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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Dreaming big in the world of comics
By ERIN SULLIVAN
Published May 7, 2007
NEW PORT RICHEY - She was a stay-at-home mom with five kids, which is a huge job in itself. Many people say that, in the scheme of life, raising children is the most important job a person could ever have.
And Denise Gajus believes that. But, she still felt like she had something to prove to herself, something that's hard for her to put into words. She always dreamed of owning a business. It would be empowering. A challenge.
But she never really knew if she'd do it or not. Then her son, Ward, decided to be a chef and she got her chance. But it wasn't in the food industry.
Ward had always been crazy about comic books. In 1999 and using his own collection as a base, he opened his own store, Colossal Comics, in a gritty strip mall so close to U.S. 19 a passer-by could probably spit out his window and hit the shop's front door. Ward's dad - Denise's husband - ran a truck rental business in the office next door, so it was a family strip mall.
Ward worked like crazy getting the store together and running - but just as it was opened, his heart changed its tune. He wanted to be a chef after all. That was his true calling - not comic books.
So he left to seek his culinary fortune.
His mother, Denise, said it would be a shame to close the comic book shop, after Ward worked so hard on it. So she decided that this was her chance, her opportunity to do something she had always dreamed but doubted she would.
She became the owner.
So what if she knew nothing about comics.
"I love it, " Denise said Saturday afternoon, her Batman earrings dangling from her ears, as customers milled in the aisles on Free Comic Book Day. That is a national day where participating comic book stores give away free books to anyone who stops in.
It's been going on for six years and started as a way to introduce new people to comic books, an original American art form.
She spends six days a week at the store, which is a hangout for comic book fans. Most are guys in their 30s and 40s. They treat Denise who wouldn't give her age like she's their mom. During the past eight years, Denise has learned a ton about the merchandise she sells, such as the correct way to handle books so you don't break the binding.
And she's become a fan.
"I like Wolverine, " she said, of the X-Men character.
"She likes his butt, " Scott Kasperowicz, one of the 40-year-old loitering adopted sons, shouted from the stacks of comic books.
"Scott!" said Denise, her cheeks a little bit crimson.
"I can't lie, " Scott said.
"Shaddup, " she said, half scolding, half laughing.
Ward is now a chef in Nantucket. Denise says he's happy. And, much to her surprise, so is she. She feels empowered. Maybe like a superhero.