The first comic book shop I ever set foot in was probably the one in downtown Springfield, Missouri. It wasn’t really a comic book shop, it was an old, used bookstore, but in the window it had a sign: ‘Marvel Comics On Sale Here.’
I don’t remember how I got there — downtown was not a spot we ever visited in Springfield — but get there I did. It was old and musty with books stacked unevenly and all over. Classic old, used bookstore. But in one area were a couple of shelves with all new comics. Not the spinner-racks I was used to at Wood’s supermarket. Next to the shelves were stacks of old comics.
A store that specialized in selling comic books. What a wonderful idea. I wonder if it will catch on.
Surprisingly, It did. The first comic book shop I was frequent customer of was Rock Bottom Books and Comics in Columbia, Missouri. It was within walking distance of the dorm so I would trek there often to peruse the new comics. I still had a subscription to ‘Avengers’ and ‘X-Men’ back home so I didn’t need to actually buy any comics, but that didn’t stop me from walking up the long stairway to Rock Bottom and while away the hours looking through the spinner racks. I was young back then and didn’t see any problem with going into a store and reading their books and not buying anything. Eventually my subscriptions ran out and I did turn my business over to Rock Bottom.
There have been many other shops over the years, and even more locations (comic book shops tend to move around a lot). While living in Springfield I sometimes visited Duckburg Comics. Years later it would turn out the owners of that shop would be our frequent companions at LawyerCon.
When The Wife had a job interview in St. Charles I went along for the ride. While she was interviewing I went for a walk on Main Street and discovered the St. Charles Journal, where I would soon go to work, and FBN: The Fantasy Shop, a comic book shop just down the street. (FBN, I eventually learned, stood for “Fly By Night,” the Rush song) The Fantasy Shop went on to become the McDonald’s of comic book shops in St. Louis, with locations all over. They dropped the FBN moniker.
There are a surprising number of comic book shops in St. Louis. I admit I haven’t even been to all of them. For the most part I split my money between The Fantasy Shop, now in its third location since I moved here, and Comic Book Relief, which is next door to Beer, Bait & Bullets.
If you watch “The Big Bang Theory” you know that new comics arrive at the shop once a week. The day has changed over the years but for some time now New Comic Book Day is Wednesday. It makes for a nice break in the work week. Every Wednesday I pick up my son after work and we drive to FS or CBR, I rifle through the new books, check out any new merchandise, pick up a book or two along with the Comic Shop News (it’s free, as it should be because it’s not really worth paying for), pay the man at the cash register (it’s usually a man) and be on my way.
It’s been part of my routine for almost 40 years.
The Internet, as we all know, has ruined everything. A few years back publishers started making comic books available in a digital format. Rather than buying a physical, paper comic book as God intended, you could download one off a website and read it on your computer.
What a stupid idea. Who wants to read a comic book on a computer? How inconvenient is that? Then tablets came along and suddenly it was maybe more convenient but still, why would you give up your comic book for a digital file on a computer?
Once digital comics took off, Marvel started offering free codes in its comics. Type the 10-digit code into your computer and you’d get a free digital copy of that comic. I still wasn’t sold. I continued buying my comics and ignoring the codes. Then one day Marvel had a special deal where you could download like 300 comics for free. Suddenly, digital comics didn’t seem so stupid.
I went through the various hoops and downloaded several books. I then proceeded to read them on my son’s Ipad. HOLY CRAP. This is awesome! The art is crisper. The colors are more vibrant. And best of all, you can zoom in on individual panels and blow up images as large as you like — making it significantly easier for old, cataracted, eyes to read the captions.
Digital comics, where have you been all my life?
I quickly began downloading every code in every comic I had that had not already expired. I now had a new weekly routine. Go to the comic book shop, buy a comic, bring it home and read it, download the digital copy, put the comic on the shelf, and hereafter re-read it in digital. It was the best of both worlds. So naturally it couldn’t last.
Last month Marvel announced that it would no longer include a free digital copy of the comic you just bought. I feared this day would come. Nothing good lasts forever.
Here now my dilemma: Do I continue as before, going to the comic shop every week and picking up a book or two and taking them home and reading them and eventually sticking them on a shelf or in a box…or do I come home, fire up the computer, go to Marvel.com and purchase a digital copy? I’m not going to do both.
Think about this people. This is no minor thing. Since childhood I have collected comics.I never stopped. Some sissies quit around high school and go back around college. Not me. I have them (not bagged and boarded, what a stupid thing) in two tall bookshelves, two short bookshelves, eight boxes in the unfinished part of the basement, two boxes in the bedroom closet, two dresser drawers in the bedroom, several stacked on my nightstand near the bed, and a few stacked on the living room end table. That’s not counting my graphic novels. I have comics from England and Ireland and Scotland and probably half the states in the union.
If I go digital, that all stops. No more “Where’s my comic book?” and “Why did you draw on my comic book?” and “Who tore the cover off my comic book?” The poor soul who inherits my comic book collection will find unexpected stops in the current runs of “Black Widow,” “Occupy Avengers” and “All New X-Men.” My wife will be the happiest person alive.
But it’s not just the loss of the physical item. What about my routine? Going to the comic book shop wasn’t just going shopping. It was like going to church, but without the preaching and that horrible contemporary Christian music that has ruined church. It was a hump-day break from the unending depression of work. And the social aspect — “How’z it goin’?” says the man behind the counter. “OK,” says I. “That’ll be $4.23.” “Hold on, I think I have some change.” “Thanks for coming in!”
No, I don’t know the names of any of the clerks or shop owners that I have dealt with weekly for the past 25 years. I’m not my wife. And no, I don’t talk to the fellow customers. Have you been in a comic book shop? Nerds. All nerds.
But they’re my nerds. And while I won’t miss them, I will miss the experience. I mean, I’m not a college freshman anymore, I can’t just show up every week, rifle through the new books, and walk out.
And so I must face the future. The advantages of digital are too great to ignore. I can store hundreds of comics in the space that one would take up today. They’re easier to read and so much nicer to look at. I can read digital comics on my phone, which means I can read them anywhere — sitting in a waiting room, waiting for the movie to start, in the bathroom at work — the possibilities are endless. My only fear now is a power outage. Or the Internet explodes.
(I told you you wouldn’t care about it, assuming you made it this far)