In late November of last year, I asked one of the clerks at a comic shop in midtown Manhattan to tell me how much money I'd spent there.
I knew they had the total in their computer, but I wasn't positive that I really wanted to know what it was. The clerk admitted that this was an unusual request.
He checked my file, which has been used to grant me, like any other regular customer, $20 off, every time their running tally of my purchases hits $100. You spend $100, you get that next $20 free.
The store's records showed that I had been shopping there since June 8, 2005, in other words, 6 1/2 years.
The real reason I asked the clerk at the excellent Midtown Comics shop near Times Square to tell me my total was to assuage my guilt. I know that I probably won't be spending as much money there anymore. I've switched to reading comics digitally, and a greater and greater percentage of the comics I enjoy are available for download to my iPad on the same day they go on sale in Midtown Comics.
The comics I get on my iPad don't come with a 20% discount. There are no helpful clerks hanging out in my iPad who might recommend a good new comic while I'm paying for my stack. But I don't have to go anywhere to get my digital comics. My digital comics don't even take up any room, which is important to someone like me who no longer wants to have stacks of longboxes full of comics in his house. I have realized that I hang on to a lot of comics simply because it's hard to muster the will to throw out tangible artwork that you paid for, even if it's mediocre. Digital comics helped me shake that.
I've told myself that I'll keep going to Midtown Comics to buy graphic novels and to buy collections of comics that I've read digitally and loved enough to want to be able to own in print. In other words, I'll use my iPad to buy comic book issues. I'll use Midtown for my purchases of thicker and better work. I'll go to Midtown to shop only for excellence and, awkwardly, for the catalog to the next month's comics, since no one has yet made a good online catalog that covers what every big and small, mainstream and artsy, publisher is publishing.
Midtown Comics, I'm pretty sure, will be my last regular comics shop.
Those of us who love buying comics surely remember all of our comics shops. Ever since I realized Midtown would likely be my last one, I've been reminiscing about the other ones I used to frequent.
My first comics shop was called Forbidden Planet in midtown Manhattan. That's where my mom let me, at age 10, buy some of the first comics of the 1986 Superman reboot (the excellent John Byrne run that, only as an adult, did I realize turned Clark Kent into quite the player). They had back issues downstairs, where I marveled at the older, mustier-looking old Superman comics on the wall. I bought an over-sized Superman Vs. Spider-Man comic there. I loved it.
The Upper Deck
The Upper Deck and was run by a husband and wife team named Don and Billie. As the name implies, it was originally a shop for collectible baseball cards. They must have gotten into comics because, in the late 80s, comics got popular. I saw my first black-and-white comics here. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and stuff that might have had sexy women in them that might have interested 13-year-old me for some reason. My signature memory of this shop was the weekend when they got then-New-York-Met Lenny Dykstra to come in for an autograph signing. My father, brother and I waited outside on a long line to get an autograph for my brother, who liked the Mets. I just wanted to get my new comics, but after all that waiting, Billie or Don told me that wasn't going to happen. They weren't selling comics that day. I was extremely disappointed. Comics mattered more to me than most other childhood delights.
I think the next shop I frequented was the first place I ever worked at, a comics shop in Pleasantville, NY called Adventure Ink. I worked the register therefor a couple of weeks one summer of high school but mostly went there as a customer. It was at this shop that I discovered The Comics Journal and realized there was more to comics-reading-life than super-hero comics and wannabe super-hero comics.
Then there was the shop that used to be called Uncommonly Comics before the owner decided to switch to Atomic Comics in the hopes that a higher alphabetical listing would help business. I don't think it did. I enjoyed shopping there, but have some weird memories: 1) one of the junior employees extolling the excellence of John Byrne's super-hero art over others' due, oddly, to the fact that Byrne drew women with a slight gap between their legs (Junior employee said: "I guess [artist who he was criticizing whom I can't remember] has never been with a woman."); 2) the owner got annoyed at me once for putting one of the comics he'd held for me back on the shelf, since that cost him the money he spent ordering that copy for me; my perspective was that he should have been happy that I was still giving him business, despite going off to college in New York City and commuting an hour up to my parents' house to keep shopping at his store; 3) because he thought it was cool, the owner took out a box from behind the counter one day and showed me the handgun he'd just bought.
St. Mark's Comics
Notable for seemingly only employing punk-rock girls, St. Mark's was also cool because it was open until at least 1am, had lots of alternative comics for me to check out and was a couple of blocks from my NYU dorm. It wasn't a perfect enough shop to keep me from wandering into Village Comics, the Forbidden Planet at Union Square or even Cosmic Comics near the Flatiron Building to see what else might be worth buying, but for a few years, St. Mark's was my favorite. I bought my first Love & Rockets and Eightball comics there. My awakening to the best non-super-hero comics was complete.
Jim Hanley's Universe
I graduated college, went to grad school at Columbia and found Jim Hanley's Universe across the street from the Empire State Building. I'd been to its older location a couple of times, once when I bought my first Acme Novelty Library but only during grad school did it become my main shop. The place was huge. It was also progressive, laying out nearly all of its comics of every type in alphabetical order down as many rows as you'd find at a mid-sized supermarket. This helped me discover so many wonderful comics. I loved this place. I ventured to Midtown a couple of times while I was a Jim Hanley customer, but they were too much of a super-hero shop for me, I figured. Plus, at Jim Hanley's, you'd actually hear people argue about Wonder Woman fighting the Hulk and debating who would win. Then I discovered that Midtown gave you a free $20 to spend on comics after every $100 you spent. I asked the Jim Hanley people about this. Sorry, they said, we only give discounts to industry professionals.
I figured out where they kept the indie comics at Midtown. I figured out how to get the 20% discount. I was hooked and probably became a customer for this shop longer than I've been one for any other. They've been good to me. I'm sorry if I am not hurting their business, but I've jumped from shop to shop before. It's always been about convenience, I guess. It just doesn't feel so righteous this time, I admit.
For quite some time I've helped keep the American comic book store in business. I've loved these places and even made a mental note that I'd never want to live in a city that didn't have one. Now, in 2012, however, I'm essentially removing my full-time support for the American Comic Shop. I'm replacing most of it with my support for the digital comic shop.
It's strange. I went to a funeral on Saturday. Afterward, without a hint of irony, I went to Midtown Comics. It was my first visit in two months, the longest period of time during my adult life that I've ever spent away from a comics shop (I know it was two months, because there were two new issues of a monthly comics catalog for me to buy and anxiously dog-ear). I was happy to be back, to smell the paper and squeeze around the people reading comics in the shop as if it was a library.
There were a lot of people shopping there. That made me feel good. There was also something else: a woman whose face was painted blue. She was dressed in long white robes and held a white lightsaber. She was just browsing for comics. No big deal. She was awesome. You can't get a scene like that on your iPad. So, Midtown Comics has got that. It's got a hook. That means no matter how many thousands of dollars I spend in the iPad comics shop next, I'll always go back, at least for a look.
While I'm there, I'll buy something.
(Top photo: Julien Menichini, Flickr)