Let’s Talk Comics. Please.

Being a comic book reader can be lonely business. While comics are a huge part of who I am, it’s the rare day when my typical interactions with other earthlings involve comics, talk of comics, or anything relating to comics. Furthermore, being a reader/fan in search of good conversations about comics can be an uphill battle. This isn’t a revelation, I know, but there are certain days when the solitary nature of comic book fandom just feels like the universe itself is magnifying it. Today was one of those days. Maybe it was the gray nature of the morning or the first drizzle of early November, but today I felt especially alone with my comic book thoughts as I drove through the misty Santa Monica morning toward nowhere in particular.

While it’s no secret that I very much enjoy escaping into my comics each week, I often find myself loaded with opinions once I’m through my weekly stack. Whether it’s thoughts on a story or the desire to opine on some art that really impressed me, these are thoughts I want to share with other like-minded individuals. Get online, you say? That’s certainly a viable option. But while the Internets are undeniably a great place to find and interact with kindred comic spirits, the reality is that there are times when you simply want to have a good old-fashioned face-to-face chat about Spider-Man or Wolverine with another carbon-based life form. With that in mind, today’s morning drive found me almost melancholy as I wondered to myself: What’s a guy got to do to find someone to talk about comics with? Instead of pulling over to the side of the road and penning a sad song about solitary geekery, I decided that today I would seek out the conversation I required. Over the course of my day I would force it to happen. By sheer power of will I was going to talk comics with someone. I would manifest it. I was on a mission.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where true comic book obsession and knowledge isn’t something that’s shared by most people. Sure, there’s an obvious increase in superhero popularity thanks to the likes of summer superhero blockbusters. And if you want to talk about Marvel’s The Avengers, you’ll have no shortage of people willing to throw out an opinion. But despite the increase in a sort of general superhero awareness, few of these folks actually read comics, so it’s still hard to find a good old-fashioned conversation about comic books. Today I was going to change that.

My first stop is at an aggressively mediocre coffee shop where I meet up with an old friend for breakfast. I order a breakfast burrito and we promptly talk about the place where we used to work together. Reminiscing is the first order of business here, but I’m itching to steer the conversation toward comics, even though I’m pretty sure this gal has no interest in the topic. I actually doubt she’s ever read one. Maybe she’ll surprise me.  Unfortunately, my efforts to segue from the topic of how tasty her pancakes to the topic of the fact that new Deadpool comic is written by “that guy” who used to be on Just Shoot Me proves clumsy and ineffective. The bill comes. I pay. We part ways. No comic talk. Mission: Failed.

Next stop is the office of a TV development executive. Being a TV writer I do a lot of these “general” meetings, which are essentially “meet and greet” get-to-know-you sessions that are designed to test for chemistry. Simply put, the TV decision-makers want to make sure that you’re not a complete creep and see if maybe you have some ideas they’d like to butcher sometime in the future. If it feels right, I occasionally bring up my comic book infatuation, which gets a perfunctory “We love comics here!” reaction most of the time. Simply put, I think there are a lot of development execs out there who claim to like comics, but don’t really know the first thing about them. I’m always hopeful that there will be a comic book connection, but it’s rare. I go into this meeting determined to talk comics no matter what. It’s a suicide mission perhaps, but damn it I’m forcing the issue. And I do bring up comics…for exactly three seconds. The exec abruptly shifts to the topic of local restaurants and an amazing pizza joint in Westwood. The meeting runs its usual course and I ultimately leave with my need for conversation less than sated. Though I am craving pizza at this point.

As I leave the studio lot, it dawns on me that a guaranteed place to find some good comic book conversation is a local comic book ship. There’s one particular comic store that I frequent where informed and spirited conversations are always flowing. The place is small and cramped and run by guys who really immerse themselves in their jobs. On any given Wednesday the place is a hotbed of conversation. Unfortunately, it’s Thursday and I’m nowhere near that shop. Nevertheless, a comic store still seems like to good place for me to seek out the cure for what’s ailing me. I eventually manage to find my way to the nearest comic shop, a tragically hip place in an even hipper neighborhood. Unfortunately, it’s too hip. There’s nobody inside save for a lone employee poking at her iPhone in the corner. I’m here so I browse a bit and eventually decide to buy the first trade of Grant Morrison’s Animal Man. Maybe the book will be a foray into a conversation about Grant Morrison. I recently listened to the audiobook of Grant Morrison’s most excellent book Supergods and have yet to talk to anyone about it. This could work. Unfortunately, the gal at the counter rings me up without so much as a grunt and I’m on my way.

With the day nearing an end, I head for home; I’m well aware that I’ve failed in what I’m now telling myself was a “silly little quest.” I get home, knowing full well that my wife isn’t going to want to talk comics. But just when all appears lost, the night takes a turn as I’m putting my 7-year-old son to bed. He asks me to read to him from the third trade paperback of the Jeff Smith’s Bone series. We’ve already read the first two and he’s hooked. Once we’re done, he mentions that his favorite “bone” is Smiley Bone and I realize that he’s actually soaking these stories in, experiencing them. And while this isn’t the deep and meandering conversation on comics that I’d fantasized about having all day, it’s somehow just perfect.

 


Gabe Roth is a TV writer trapped in the suburbs of Los Angeles. He loves breakfast burritos and craft beer.  He’s @gaberoth on Twitter.

Comments

  1. I totally get it. Last night I tried with my wife to talk about how excited I am about rumours over the JL Dark Moive. She was happy for me that I was excited but that`s where the conversation ends. I have one dude who I engage in this talk with and when we see eachother it`s a special occasion. Otherwise it`s solitary geekery. And there are those at work and in social circles who claim geekery, but then it`s revealed to be Walking Dead and Big Bang Theory. Ugh.

    My ten year old and I have been engaging in a lot of discussion lately about it. He gave up comics a while ago but he has been reading them more and more latey. I told him about the Rotwar last night over Heroclix and he seemed pretty interested.

  2. Conor Kilpatrick Conor Kilpatrick (@cskilpatrick) says:

    Was the pizza place 800 Degrees? Because that place *is* pretty good.

  3. flakbait flakbait says:

    It can be frustrating. My wife will humor me little bits here and there, but she reads very little in the way of comics, so there’s not really any give and take.

    When I go to the comic shop it’s almost always hit and miss, mostly miss. Occasionally there’s someone there who you’ll connect with and have a good conversation with, but mostly it’s like hanging out with a bunch of internet trolls. When the first thing out of their mouth is, “Man, I hate Brian Bendis,” or “I can’t believe what they’ve done to Alan Scott!” I don’t know where to go and just don’t bother.

    There was a guy I worked with for a while, we could sit and talk comics for hours, and trade books and what not. Those were good times.

    • USPUNX USPUNX says:

      Man I have the totally opposite experience at my LCS. All the guys that work there are really knowledgable about comics and just love the medium. We almost always have great conversations when I go in there.

    • flakbait flakbait says:

      Oh, the owner of my shop is great. It’s the other customers I generally don’t care to hang with.

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      F

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      For me it’s been hit or miss lately. I used to go into my LCS and strike up really good conversations until my Ride would come in to cut me off. Now I can hang around all day and the owner is avoiding me, and the manager is a great guy prone to rants who hasn’t really been reading lately. I don’t know anyone else personally who goes to a comic shop every month and buys comics. It’s frustrating! Every once in a while I meet a stranger in the shop who I can talk to for a few minutes and then never see again. I’ve sort of accepted this as a fact of life for the moment.

  4. hanson724 hanson724 says:

    My 6 year old son says to me last night ” Dad i just can’t stop reading comics”. I loved hearing that. Its a very solitary hobby and I’ve come to accept that. When I started reading comics again I lent some to my brother who used to read them with me as kids in the hopes that I could rekindle that fire in him but no. Thankfully my son and daughter are enjoying them with me and for now thats enough. Between them and this site I’m alright. But I understand the authors need for a face-to-face.

  5. Oooh, Supergods audiobook… brilliant idea!

  6. KenOchalek KenOchalek says:

    Very nice article! I usually stick around my LCS for some nice chats with my retailer and some of the other regulars, but Morrisoncon was the first time in my life I felt like I’d engaged in some good face-to-face discussions about comics that didn’t involve me explaining a bunch of backstory, character relationships, or business history.

    But the face-to-face thing is huge, I had a couple Twitter discussions about comics going yesterday afternoon that I think suffered from that particular venue. It’s tricky to keep thoughts to 140 characters without sacrificing tone, and even harder to keep a conversation flowing when you need more than one tweet to get your point across properly.

  7. JokersNuts JokersNuts says:

    How come you didn’t try to engage the employee at the “tragically hip” comic store?

    • Gabe Roth Gabe Roth (@gaberoth) says:

      It was an option, but I wasn’t getting much of a “let’s chat it up” vibe, truth be told, so I opted not to. Nothing against the employee really. Just a feeling.

    • I am of the belief that it should be a responsibility of the employee’s job to be kind, considerate and attentive to customers. I’m not saying that the customer is always right or that you need to have a 15-minute in depth conversation with every customer, but you should not be giving off a vibe of “fuck off, my iphone needs me right now” to someone that is helping to keep you employed. That’s my 2 cents.

      As for my own experiences with LCS, I have switched between a few different shops that are all very different in experiences. One is near my house and it’s just tiny but got a neat little feel to it. It’s the oldest comic shoppe in MN and only about a 3 minute drive from my house. The guy that worked there when I started reading comics a year ago was incredibly awesome and I loved hanging out with him each week for anywhere from 15minutes to 2.5 hours. This kid, the owners son, was about 31 years old and just fucking LOVED comics. Eventually he stopped working the Wednesday shift and went up to the “mothership” shop, which is the largest comics and gaming shop in MN. They had opened up a new facility that was even bigger and better.

      I stuck around at the old one for a while but ultimately left because the new guy was really friendly, but it was never a conversation. He was an older gentleman that loved comics, movies, etc and a geek through and through, but he sucked at listening and it was hard to leave the shop. Eventually I switched my pull list over to mothership which was on the way home from work anyways.

      At this new shop, I was in awe of all the great stuff they had to offer and people were very knowledgable, tons of customers and whatnot, it really felt like this place had the social aspect that I was looking for. After a few months of this, I realized that it wasn’t really what I wanted after all. The guys were cool and would definitely talk to you, but they serviced so many eff’ing customers, they didn’t have a chance to sit and talk comics for more than 3 minutes at a time because I would come at the busiest time. Eventually, I stopped my pull list and stayed for 3 months until my already pre-ordered books had arrived. My search continued.

      I have settled on this moderately sized shop that is right near my work and after I do a bank deposit on Wed/Thurs/Fri, I will quickly stop in to grab my books. The guys are always nice, but the place is completely dead and are on a C.O.D. basis with Diamond, so you never know if you’re books are gonna be there or not and they don’t order too much or too wide a range of comics. I have yet to have an experience like that of my first LCS and I kind of know that it won’t happen. I have learned to accept that the retail end of this hobby isn’t going to offer me much social sanctification, but that’s okay because I have enough other interests that I’m not crushed.

    • daningotham daningotham says:

      Mothership? You must be referring to the Source Comic and Games? That place is huge! I have been there a few times. I live about an hour away though. I got tired of my local comic shop too. I got sick of paying full price plus sales tax and for what? Plus I had to pay to park to even get to the shop. That adds up. Now I get my comics in one monthly shipment. I get 15% off everything I order, no sales tax and free shipping. And I can drop and add stuff off my pull list as much as I want without getting the death stare. And they never sell out of stuff. I’m loving it.

    • @daningotham

      Yessir! The Source really is a cool experience when going there. The smaller shop is Uncle Sven’s Comic Shoppe, which is just a few miles south near Fairview Avenue and Saint Clair Avenue. It was nice to get a 10% discount when you purchase the annual membership for $10.00. Not too bad and they rarely sold out of books too.

      I really don’t like to speak poorly of businesses when the faults aren’t necessarily their own, but I am getting more and more tempted to just buy online. I don’t get the social aspect that I want, but I still don’t like digitally buying books for the same price.

    • daningotham daningotham says:

      Yeah, I don’t get the social aspect I want either so have switched to buying online exclusively. I go through Midtown Comics online. If you have an online pull list you can adjust your pull list as much as you want and have 15% discount on everything you order and no sales tax. If you order more than $75.00 shipping is free. So I just do 1 monthly shipment so by then it’s always over $75.00 for me. Oh, and all comics come bagged and borded already. I’m saving at least $20.00 a month by going through them.

      I just can’t make the switch to digital either, I like my paper copies. I’ve been to Uncle Sven’s too. I was amazed at how small that place is compared to the bigger store. I don’t see how they stay in business. Very neat little store though.

  8. daningotham daningotham says:

    What an awesome article. This is the story of my life. My wife humors me enough so I don’t go crazy though.

  9. koryrosh koryrosh says:

    I understand the feeling completely. The way I cope with it is I completely own my obsession and wear it loud and proud. I have comic book posters and paraphernalia all over my office, I bring up comics in the courses I teach and even assign them – I assigned Alan Moore’s Promethea for a course on ancient magic; more recently I had the students in my religion course read Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader for our discussion of myth and had them write an analytical paper on mysticism in a section of Morrison’s Supergods – you get the picture. Of course, I’m luckys in that I have an audience I can try the material out on.

    One thing that has come of this, however, is more and more people (including other academics) have been “coming out” to me as comic book readers. I’ve even brought a few students into the fold. The place where I get the most hope from is my freshman. A lot of them are reading comics! One of my freshman – apropos of nothing – started alluding to something that I quickly realized was AvX! Another one was able to write the inscription on Mjolnor, in the runic letters, from memory. Most of them are reading digitally (I don’t know how “legally” their doing it and I don’t ask), but it does give me hope that comic book readership is on the rise. And the kids aren’t ashamed to talk about it!

    Here’s hoping that trend continues.

    • daningotham daningotham says:

      Man, where were you when I was going to school. ;-)

    • jpriester73 jpriester73 says:

      The world needs more profs like you :-) . Image, Marvel and DC should market colleges more. When I was a freshman my floor had 4 guys who loved comics who I became good friends with. I was too into being a jock and remaining popular in high school to try comics even though I secretly wanted to read them (though I didn’t know how or where to get them).

      Once I saw that educated, normal guys who don’t live in their mother’s basement or where batman costumes read comics I decided to give it a try. If I had a prof that was into comics that I respected it would have influenced me just as much. Comics need a rebranding if we ever hope for the industry to grow. Its not for freaks, people who can’t handling “real” books, or children.

      Now graduated I miss my old comic community. We created a Facebook page to discuss comics but its not the same.

  10. Skruff Skruff says:

    That’s pretty much the norm for me, too. I find now that the greatest chunk of my comic book conversations comes from online sites (mostly iFanboy these days). Beyond that, it doesn’t really spread much into the real world. I occasionally come across a friend who is a comic reader, but they are few and far between in my social circles, so even those conversations tend to get quickly nipped in the bud if we have other friends around us whose eyes start to glaze over at our sparkling banter of whether or not Barbara Gordon is better as Batgirl or Oracle

    (It’s totally Oracle, BTW… I don’t care what my friends say)

  11. jxc says:

    To be fair, expecting anyone that’s not super interested in your niche interests to be excited to talk about it with you is kind of naïve.

    Compare the Diamond sales numbers to the Nielsen television ratings. Shows that have ten or twenty times the people consuming them aren’t even things you could prod someone into talking to. My assburgery tendency to talk someone’s ear off about my own interests until I catch myself noticing that they don’t care taught me this a long time ago.

  12. MoBuck89 says:

    Nice article, great ending. Luckily I have a group of comic-reading friends, but I get how it can be lonely.

  13. Yea i have full comic book sleeves and talk about comics all the time I don’t care, can’t nobody whoop me.

  14. i’ve never found that shop where the good discussions were flowing. Most of my conversations happened online on sites like this, but most usually i often get intimidated out of having those conversations altogether due to my lack of, i guess “obsession” with continuity and plot details and stuff like that. It always turns into a “well, its obvious you never read CREATOR X’s run on TITLE X” or i just don’t remember it, so my ability to contribute beyond the pretty standard formal reasons is kinda tough.

    I dunno, i’m in that middle place where i read and enjoy a lot of books, but don’t really study them. I’m strange. =P

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      I don’t think your strange, or abnormal if you can’t recall every issue of a series (I usually can, but that’s beside the point). You should be able to carry on a conversation about, say Sandman or Hellboy, and discuss the basic story or characters or mythology alright. I guess what I’m saying is; if you want to talk comics, talk comics. Guys I talk to on stuff; even comics, always know more than me and that’s ok, as long as ive got background info we can have a nice conversation.

    • good point, but it can be intimidating at times. Also some people are just jerks when it comes to talking down to people about all the nerd stuff they think you are supposed to know. In my old age i’ve lost all patience for those shenanigans!

  15. TA TA says:

    Thanks, Mr. Roth. You’re not alone. None one I know reads comics but me. I’d like to share a quick story with you:

    Go to local comic shop and ask knowledgeable and well read owner what’s up with Marvel NOW! and should I get the new Spider-Man and X-Men.

    Comic book guy uses 90 second conversation on comics to segue into 45 minute lecture on politics and then theology.

    I smile, pay, and leave, knowing I’ll be back next week still wishing to just talk about comics.

    I’m glad to build rapport and discuss serious matters, but sometimes I just want to talk about comics, you know?

  16. IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

    I thought I was the only one that had this issue. Not that I’m really self absorbed, I just have trouble connecting with people even on average stuff. Reading some of these comments, I have to ask why anyone else would have this problem? Is it the hobby itself, or the people that engage in it? Is it solitary by default? In this day and age, we shouldn’t have such a hard time finding each other for some honest conversation about comics. Kudos to anyone whose nixed that problem or doesn’t care about it, I’d like to meet some other people tho who share this interest.

    • PThomas2010 says:

      I think that there is a large segment of readers that have a hard time socially in general. Where someone may come across as rude, over-opinionated, or just unpleasant, I think it has more to do with never having attained social skills and having to function in public. Although comics are awesome, the fact that reading them is a solitary activity probably caters more to this type person. In my opinion, this is why it is hard to have a normal conversation about comics. The truly knowledgeable ones seem to have more social awkwardness. Of course, there are plenty of “normal” comic enthusiasts. It’s just rare to run into one at the comic shop. The message boards aren’t a lot better. They are filled with people bashing everything to show how smart they are.

  17. You’re making me cry dude. I have a daughter and I read to her Mouse Guard, Calvin and Hobbes and Adventure Time. And it makes it all right in the end.

  18. Just out of curiosity, what are the attributes of a “tragically hip” LCS vs the typical variety? Not sure I’ve ever encountered one.

  19. Grandturk says:

    I just read them.

  20. I’m in the same situation. I have been getting better acquainted with two employees at my LCS, and that’s fun, but other than them, nothing. I do pass on the books I buy every week to my brother, who usually takes a month or two to go through em before giving em back, but I buy so many that he can’t keep up!

  21. Markalope says:

    I have a friend that says he’s a huge comic fan but hasn’t really read any since 2000. When i give him stuff to read it sits there. Out in public, i’ve heard him regurgitate things i’ve shared with him about the new DCU or Marvel now and claim how in love he is with the medium. I know it’s a free country and there are bigger things to worry about, i just find the posing a little sad. It’s as if he wants to say “Look at me, i saw the avengers movie and bought the lego playsets. I’m such geek!”
    My lcs is awesome. Full of really nice guys but the majority have seemed to sour on the mainstream and haven’t read most of the new stuff. Wealth of indie knowledge though.

  22. I can’t wait until I read Bone to my daughter. She a;lready gets excited when she sees certain comic book characters, mostly Spider-Man and Batman. And she loves my Scary Godmother book, so tha’s pretty cool. As for actual, face to face conversations about comics, I mostly just talk to my wife about them. None of the people I see with any kind of regularity read comics. But I guess that’s OK. I have a lot of interests.

  23. paulc51 says:

    Ha–I know that place in Culver City. It is cramped but such a nice focus. A lot of times a store has a lot of crap and clutter but this one is just books. Assuming the tragically hip place is in Echo Park or on Melrose…

  24. lead sharp says:

    I’m lucky enough to have a couple of friends AND a cool lcs to vent this feeling but none are local enough to scratch that “OMG I have to share this moment” itch, so I can relate to this.

    I am getting my daughter into comics though!