Things are a little slow around the House today, so I thought I’d devote some time to writing about comics and me.
What brought this on? Well, I guess my current “fix” that I feel I need in regards to comics. I guess it’s a want of community. But it’s a strange want. While I want the new, the news, the community, I haven’t been in a comic shop in around a month. Use to be I’d go every week. And those thoughts led me to think I should write about my total comic buying experiences… or at least the ones I can remember.
My earliest comic buying recollections are the spinner rack at the local Drug Fair in Martinsburg, WV. Drug Fair was pretty cool. While it acted as a typical pharmacy/one-stop-shop, it also had a restaurant/cafe attached to the side. I recall my brother ordering sunny-side up eggs, but only eating the yellow part by dipping his toast. The spinner rack provided some of my earliest purchases, but they also had a magazine rack, which carried those big treasuries and the National Lampoons and Pizzazzes. Lampoons were neat in that they were the softest of soft porn at times.
My other local comic haunts included the newstand downtown, which really was a weird place. Pretty barren and across the street from the Adult Bookstore. There was also Crawfords. A locally owned Pharmacy which had the distinction of their comics being defaced before even being purchased. Someone use to write BY HAND a 15-20 digit number across the tops of the covers. I don’t know if I even have any of these still in my collection. I’m sure it’s something to do with their distribution, but jeez…
There was also Nelsons. It was a special place. A pawn shop that had built around 5 shelves against the wall that displayed piles and piles of comics. All for 20 cents. I fondly recall the couple of times that you’d hit gold. Someone selling off their collection to Nelson, and the few of us who would come in and scoop them up. Things like Howard the Duck #1, or some of those early New X-men, or even a pretty good run of Avengers.. all the way back to #11. Nelsons was down the block from the newstand, and looking back, it was an interesting part of town. Near an railroad overpass, you had to go under the tracks to essentially get from one part of town to the next. As a kid, that woosh of traveling under the tracks was all types of exciting.
One other purchase stands out at this time of my life. There was a collector who was selling off his collection from his home, but the stipulation was that you had to buy the whole run of a comic. I always thought that was an interesting sales technique. You had to go up into the attic to shop, where there were rows and rows of long boxes. I think the only real purchase I made was his Flash comics. They were always my favorite with the weird writing, solid art, and the rogues gallery! Not sure, but I think those comics were only 10 cents each.
I forget when I first heard about a comics convention. I must have been an ad within a comic itself. There were around 4 to 5 of us locally who read & collected comics. So, it became an interesting thing for each of us to talk our parents into taking us to the shows. One trip it would be my Dad. Another someone elses. I guess the shows we were hitting were the Creation ones that happened in DC. It was there that I got to meet my first pros! Walt Simonson and Chris Claremont. I recall my brother getting a Star Wars digest autographed by Chris Claremont, and yes, Claremont had NOTHING to do with it. I was pretty excited about the Simonson autograph, since he did that cool dinosaur thing.
After getting my driver license and my own set of wheels, I branched out even further for my comic fixes. Hitting places like Four Color Fantasies in Winchester, VA. Mike ran a good shop. He turned me on to Mage, Watchmen, and who knows how many other cool comics. He also had a trivia contest each week, and I don’t recall ever winning one. Four Color is still around. Heck, I think they’ve even expanded. An heard an interesting thing a few years ago. Seems Mike got tired of running the store, so he and his wife switched jobs. So now she runs the store, and I think Mike is in banking?
A little later, and we discovered the shops in Frederick, MD. There was Brainstorm in the basement of a downtown building. Pretty neat store, but I think my fave was Wonder Book & Video. Wonder was well stocked, and educated me even further into the small press movement that had been going on. The manager of the comic section was a guy named Ed who was a local artist, and very well educated in the ways of comics. Frederick was sort of a big city compared to our hometown, so making the trip over there was pretty fun.
So now we’re into our college years, and I forget who discovered Westfield, but for a time we were ordering our comics through the mail. The savings were really good, but you lost something in the process. The discovery or conversations that you’d find in a shop were part of the joy of the comic buying experience. So, while I dig what Westfield did, I only lasted a bit before dropping away.
College years were the years that Frank Miller’s Dark Knight was happening. I recalled hearing about it in an issue of Spin, so that tells you how often I was going into comic shops. So, I picked up a copy at a local store, and fell in love with it. Somehow (before this internet thing!) I had heard that issue three or four had come out, so I searched locally, and couldn’t find a copy. Being at that age of my life, I decided to drive to DC to get this one comic. I made the trip to Virginia, actually, ended up at a store I think was called Across the Universe? They had a copy, and I drove back to the burg. When I got there, I decided to stop in at my grandmothers, and when I went to leave, my car was dead! So, I had dodged the bullet with that one. Why? Well, this was before cell phones, and I hadn’t told anyone that I had left to go to DC. I could just see myself trying to explain that one. The car was an MG, which died every other day.
Towards the end of college, I wasn’t really sure where I was going to work. I mean, I went to school for design, but I wasn’t crazy about going into DC and trying to get a gig at one of those big studios. So, I created a portfolio that I mailed to Fantagraphics, Dark Horse and Eclipse Comics. The only one I heard back from was Eclipse. cat yronwood had written back on the postcard I provided saying that she loved the portfolio, but didn’t have a position open at the time. A week or two later, and Stan Woch, who was their lead designer, called me up to see if I was still interested in the job. Seemed he was burnt out and wanted to get back to penciling.
Why do I tell you all this? Because it resulted in my purging close to 90% of my collected comics. I didn’t think it was right to leave them with either of my parents (I was already leaving my VW bug with my Dad!). So, I let the “community” know that I was getting rid of the collection, and did the ol’ bidding thing. I think I sold roughly 10-13 long boxes for $300 or so. No worries, though.. they were comics I wasn’t going to miss too much… and I had more comics just around the corner…
Comp comics. Eclipse had the hook-up when it came to comps. We were getting mostly Marvel and DC stuff that I think Beau Smith had negotiated for us. Essentially every comic they published would show up every week. And yes, there were a LOT of comics. So much so that Ted Adams even had a side business of buying up the comics you didn’t want and going to local shows under the banner of Motley Comics. And when I say banner, I mean Banner. I was the guy who painted it! I’ll have to dig around and see if I can find a photo.
But my stint at Eclipse would only last around a year. Heading back East, we decided on Richmond as our next place to live. When picking Richmond, I don’t think comic shops was part of the criteria, but I do recall cracking a yellow pages at one point to find the local shops. And boy howdy. Do we have a lot of them here. I’ve shopped them all, and here’s a few memories…
Richmond Comix. It’s all about location, location, location. I say that because RC has moved three times since I’ve began shopping there. Chris Hope use to work there. He was the one who turned me on to THB. The other Frank Miller runs the shop. He does a good job, though it’s a tough business, and I think it wears on him at times. Frank has always been a strong supporter of Ad, and we loves him for it.
Nostalgia Plus. Possibly my first Richmond subscription box? Sort of in/near a mall. Nothing really jumps out at me there, though. They have a TON of stuff in the store. I was pretty surprised to see they moved one store down recently. Moving a comic shop? That’s insane. I’ll stop by there sometimes just to see if they have any AdStuff when it comes out, and more times than not, they don’t.
Stories. The American comic shop… just like the store on the Simpsons. Porn in the back, backissues everywhere. Stories had an interesting business model in that at one time, they went from one store to taking over their neighbor’s book business to purchasing three other locations. So, at one point, they had four or five shops. I think they do an OK business. Lots of ebay stuff now days.
Dave’s. Weird store. I’ve stopped in there now and again, but I don’t like the vibe. New comics are put in bags before they go on the racks? OK…
Velocity. The newest store in town? And a very welcome addition. Patrick Godfrey & Jesse Bausche (of OddGod fame) took over Grace Street Comics a few years back and have turned into one of the best stocked and happening of stores. Frequent readers might recall how I bemoaned not getting any of Matt Wiegle comics at HeroesCon. Well, Patrick had some the next time I went in there. They’ve also had some killer events like the Local thing with Brian Wood. And yes, they support us big time. Muchos gracias!
(RIP… Places in Richmond that are no longer around… Fantastix. Weird shop, mostly gaming? But near one of my old jobs, so I’d hit it every now and again. I think it might have been there were I discovered The Authority. Eugene’s. Weird mechanicsville shop. Had a lot of gundam models. I picked up a bunch of stuff when they went out of biz.)
And now days? I tend to get a lot of stuff at conventions. I have so much stuff from MoCCA and Heroes that I’m STILL reading. I’ll still drop into Velocity and Richmond Comix to see the guys, and pick up an All Star Superman or something, but I don’t have the urge like I use to in the past. Does that make me a bad comic reader? Probably.
Anyways, hope you enjoyed this nostalgic trip for me. The longest blog entry EVER (I think).