The first time I ever bought a comic book I was in a Waldenbooks. It was The Cosmic Odyssey numbers 1 and 2, and those issues were buried behind magazines about fashion and housekeeping.
It was like discovering treasure.
I read and re-read those issues constantly. I kept an eye out in the Waldenbooks week after week and I found issue three, but they never had the fourth. None of the bookstores in the mall had it. And when I asked them about The Cosmic Odyssey, they would look at me dumbfounded, like I asked them if they sold lemonade and foot massages. Finally I begged my uncle to take me to a place I had passed several times but never entered: the comic book store.
Walking in there was an overwhelming experience. I can still smell it. It wasn't that it had an offensive odor, but it had a distinct essence that is a mixture of aged paper and plastic coatings. And the bright colors kept pulling my eyes in every different direction.
But what was the most important was that I asked the comic book store clerk about The Cosmic Odyssey and he knew immeadiatly what I was talking about.
There were several stores in the area, but as I became a collector I ended up settling on one. Other stores were bigger and others had more diverse selections, but the one that became my regular store had the people I liked. I was a kid, but I felt like they treated me like an adult. Or at least they treated me like my opinions mattered, which was something that I hadn't found in other adults yet. I realize in retrospect that what they were doing was good customer service in order to keep a recurring client. But it felt good. And to a shy, nerdy kid (who would one day grow into a nerdy adult), this was special.
I remember the owner sold me a Flash #1 for only $5.00 (even though the selling price at the time was a whopping $8.00). You could say that this was another shrewd way to secure customer loyalty. But I think that he saw in me a love of comics and wanted to do something nice to increase that love.
I spent a lot of time in that shop. My dad would often drop me off and then head to the hospital to do rounds. Sometimes I would remain there for hours and hours. But the store owners didn't mind. They even fed me a few times. And while no kid likes waiting for a ride, I didn't mind spending time in that wonderful place.
When I grew up, I stopped collecting for a while. When I started up again, I went to a store near me where I found I could talk shop again with someone on a regular basis. When that store closed up, I migrated to shop where I remained for nearly 10 years. And once again the reason that I stayed so long was because of my comic book guy.
Now that I was an adult, I could come and go to the store as I pleased. I stayed as long as I wanted and I found I did simply to speak with my comic book guy. I respected his taste and I could tell that he wasn't treating me like just another sale. When I asked about a certain comic on the stands, he wouldn't push it on me. If he did suggest something he did so because he thought it would fit my taste and not just his. And I was able to share my favorite comics with him. I lent him the entire run of Starman (the greatest comic book series of all time).
I have to say though, I took that relationship for granted. When he left, I was devestated. The person who eventually became his replacement could never remember my name, he was incredibly unhelpful, he would talk to other people about his side business instead of aiding customers, but above all he didn't know comics. And because he was ignorant, I couldn't talk to him.
I eventually migrated to my current store, and what convinced me to stay there was a simple thing. I bumped into the owner at a comic con and he remembered that I had been in his store a few times.
I know this sounds trite and simplictic, but it really isn't. As I said before, a number of us comic book patrons are shy by nature. At least I am. I don't count my boldness as a teacher in this. When I'm in the classroom I "get into character." But when I'm in most social situations I tend to wilt. I would characterize myself as cold, but I am slow to warm up. Get me a around a comfortable group of friends and it is difficult to get me to shut up.
But the one place where I can just jump into a conversation with crisp confidence is with my fellow comic book geeks. Just the other day I was in my current comic shop and someone I had never met was speaking with my new comic book guy about the current Forever Evil storyline. Without any real preamble, I waded in to the discussion and we all became engrossed for several minutes.
I can't really do that in any other context. The only other place I've found this is in formal meetings of comic book themed clubs. There is something about being in the presence of other comic book geeks that is different that being around film buffs, music enthusiasts, tv watchers, sports nuts… it has a different flavor. We don't always agree, but even when we don't, there is an ease of understanding. At least that's the way it is for me. It is almost a relief to be able to talk about Nova, Jamie Madroxx, the Infinity Gauntlet, the Beyonder, Bouncing Boy, Mogo, Spider-Clones, Earth 2, Gold Kryptonite, Harold: Batman's Mechanic, Snikt, the Trench-coat Brigade, Dynaman, Liefield's foot problem, Escher poses, Moebius Chair, time-warping eye beams and bullets, Clobberin' Time, Volthoom, Whispering Iron, Opal City, retcons, reboots, continuity contradictions, and whatever else.
To talk about this passion with others in a way that finds reciprocal reception is one of my favorite simple joys.
This is why the comic book store matters. You can buy most of the comics online and the move towards digital downloading looks to be the inevitable future. But I will still go to my local comic book store for as long as I can. Comic book geeks have a reputation of being loners. We are not.
We only need a place where we can find each other.