For Free Comic Book Day, I swang by my old Local Comic Shop. Not the one I'd been going to just before dropping all pamphlet comics, but the one I'd spent years going to starting in college. The one I went to when I started earning enough money to buy more than two or three books a month. The one I went to when I started making a name for myself by running my Fantastic Four website. The one I went to when I started making a name for myself as a letterhack. The one I went to when I started writing for Jack Kirby Collector. Needless to say, it's pretty easily described as a comic shop where I have a lot of memories.
I stopped going there primarily because it became out of the way for me. I'd switched jobs and moved and, while I could still get there without too much hassle, it was inconvenient enough that I had to switch shops. (Especially in light of another shop being only about 5 minutes from work.) It was the first time I'd been to the store in, I think, 7 or 8 years. I'd seen the managers once or twice since then (at nearby bookstores and comic conventions), and we've remained on cordial terms, but it's definitely not MY Local Comic Shop any more any longer.
The first thing I noticed as I walked up from the parking lot was that the main window display hadn't changed. It was an extremely faded cardboard stand-up promoting Marvel's upcoming "Heroes Reborn" titles, which I remember being put in the window for the first time when it was new in 1996.
The interior of the store hadn't changed either. The walls were still lined with those Alex Ross character portraits of the Justice Leaugue. The display counter next to the register still had some customized action figures showcasing some characters of the manager's own design. The quarter and fifty cent bins were still right up front and the kid-friendly Archie-type comics were still relegated to a small corner next to the independent books. The biggest change I noticed, in fact, was that some bookshelves they had built and installed a year or two before I stopped visiting seemed a little more crowded than before. (The shelves were actually kind of a clever design that allowed graphic novels to sit just above the long boxes of back issue comics.)
The managers were surprised to see me, and we chatted a bit with a lot of a general catching up questions. (I learned, incidentally, that David Michael Beck drew them -- as notable characters -- into Jonah Hex #40 not too long ago. Beck is a regular customer of theirs, although, curiously, I noticed Beck was doing signings at a competitor's store.)
The free comics they had available were pulled aside. Each was stamped with the store's name and address, and a hand-written sign next to them noted a limit of one comic per customer. They only had the Gold Sponsor comics available, plus the Wolverine, TMNT and Owly books. While I was a little disappointed to see the "one per customer" limit, it was less disappointing since they had none of the comic samples I had any real interest in.
I did pick up the free Savage Dragon issue, mainly for the Daredevil appearance. I browsed some of the new releases (I didn't realize they were doing a Eureka comic). I flipped through a copy of the latest issue of Jack Kirby Collector (I haven't received my comp. copy yet). Feeling a little guilty, I did splurge and buy the last Y: The Last Man TPB so I can finally discover how the damn thing ended!
The shop was fairly busy, with a couple of kids running around who seemed to be related to/brought by the shop's regular customers. Including a few others, like myself, who evidently hadn't been to the shop in quite some time. The store still smelled the same -- that strange mix of rotting paper, plastic, and something that's not quite body odor but seems like it must be generated by a person. The managers I had known from a decade ago hadn't changed much at all. A little grayer, perhaps, but not much.
The guy behind me in line was buying some Batman statue. Some other guy came to collect his pull list file and had just about one of every new issue there. And then proceeded to amaze one of the employees by picking up still more books off the new releases shelf! There was a slightly older man who was asking about the sizing differences between Golden Age and Silver Age long boxes. There were some snarky comments about how such-n-such creator couldn't write his way out of a wet paper bag.
Aside from the specific issues on the shelves, it could've been any Wednesday in the late 1990s.
Now don't get me wrong. I'm not criticizing them for not making great advances or changes. Things might going quite smoothly for them and they don't need to change. Maybe day-to-day operations keep them so busy that they don't have the chance to try anything different. Maybe they altered everything, didn't like it, and switched it back. Like I said, it's been the better part of a decade since I'd been there, so who am I to question them?
My point, though, is this: I've made decisions in my life over the past 8 years that have put me on a different path. Maybe for better, maybe for worse. YMMV. But I'm certainly not the same person I was back then, and even if those people and things I left behind didn't change AT ALL, my perspective in viewing them again will have. And that's why I'm not really interested in nostalgia or re-living the past or re-capturing my youth or whatever it is that keeps people from looking forward. I'm looking at tomorrow and the days afterwards, and seeing what I can do to ensure those days are happy and enjoyable. Comics are going to be a part of that. Very probably old comics are going to be a part of that. But I choose NOT to read them out of some sense of who I was, but who I am and where I'm going.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go mow the lawn. The forecast says we're in for some rain tomorrow.
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