22 January 2009

A tale of two comic shops or things used to be better back when they sucked less.

(Gaze into the face of Awesome. This is the glory that was. All Star Squadron #37. 1984.)

I love comic book shops but now that I live in rural America my comic book shop visits are very infrequent. Neither the town I work in nor the town I live in even have a spinner rack much less a comic book shop. A county away from me my pal Brian at Cavalier Comics runs a nice shop and is happy to get me what I need but I am seldom in that neck of the woods. Way over in Bristol, TN there is a shop called Mountain Empire Comics. It's the shop I went to when I was a kid and it's a nice little store. They carry Rasl and that's about all I can expect of a comic shop these days. (I've given up on them carrying stuff like The Comics Journal or much else I have interest in.) I've shopped at comics shops since at least 1985 and from about 1991 to 2007 a comic book shop visit was a weekly thing for me but now in my grown-up-daddy-of-two-rural-life if I visit a comic shop six times in a year then that would be a lot.


This past Wednesday (the 14th) was apparently a big day for some comic shops. For me, it was just Wednesday but out of random dumb luck and the need to get the kids out of the house on a snow day I ended up visiting two comic shops. I had to go by the doctor over in Abingdon VA which is about 45 minutes from my house. There is a newish G2K store over there. This G2K location is part comics shop part video game store. It's a cool store. If I were 15 or under I would want to go there on a weekly basis. Nice, clean, new, well lit, lots of video games, lots of toys and all your new mainstream comics. Well, not all of them. I took the kids in and we looked around. The clerk was still putting out new comics and toys from the Wednesday shipment. He was nice and asked if we were looking for anything. As both a nerd and an Obama fan I of course was aware of the Spidey comic with Obama so I asked if he had any. He of course said they were sold out. I expected that. Then I came back with a question I dreaded to ask. See, I don't really care about new mainstream comics. It's not that I don't like them it's just that I don't' need them. I have about 1000 comics in my basement that are written better, drawn better and probably even stapled better than most of what Marvel and DC have put out in years. I'm all good on the super hero books thanks. That being said there is one specific super hero comic I have been wanting. Since my first daughter was born it has been a dream of mine that DC would make a Wonder Woman or Supergirl book for kids that wasn't terrible and actually made sense. Recently, DC started a new Supergirl book so I've been wanting it. Granted, the girl in the comic does not look anything like Supegirl but hey, I'm desperate to have a comic I can read with my daughters other than the Archie books. But, alas, I've never seen this Supergirl comic anywhere. So, I summon up the nerve and I ask, "Do you have that new Supergirl comic for kids?" Now the comic is a month or two old so I expected them to be out of it but the answer I got was like a punch to the stomach. "No, we stopped carrying kids comics due to lack of interest." Ouch! They never even ordered the thing. Supergirl dead on the vine. No, I do not at all fault the small business for making the call it feels it has to make on any product. I've been there myself. As a former book retailer I've returned some of my favorite books due to lack of sales. I get it. But as a customer, it kind of sucks to be told that the store has given up on the one and only product you would have any interest in. If your local grocery store stopped carrying your favorite beer because it turned out that you were the only one that ever bought it, you would understand but you would still be pissed. The difference is that you would probably go back to the grocery store. You would need milk or bread or something. But as a parent who spends his meager discretionary income on his kids, I don't have much need for a comics shop that does not sale kids comics. I really tried to find something to buy. My oldest daughter loves comics and she was sick so I wanted to get her something. I looked at the comics racks over and over but all the books were terrible looking. Ugly, dark, violent art in this terrible post-Alex Ross hack painting style all over the place. Marvel and DC sure make some ugly comics. The only comic that interested me at all was a Grant Morrison Dr. Who comic but I nearly had a stroke when I saw the cover price. Oh well, I'm sure I'll find a copy of the Supergirl book at a convention or something.(There was a time when things happened in mainstream comic books. The Superman Family #183. 1977.)

So we left G2K and headed for Bristol, TN. I need some shoes and I had heard about a going out of business sale. (Oh that wacky recession.) On the way I noticed a comic shop I had never been to before so I pulled in. It is called Vintage Comics.
The shop looks like most of the smaller shops I've been in. Lots of comics and toys crammed from the floor to the ceiling in every corner of the shop. And of course, they have video games. One thing I didn't notice was any new comics. I asked the clerk if they carried new comics and he said, "No, we quit fooling with them a few months ago." I was taken aback by this for about a half a second but then I thought to myself, yeah, that's exactly what dealing in new comics is, "fooling". I wouldn't fool with them either if I were a small business owner. Vintage comics had a dozen or so long boxes of dollar comics so I started looking through those and immediately found just the type of comics I was looking for. They had bunches of pre-Crisis DC books with Wonder Woman and Supergirl and all the heroes my daughter likes from back in the day when comics had stories in them that made sense. Forget new comics. Forget Spidey and Obama's Spectacular Sales Gimmick. What we need are old comics.



I even found and old Uncle Scrooge. (Lately I've been picking up all the funny animal comics I find for a buck or less and it's all Josh Latta's fault.) I let my daughter pick out a few and we ended up with eight comics. We came away with my Scrooge book, the All Star Squadron and Superman Family books pictured above, a couple of Wonder Woman comics, a Superboy with freaking amazing art by Kurt Shaffenberger, a Cloak and Dagger and a Dazzler. They only charged us six dollars. Eight awesome comics for less than a dollar a piece! If I ever have any discretionary income any time soon I'm going back and cleaning them out. My six year old loves the comics and I do too. She is really blown away. The All Star Squadron alone is enough to satisfy one's superhero appetite for quite a while. It has the Marvel kids taking on Superman, Billy Batson and Captain Marvel in the comic at the same time, all the heroes riding in a Plastic Man raft, all the heroes fighting freaking Hitler and the Flash and Plastic man get shot! Now that's a comic book! If all that stuff happened in comics today it would be a year long company wide crossover called Secret Infinite Invasion Crisis. Back in 1984 they just called that the September issue of All Star Squadron. Needless to say, I can't wait to get back to Vintage Comics.
So two comic shops in one day and two every different results. A new school shop that has completely given up on kids comics. An old school shop that has completely given up on new comics. What does it all mean? I don't know. Last week was a weird week for comcis. You had the Spidey/Obama thing dominate the mainstream media's perception of comics. You had Batman freaking die and no one outside of the comics community cared. You have comic's monopoly holding distributer to the direct market make a change that means they probably won't be carrying any new books from the publishers that actually make the kinds of books I like. Odd times. I'm just glad the folks in charge today do not yet have time travel technology that can allow them to go back and time and destroy all the good comics that are already out there. None of those clowns are allowed in my basement. If we can keep the savages from stealing or destroying all the old comics then at least my daughters and I will have something to read.

Your best pal ever,
Shannon Smith

p.s. The comics we picked up inspired my daughter to make a lot of great drawings and even invent her own superhero rock band and make up a theme song for them. Team/band members include Light Girl and Fast Girl. You can see some of the drawings here. There are dozens more but I can't scan fast enough to keep up with her.

p.p.s. Yesterday, Saturday the 24th, me and my posse hit up another comic shop. This time it was Hero Headquarters in Kingsport, TN. It is a nice friendly shop. Lots to toys. Lots of G.I. Joe. They only had a small amount of new comics and rather than having them on a rack they were just laid out on the counter. No Spidey/Obama and of course no Supergirl. He had a nice selection of fifty cent books where we found an issue of Wonder Girl and some other goodies. (Kassidy is already drawing Wonder Girl adventures.) I also got a book from the old Marvel Graphic Novel series for just a buck! I'll probably talk more about that after I read it.

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