Comic Fodder

What Do I Look for in a Comic Book Store? – Part Two

Yesterday, I covered a battle plan for visiting exotic places and snagging precious, rare objects of comic d’ art. Today, we focus closer to main base and discuss how to decide upon which comic store will receive the most of your play money- or as the economists call it, disposable income. Let’s assume I just moved to a new location, and I want to find a permanent pickup for my addiction. I mean habit. I mean- never mind…

Step Zero: We Don’t Need No Steenking Maps!

Forget the fast pace of a business trip’s spare time. I live here now! At the point in time where I got my own wheels, there were around two dozen comic stores in town. Since the bubble popped after the initial “Image speculation wave,” I think there are now just ten or eleven. I took my time, visiting one or two on my days off, picking the closest one to where I lived as a temporary weekly stop. One place turned me off because it was so far off the beaten track, with no signs, it was actually difficult to find. The owner said he wanted it that way! He also collected the cover price of the comics only, and said he “covered the sales tax himself.” He was actually proud of that, and claimed he was the only one in town who did that. Now, it’s possible that he was completely honest, but that’s not the vibe I got. I left and never went back.

Step One: Customer Service

There are two aspects to this. One is simple manners. One store I was using for a couple years, I occasionally stuck a comic back on the rack if it was particularly bad, or a reprint. The store owner had been observing some of his customers do this, and he was very upset, to the point he raised his voice to me. I was a bit taken aback, because I’ve never been yelled at in a comic store before. He explained the cost to him in sales if we didn’t cancel the title, but put it back on the shelf without telling him. I explained I did not know this, and also that this particular issue was a reprint. He had the good graces to check it out, and apologized to me the next time I came in. One instance was not enough to pull up my roots and leave, but it did alter my perception of the man and his store.

If not right away, it will gradually become clear to you that an owner is in the store for business only. People like this could actually make more money running a 7-11 or other convenience store. Granted, this is a free country and they can do what they want, but in my opinion, people who view comics only as a business have no business running the place! Comics stores are for people who care.

This is not to say you want someone who loves comics but is inept. You want that special blend of person who lives, eats, and breathes comics, but is just organized enough to run a small business. That combination is what will be gold to you.

The second aspect is the knowledge base of the store. If I just wanted to come pick up a stack of comics, I could literally go anywhere. I could pick up trades from Barnes & Noble or check out issues at a library. The thing is, there are so many comics, with such a long history behind them, if you want to talk about them, or if you need help with research or hunting down back issues, you need a specialist. The local big business book store is not going to have someone who knows much about comics except by accident if they hired a cool teenager. You don’t get special expertise at those places. You want someone who knows his Kirby from his Ditko. The comic store that makes me come back is one that doesn’t just have comics: it has a comic expert. This is the exceptional level of service you should demand. Keep searching until you find it.

Step Two: Location, Location, Location

Location is meaningless to me. There are at least five comic stores in-between me and my favorite one. I go across town once a week as long as I am in town. The other stores are not good enough. I don’t care how high the price of gas is, I’m getting my Comic Experience, not just making a pickup. I’ve been in brightly lit comic stores that are immaculate. I’ve been in stores that have some of the coolest displays. Although that stuff is nice, I have passed them all up to go to the good place. Even though it was cramped, packed in with everything the store owner could possibly stuff in the corners, and cleaning wasn’t his strong suit, he was the person I wanted to see.

Step Three: The Layout

The same rules of organization apply for your home store as they do for away stores: however things are set up, you should quickly get a sense of what that is, and be able to easily find things. Easy to browse, easy to access, that’s the key. My store owner rearranged his store every six months, much like grocery stores do, to help prompt people to look at different things, and maybe spot something new to try. He rotates prime real estate spots in his store with different things to promote, depending upon what is happening with hit films, or even if it is just a good independent book he feels deserves special attention. He has genre sections for crime and humor, and war.

Special Annual Step 3-1/2! Bonus Material!

By now it’s pretty clear that the physical side of things is just gravy if it’s good. The key is the people there. The store owner has been successful enough over the years (I’d like to think I helped a little, with my own weekly contribution…) that he was able to move to a bigger location in the same complex. It is closer to the street, and slightly easier to find, and better lit, with better floors, and cleaner. He is doing even more business now as a result, I think more from people off the street that are checking things out, not from the “normal” comic freaks like me who are already there. He also has a couch for people to sit on up front, and I come close to falling asleep there almost every week, it’s so comfy. These are some of the things I call bonus material.

But wait, there’s more! You see, good comic people tend to have the same discriminating taste, and if they don’t have to worry about gas prices (or are willing to stomach them), and they don’t just settle for the nearest geographic store, they tend to go in search of comic adventure. That means that eventually, any comic fan with an urge to find goodness will someday walk through the door. And the cool thing is, they tend to stay once they get there.

This means that you will tend to meet a lot of cool people who stop by, and sometimes they hang out for an hour or three. Eventually, the whole place becomes like Cheers, where there’s a minor eruption of greetings and applause at every old buddy who walks in the door at any given moment. There are handshakes and small talk, and people making food runs, and plans being plotted for weekend activities, such as debating whether a comic movie is worthy enough to merit attending the midnight opening. The good store in town is a special place of convergence, better than Earth’s ley lines, where fun times happen. This is a place where the owner is your friend; the customers are your friends, and hopefully it is helping out with that self-loathing problem you have. You know who you are!

There will be cool people at some of the other stores too, but at your store, the owner will have his own methods for minimizing the mercenaries and the jerks. Those people whose only concern is talking about the price of comics, who speculate on which one will be hot enough to put on Ebay tomorrow, these might still come by on occasion, but they tend not to loiter. The type of people who hang around are people who can be trusted to watch the counter while the owner’s in the bathroom, and even help answer questions for tourists who have wandered in.

Step Four: Act Now and I’ll Throw in This Golden Age Comic!

Ready for the killer clue that you have arrived home? The prices are good and the choices are huge. This is a rare find, and the combination of expert owner, friendly capitalist, and back issue selection is the nirvana of comic home bases. I have never in my life seen so many golden age comics go through any other comic store than this one. I once asked why, and the owner explained that he was the equivalent of paparazzi for celebrities when it came to hunting down and buying old comics. I don’t have to knock myself out as much searching for some of those hard-to-find issues. At this stage, I am convinced that if I wait long enough, those comics will now come to me.

The price is always worthwhile. A comic store owner knows the pain of a limited budget, and what choices we poor humans have to make. If he scores a good deal on some back issues, he will not charge as much as he technically could, going strictly by the price guide. There are some titles he actually charges more than guide for, because he disagrees with the guide, and he is experienced enough, I usually agree with him when he presents his logic. He is honest to a fault, and I have seen him offer more for a collection than the seller was asking for, because he realized the person selling did not know what he had in his hands. This is what you want, folks: someone whose business is making money, but he does not rip people off, and he passes his savings on to his customers.

Just a short while ago he offered a substantially more generous amount for one of the most beat-up comics I have ever seen, but it was a copy of Batman #1.(!!!!) He bought it for his personal collection, but staggered the lady with the amount he offered to pay her for it. There are way too many stores in this town that would have basically stolen it from her as useless for its condition and chortled over their good “business sense.” And get this, he kept it in the store for days, and let everybody in the store hold it and look at it if they wanted. Do things get any cooler than this? (Of course not, that was a rhetorical question! Don’t be silly!)

Step Five: Unexpected Returns – More Than Comics

One day the store comic store owner put a sign in his window. The sign had a quote from a famous person (and of course, I forget who it was), talking about the price of liberty. He knows about the importance of literacy, and the gateway to ideas, and the freedoms we have in America to put stuff down on paper that might get you killed in several dozen other countries if you tried it. His goal is to contribute towards literacy in this country by promoting good comics. I have debated politics, religion, and just about every other subject there is, and I have learned a lot from him, more than “just comics.”

My momma taught me not only to stay quiet if I couldn’t talk nice about someone, she also taught me not to publicly insult people I disagreed with, and not to point nice people out without their permission, in case they did not want the publicity, or their name in the public domain. I think this case merits an exception.

So if you’re ever a tourist in Las Vegas, find a store called Cosmic Comics and stop by, and shake the hand of the owner, Jim Brocius. And if you’re there in the afternoon on Comic Delivery Day, you’ll probably run into me, too. Hanging out.
Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop. Some weeks he likes to post twice, just to prove to Ryan he can. Nyah, nyah, and I beat you with both of them!