.

Brian was my ex-boss, my advocate, and most importantly, my friend. He and Buried Under have been some of the very few constants in my life through late high school, college, and beyond. It never occurred to me to think of a world he wasn’t part of. And now he’s gone, and I’m struggling to cope with his absence.

Rest in peace, my friend. I can only pray we’ll meet again someday.