A Love Letter to My Local Comic Book Store(s)

Recently, the Mrs. and I have considered moving, a hefty task under normal circumstances, but Herculean when you live in the hot, sprawling mess of a city known as Los Angeles.  Switching neighborhoods could span a few miles, but with traffic added in you could find yourself living an hour away from where you used to hang your hat.

While I really like the apartment we currently live -- and the thought of all the work involved in moving makes me tired -- I didn't have any real apprehensions about finding a new place...well, I had one (still have it, in fact): I don't want to move too far away from my local comic book store.

Record Store Syndrome

When I was in college, I worked in a record store.  I got that job mostly because I was always there and I knew everyone who worked there; they might as well pay me to actually do something.  I was there all the time because the store was, in and of itself, a scene.  We talked music, we talked shows, we talked new releases vs. old releases, genres vs. genres, and so on.  It was a place you could go where you knew you could talk about music with like minded individuals.  You didn't just go there to buy something; you went there to hang out.

Those stores are dead and buried thanks not to large chain stores, but to the move from CDs and records to digital formats.  I'm as much to blame as anyone; I haven't set foot in a record store in years.

Digital comics have come a hot topic lately with many proclaiming the eventual death of paper comics and, by extension, the brick and mortar, mom and pop comic book store.  But I have to wonder if this is really the case, if I'm going to see my local comic book store go the way of the record store, or if the comic book store can survive purely for one reason: community.

While the surface level of comics might have become fashionable, by and large the dyed in the wool, life long comic book fans and the things they hold dear are still an oft ostracized sub culture.  It's easy for an actor to proclaim that they're a nerd or a geek, but that's still a good looking person who makes lots of money doing something they love saying that they like Superman -- those aren't the people who need the comic book store community, who value the comic book community.

Once a week, you're not the weird person who reads comic books.  You're no longer surrounded by people who think that all comic books contain superheroes, and that all superheroes wear costumes, and that all fight sequences include the words "bam" and "pow."  Once a week, you are surrounded by like minded people who share an interest with you, people you would probably never meet if it weren't for the local comic book store.  It is the watering hole for those who look at things a bit differently.  It's the sports bar for those that have long boxes stacked high at home.  It's the gym for those who know the power of these stories and who want to talk to others who feel the same way.

The Comic Book Store Works In Mysterious Ways

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I of course made it a priority to find a comic book store.  The first one I found was The Golden Apple.  A few weeks after I started going, I stepped into line behind someone who looked familiar.  It was comic book writer Marc Andreyko.  Now, that might no seem that strange, given that The Golden Apple is a popular store and comic book creators enjoy going to their local store as much as anyone.  But I wasn't actually standing in line behind Marc Andreyko, comic book writer; I was standing in line behind Marc Andreyko, former Watch the Skies employee.

Back in my hometown of Kent, Ohio, we had a short lived comic book store run by artist Jay Geldhof called Watch the Skies.  It was a great store and a welcome addition to Kent, as it was in dire need of a well organized, enthusiastic comic book dealer.  One of the people who manned the the counter at Watch the Skies was Marc Andreyko.

Marc and I recognized each other and, of course, were baffled by the odds of two people who met in the store meeting again at The Golden Apple on the other side of the country.  That is the power of the comic book store.

My Shop of Choice

These days, my shop of choice is Meltdown Comics in Hollywood, one of the 3 best comics shops I've ever been to (see below for the other 2).  Meltdown is easily the most active comic book store I've ever been to as well.  On any given night of the week they have signings, Q&As, workshops, art openings, stand up comedians -- you name it.  Anything that has to do with comic books or anything somehow connected to comics, it all fits in at Meltdown.

And just like I got to know Marc at Watch the Skies, I try to go to Meltdown when I know Atlantean sympathizer, Chris, is working.  Somehow Chris and I have developed a Namor/Reed Richards relationship, if you substitute bravado with jokes.  What's great about this is that often times others will join in our back and forth and suddenly I'll find myself talking to people who, up until a few moments ago, had been complete strangers.  It can't help Meltdown, either.  I think if people walk into a place where it seems like the customers and the employees are enjoying themselves, they're more likely to have a good impression.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention two important shops from my past.  The first is one that will always hold a special place in my heart, and it's not even really a comic book store: The News and Photo Shop in Kent, Ohio.  For some strange reason, News and Photo carried comics, and not just a spinner rack, but up to date new releases, delivered every week.  Eventually those comics moved to Watch the Skies, but they eventually moved back to News and Photo.  To this day I don't know why a store that mostly sold periodicals and cigars had such a great selection of comics.  Honestly, that store probably kept me from rotting my brain completely, as it led me to buy some actual literary magazines while I was buying comics.

Oxford Comics and Cards in Atlanta, Georgia is another great store and a place where I made one of my few friends in Atlanta.  Being a woman and working in a comic book store has got to come with some downsides simply due to the vast difference in numbers between the genders.  So it wasn't shocking that, during one of our first conversations, Lindze mentioned her husband right away.  And since I didn't want her to think I was a dirtbag, I mentioned my girlfriend right away, too.  Once it was clear that I wasn't just a socially awkward guy hoping to find a date, Lindze gave me a glimpse into the nerdy underground of Atlanta.  She would also get drunk and punch me, but I'm a tough drunk.

I said that Meltdown is one of the three best comic book stores I've ever been to.  The other two are Heroes Aren't Hard to Find in Charlotte, NC and The Laughing Ogre in Columbus, OH.  I only went to Heroes once, but I was blown away by it, not just because it was freaking huge, but because it was clean, well organized, bright, and the staff was extremely friendly.  But since I only went there the one time, I don't know if they ever would have matched The Laughing Ogre in terms of friendliness.  I went to college a little over an hour away from The Laughing Ogre, and even though there was a comic book store in my college's town, I had my pull file at the Ogre.  Sure, the store in town was every bad cliche rolled into one, but comics are comics, right?  It wasn't really so bad that I had to drive 2 and 1/2 hours round trip every few weeks.  No, I did that because that was how great The Laughing Ogre was -- and still is, I would guess.

The comic book store is something unique and something that I don't think will ever die.  As Chris said the other day while gesturing all around him, "You can't put this in an Ipad."

It's crazy to think that with all the advances in technology that make us all less and less social, someday it might be the comic book fans who socialize the most.