I’ve been thinking over this post for weeks. Every time I’m back in my hometown I’ll drive by my first comic store to see if anyone is inside. I don’t think it reopened once the pandemic hit, and that was probably the last straw in a long line of straws. Limited store hours, internet shopping, and we’re near a generation past the speculator boom time of comics.
Way back in 1987 I bought a comic (well, I’m sure my mom bought it for me) to read on a flight and that was the comic that started it all for me. It was a Spider-Man comic purchased at WaldenBooks. I went back for more and chose comics based off of ads in that first comic. Daredevil led to Punisher, and some extra money led to buying Solo Avengers on a whim and that led me down the Avengers path. Now I’m familiar with the characters, the logos, the Marvel font, and while driving (well, riding) through town one day I saw all of those images in a store window downtown. A store full of comics.
At this age I was allowed to walk downtown on my own. The library, Woolworth’s, even the hospital my mom worked at was technically downtown. During one of these travels I made sure to loop over to this comic store. Not only was this the first time I had been inside of a comic store, it was the first time I even saw one. Not on TV, or movies, or even a picture. There were so many comics on the rack and tons of old comics too. Cards for more than just baseball. Little statues for games I never heard of but looked so cool. Comics were 75 cents when I started buying them and any time I had 75 cents to my name I would make a trip down. After school, on a weekend, and this was without knowing when new comics came out. They were all new to me at the time. Just as I was beginning to learn, the store was gone.
But wait, it wasn’t gone, it had moved. Just to the other side of the center of downtown. I was the oblivious type that didn’t pay attention to signs saying things like “moving soon, come to our new location”. That new location is where I spent many hours of my teenage years and where most friends and family knew to find me.
The ownership changed but this second owner is the one I knew and appreciated and frustrated over the years. Once I knew I could have a pull list I added way too many comics that I could not afford monthly. All of the Avengers, all the X-Men, and I was one of the foolish to ask for “all Image titles”. The staff tolerated me. There was usually one extra person other than the owner. The first woman who introduced me to Groo. The quiet girl who liked X-Men and was very shy but ended up dating and moving away with one of the guys that frequented the shop. They picked on me and called me “the Avengers kid”. I think I only started buying X-Men so they would think I was cool. That’s right, I was feeling uncool in the hub of uncool people. I remember many of the names but that’s not important unless you were there. By now I’m bringing my brother and my best friend for trips. There was a lack of rules and professionalism, but it’s a comic store. I remember an infamous marker fight that was only dismissed because no product was damaged.
As I grew familiar with comics and this world, the industry changed. Wizard and Image had arrived and spending habits changed. Speculation buying superseded enjoyment. Everyone wanted a piece of this market, including the people working there. A hundred copies or more are ordered for Spawn, WildC.A.T.s and more. I bought 5 copies myself. I still don’t know why. One of the employees was trying to start his own magazine covering comics and rock music. Which I still think is a great idea and part of why I cover my own interests on this site. Of course he probably shouldn’t have been making long distance calls to Gareb Shamus, Todd McFarlane, or Erik Larsen from the store phone. Not that I minded. I sat there with ears open and mouth shut and just listened to these icons in comics and had a casual conversation with this guy about his idea. It never happened, but I think I was meant to sit there and learn. As I do my own interviews I remember things from these conversations.
One of the last, if not the last employee was when I was brought under the learning tree. He would ask why I’m buying junk from Image when there was so much better out there. Hey Kevin, here’s Watchmen, here’s Crumb, here’s Miller. Then that expanded into music. Here’s the Beatles, the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, and more. I started hanging out with him and his friends, all of whom I knew from the comic shop. Looking back, would I allow my kid to hang out with a group of adults much older than him? Probably not. I also probably told my mom that I was just hanging out with friends from the comic store and didn’t go into detail. Honestly, looking back, it was probably a bunch of guys that wanted to philosophize and dream big while smoking pot. Either I was oblivious to that or they never did it around me. I was safer with them than many other people or places I could have been hanging out with at the time.
When I went to college I still had my pull list and just abandoned it. I know, that’s not the right thing to do and my current shop would call me out on it (and probably will when I see them tomorrow). I stopped in over the summer of my first year to say hi and was met with a box of titles I no longer cared about. I may have bought them if we cut a cheaper deal but a six month old issue of X-Force for cover price was not of any interest. I stopped my list and bought some things, and over the years would pop in when I could to say hi and buy a few things.
When I started dating my now ex I said it would be sweet for someone to buy my comics for me. On our first, and maybe her only trip, she did just that. Actually, I may have had a pull list again at this point. She bought all my books and a few for herself and I felt like this shop had been with me as I grew. Friends, school, jobs, relationships come and go but this shop was forever.
Until it wasn’t. I moved out of the area in 2009 and I think my hometown visits and the store schedule lined up once, maybe twice. When stores started to offer pick up services as we came out of the shut down, that was when I started a pull list at my local shop. I had been a casual shopper a couple times a year but that was when I became a monthly customer and now weekly. This led me to think that my hometown store could use some business as well. I called (and I still remember the number), I drove by, I looked in the windows. No one was ever there.
Recently my best friend’s video game store moved to a new location. He texted me a picture of their new fixtures. Freshly bought from the old comic store. He was packing up everything and they happened to catch him at just the right time. They bought a few stands that I bought many a comic or toy off of over my life. I have no idea what’s happening to the thousands of comics that were in the store. Maybe he sold them, maybe they’re all at his house, I hope they’re not in the trash. When I stop by my friend’s store I’ll see an echo of the comics.
While superhero movies are popular, comics and the specialty shops are still a niche world populated by outcasts. We’re weird, we’re socially awkward, we think differently. We were neurodivergent before that term existed. Through our love for this way of telling stories, we found each other. I wouldn’t have pursued my current job, or earned my degree, or be who I am today without the influence of comics and my shop. I’m on the other side of it now, the adult suggesting comics and more to younger readers. My local shop is always welcoming and I could spend a day there, just like I did as a kid waiting for UPS to drop off the new comics.
Nirvana is on the classic rock stations, I have a kid old enough to be sarcastic, I have a retirement plan, and now one of the biggest parts of my youth is closed forever. I’ll miss you Pegasus Hobbies. Thank you for everything.