When asked how I am doing these days, I tend to respond that I am, “better than most”. Covid has not knocked on my door with the heavy hand that it uses with others. My bills have all been paid. No one I know personally has died. Of the three jobs I had at the beginning of the year, two of them took a break. Now one of them is calling it quits. The worst thing that Covid has taken from me is my comic book shop.
I could talk about my comic shop for hours. It was my shop. I started going there in 1994. I started working there in 1996. It was my first job. It was my high school job. You know those awkward moments in high school where you try to work up the courage to walk across the crowded cafeteria past all the cool kids and sit next to that girl you liked? That was not me. I was off in the corner, or probably in the theatre, reading comic books.
I quit when I started college, but I always made the weekly trek back home to get new comics. At my peak I was buying eighty to a hundred titles a month. Then, when the owner decided to sell the store, the new owner asked me to come back and work for her. So it was also one of my college jobs. I arranged my class schedule around having Mondays off. (Something my parents may not have thought was wise. But comics were more fun that college.)
I quit again when I had the opportunity to be a mail carrier. You drive around in an aluminum car, walk up and down sidewalks, and all you have to do is carry a bag. No office, no phone, what is there to not love? Surely that dream was worth giving up working at the comic shop. I still went in once a week for my fix. And then, when I found out that the bag mail carriers lug around was too heavy, I asked to come back to the store.
I love comics. I love that it is a homegrown effort. If one person draws something that another person wrote, they can somehow craft a page that expresses the creativity of both. The whole of their efforts is greater than the sum. I love that most comics are about people giving of their own time and safety to make the world a better place.
It is a long con. Relationships can be developed over years. Events can run over multiple titles for months and make the struggle that much more epic. Batman encourages me to endure the hard stuff, Superman makes me want to do better and help others, and The Flash understands just how great it feels to run.
I like that there are currently comics for all tastes and flavors. I may not respect the finished product. There are nude comics that are nothing more than base excitement. There are comics that go out of their way to splash each panel with bloody gore. However everybody can find something for their tastes. Some of it is pretty flippin’ fantastic.
Many a time I have awoke at two in the morning, gone into work, and plucked a pile of periodicals off of the wall. I read anywhere from thirteen to twenty-seven comics a week. Read read read read read. What is the point of being in a room surrounded by comics if one cannot indulge?
Granted, there is a social aspect to it. A stranger comes in, you start talking, and before you know it an hour has passed as you both geek out over this delightful diversion. There are the people that do not know what they are looking for and I was able to help them out. The person who does not know where to begin allowed me to work on my research skills. At the end of the day though, I was there to read. (I have only been to one comic convention. I helped set up our store booth for plenty of them, but I always preferred to read the books rather than crowd around tables and talk about the books.)
For the vast majority of my job, I was allowed to read while I worked. Out of an eight hour shift, I would spend at least three hours reading. The newest owner had more tasks for me. Reading while at work more or less ceased. And the comics were not all of the quality I was hoping for. Sometimes you follow a title because you feel like you should, not because it excites you. (Collectors have their “gotta get ‘em all” addictions.)
I am pissed off that my store is closing. The comic industry has been struggling for a bit. Movies based on comics can make billions of dollars. Getting people into a store to read more of those adventures should not require effort. Yet readership keeps shrinking. Then Covid came along and made it so that no new books were published for a month and for the last three months the most we have been able to offer is curbside pickup. Shelf browsing is essential to comic shopping. People want to see the covers and flip through the pages. I am mad that a little bug dealt the death blow and that we do not have enough fans to support this job I was skilled at. I am an expert! I told you all about Thanos! I explained Groot to you people! I have done all this reading! How can you not consider me a valuable resource!
I am sad about the store closing. I could do with a few more visits from the nerds of the world. I still loved opening the newest shipment and seeing all the colors leap to greet my eyes. Seeing the sights that were offered, getting peeks at the unreleased treats to come; it was a joy. The customers and the environment are things I will miss.
At the same time I am okay with the store closing. I thought it would close two years ago. Instead, my boss sold it and I was allowed to stay on. Two years ago I was ready to read less. Two years ago I thought my time in the store was running out. The new owner gave me time to say good-bye. I would be even more upset if I had been kicked out two years ago. I am currently okay with not devouring twenty books a week. All my time in the store led to me taking home lots of books. I am currently rereading every Superman book from 1986 until 1994. It will take me at least a month. That is only one of my reading goals.
New comics are still being printed. I can still go out and buy them whenever I want. No one is cutting me off from my favorite hobby. They are only taking away my self-imposed status. A big part of my identity is being Comic Shop Guy and that is the part that stings. That guy feels like he does not have much purpose or that he feels society does not have a use for him. Is this what forced retirement feels like? “We’ve decided we’re done with you. Move along. Time for ‘The New’ to hop in and take over.”
After work today, I will go into the store for the last time. I have one last stack of books to pick up. I have already said my good-byes to my coworkers. We will probably still text message each other about nerdy things. Two of them already have jobs at other stores. I, after twenty-six long years, will no longer be an insider.
I will have over a quarter century of memories. I have stories to tell about comic shop life. (I never really caught on to “The Big Bang Theory” for one simple reason. It felt like real life. What is so funny about nerds meeting in a comic shop and nitpicking? That is just another Wednesday in comic life.) I still have my encyclopedic memory and research skills that I can use, though the opportunities will be much rarer. And of course, I have thousands and thousands of comics to entertain myself with.
How am I doing these days? A large part of me has been taken away by circumstances outside of my control. I have more time to read. I used to go on long leisurely walks once a week as I strolled from home to my comic shop. Now I work a decent job at a grocery store. I have less people to talk four-color adventures with. But nobody is dying here (except on the page). I am better than most. My job is gone. My love for comics however, is alive and well.