My First Shop: Downeast Comics

Maybe it’s the summer winding down, or I’m just getting sappy in my old age, but it seems as if nostalgia is in the air.  Conor took us on a trip through his first shop a little while back, and I recently found out about Fanboy Fables, a blog dedicated to remembering your early comic experiences fondly, and then I just spend some time in the place where I grew up.  So why not share?

There is, in my memory, a great number of discrepancies about what comic purchase came first.  I’m not even sure of the exact age, but I think I’m placing it at 11 years old.  This would make sense, because in fifth grade, I started drifting away from my friend Shawn, with whom I’d hung out for the past 3 years.  As such, I found myself solitary and wandering into the local comic shop, Downeast Comics, one October afternoon.  I know it was October, because I was wearing a grim reaper outfit, and there was some safe, municipal sponsored Halloween event going on, but I don’t believe it was actually Halloween.  I know it had to be the fall of 1988, because the summer of 1989 was when Batman came out, and I was well into comics by that point.  I’m not sure if I bought anything on that trip, but I do know that, before long, I bought the first issue of Wolverine, by Chris Claremont and John Buscema.  Not long after that, I picked up the collection of A Death in the Family.  Oddly enough, I hated the covers by Mike Mignola, and loved the interiors by Jim Aparo.  It turns out that my tastes have shifted a bit over the years.

However, there is another trip to a drug store, now closed, but named Laverdiere’s, across the street.  They had a small arcade in the back of the store, and at the edge of the arcade was a spinner rack, and I remember cleaning them out of their Amazing Spider-Man issues, starting with #315.  At this point, I developed my first knowledge of a creator, and that was Todd McFarlane.  His work stood out instantly to me, and he became my favorite fast.

The thing is, I don’t remember which of these happened first.  I do know that the McFarlane acquisitions were followed by a back issue hunt, but I only managed to get back to #311 before they got too expensive.  Back then, speculation was in its nascent stages, and prices were creeping up for early McFarlane work, and all the black costume stuff.  As a result, I’ve never read any of it.  Regardless, after those two trips, I became a regular, and before long, I’d started a folder, just like Conor.

It built quickly from that point.  I blame the asterisks.  I think I started with Amazing Spider-Man, Batman, Wolverine, and maybe something else.  From Amazing Spider-Man, it wasn’t long before I was buying Fantastic Four, based on an asterisk in an issue where McFarlane drew and incredibly craggy Ben Grimm.  In quick progression, Avengers both proper and West Coast were added, and then Thor and Captain America, and so on.  I mustn’t forget the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, my first indie comic.  Man, I thought I was so cool for having read that black and white source material all the cartoons were based on.  As you can see, some things don’t change.

I have a very clear picture of the store in my mind.  It was a rectangular room, and fairly full, but not messy.  You’d come through the door, and it would jingle.  On your left, there was a wall with back issues tacked up all over the place.  This is a look I would emulate in my room for a short time thereafter, until I decided that couldn’t be good for the condition of my comics.  It was either that, or my mother had a problem with all the holes in my wall.  Who can say?  To the right was the register, and a glass case, filled mostly with sports cards.  There was a man at the register, who I regret to say was a large, overweight dude with a beard, who may have been named Dan.  I may have also named him that, because he’s been replaced with the guy from Head of the Class in my mind.  There were shelves lining the opposite walls with new comics, and boxes of well organized back issues in the middle of the room.  Dan wasn’t the owner, but he was the one who was there every day.  There was another skinny guy who was slightly balding with glasses who I seem to remember as the owner.  It’s sad that they conformed so readily to the comic shop staff stereotypes, but that’s the way it was.  From the outside, the building was a red wooden structure, shared with what I believe was a hair salon.  I’m guessing the two tenants didn’t have much in common.  It was situated just off Maine Street, which was what we called our Main Street, and right in the middle of town.

By the time the school year ended, and summer was upon us, between elementary school and junior high, I was at the comic shop a lot.  I’d gotten a paper route to pay for comics, which probably cost me $10-20 per week, which, now that I think about it, was a giant amount of money.  But I was happy, and it was my money, and I guess I didn’t start smoking, so I got that going for me.  At some point that summer, I became a fixture.  I would go to the shop before it opened, and they would let me in, and I would just hang out there.  I remember the first time they unlocked the door, and I came in and watched Price is Right, and sifted through the bins, and was just treated like a friend, like an adult, and not a kid.  That was magic, and while I was 12 years old, talked like I was older, and looked like I was about 8, it’s an incredible memory, and a turning point in my personal independence.  Now, through today’s skeptical eyes, people only see the worst possible outcome of weird men hanging out with kids, but I have only best memories, and they were just good friendly guys who must not have been that annoyed with me.



Yet, all things come to an end, and such was the case with Downeast Comics.  First, the next year, we moved to the other side of town, and it made walking or riding to the comic shop a much more daunting experience.  For whatever reason, I was not a kid who asked for rides.  If I couldn’t get somewhere on my own, I just didn’t go, so that must have been why I stopped reading comics regularly.  It was just not in the cards.  My McFarlane Spider-Man poster stayed on my wall through most of college, and even a few years after, but I left reading comics for the next 8 or 9 years.  Then, not long after I moved, Downeast Comics changed to Downeast Cards and Collectibles.  So even if I’d wanted to get back into comics, they’d stopped selling them.  A brief foray into the sports cards taught me that I didn’t really care about that, so I moved on.  Then, a bit later, it was gone completely, existing only in my memory.

I’d like to say that as I spent my last weekend in the town where I grew up, I looked wistfully at the building where some of my fondest memories were born, but I didn’t.  I hardly notice that building, which was the center of my world for about 2 years.  I think when they stopped selling comics, I just moved on, annoyed, even though I’d stopped reading.  Yet, at the same time, Downeast Comics is my yardstick for all the subsequent shops I’ve frequented, and none of them have ever quite lived up to the first.  Here’s to you Dan, or whatever your name might be.  A great deal of what followed was probably due to your letting a talkative little kid hang out in your shop with you.

Comments

  1. piscespaul piscespaul says:

    Thanks guys for these trips down memory lane..For me it was Bob’s Crads and Comics in Buzzards Bay on Cape Cod. I would beg my mother to drive me the 15 mins across "the bridge" and would stare in wonder at all the comics..I fondly miss that place and time.

  2. jedidave24 jedidave24 says:

    I love these trips down memory lane. Incidentally, I had an extended absence from comics for reasons similar to yours. Great article, Josh.

  3. RoiVampire RoiVampire says:

    awesome article Josh. I hope everyone gets a bug to write one of these. The one by connor and this one by you are some of my favorite columns i’ve read in quite sometime. And not just here but anywhere online.

  4. Kory Kory says:

    Great article Josh.  I visited a few shops and had bad experiences before I found the perfect one.  You were lucky you found a good shop the first time.

  5. daccampo daccampo says:

    Ah, I’m really enjoying these pieces, guys. Good stuff. My formative years were definitely filled with buying comics off of spinner racks in drug stores and super markets. There was a drugstore in the next town over where I remember picking up the first issue of Longshot. There was a supermarket where I remember buying an issue of the Avengers where Black Panther fought that White Gorilla dude.

    My first actual comics shop would have been Comics and Comix in the Roseville/Citrus Heights area in Northern California. They were, for a long time, THE california chain, with stores from Sacramento to San Francisco. Man, it’s been a while since I thought about that. Sometimes, we would also go to the flea market on the weekend, and there was a little shop in the flea market that had new comics already bagged. Except I remember that they used yellow masking tape to tape the bags shut and it always tore the bags when you tried to open them. 

    Good times. 

     

     

  6. Neb Neb says:

    These articles make me want to drive to my hometown, and go to the place where my old shop was.  But then, I would be that creepy guy staring mistily at a whole foods market.  Not good.

  7. TheKZA TheKZA says:

    These articles are awesome, I love this sappy shit!

    I agree about the TMNT thing.  I went through the same thing and also held this smug sense of superiority with those who weren’t as ‘indie-cool’ and asked "why are they all Raphael?"

     Like you said… things haven’t changed much.

  8. RipperSix RipperSix says:

    This was a fantastic article! I love learning about the early building-blocks of our ifanboys. It lets me know that I wasn’t so out-of-the-ordinary. I started out with a mail subscription, but once the Batman movie came out, I found a shop that wasn’t so spectacular. However, I did eventually find a place where the grown-up staff treated me like an equal, and actually bothered to recommend titles that I might like. Unfortunately, my experience since then has not found any shop owners or employees who did not live up to the stereotypes. All the shops from my teens and twenties are now closed, but I’ll fondly remember them all. (so freakin’ sweet that you included a satellite photo of the building, Josh!)

  9. ohcaroline ohcaroline says:

    You know, when I first saw this headline, I read it as ‘Downcast Comics’ and I was like — my that’s a very ironic and postmodern kind of name for a column.  Then I read it again and it made more sense.

    Anyway, great article. . . I never got my own comics as a kid, just read the odd one my brother brought home (Transformers and some horror/suspense anthologies that I think must have been ‘House of Mystery’) but it never occurred to me to find out where they came from.  Couldn’t have afforded the habit, anyway, so I supppose it’s just as well.  Speaking of, I enjoyed the "at least I didn’t start smoking" observation.  There are much worse habits to pick up in your early teens than graphic literature.

  10. Dan Dan says:

    These pieces are great.  Keep up the good work.

  11. bigyanks bigyanks says:

    my fisrt comic shop was Village Comics in the village. i dont even know if it sstill around. (goes and googles it)

  12. Eyun Eyun says:

    I absolutely love this article, and this ongoing theme, it’s so thick with nostalgia. I’d love to read Ron’s next, his enthusiasm in writing about comics would translate brilliantly to a walk down memory lane like this.

    Good to have you back, Josh! 

  13. rayclark rayclark says:

    i think that this MY FIRST SHOP should be for everyone on the iFanboy staff. i like reading these and it makes me appreciate my first comic shop even more, thanks for a blast of nostalgia for me. my first shop was Matt’s Collectibles in Enfield, CT. i stilll go there even after 6 years of comic collecting

  14. patio patio says:

    Very cool. Got me remembering some of my early haunts. It’s funny, there were a lot of stores to choose from in Chicago, and I could get around to a lot of them by bike or train. Some were clean, cool, and fun, and others seemed to have grown out of someone’s armpit. 

    "There are much worse habits to pick up in your early teens than graphic literature."

    So true. 

  15. xebix xebix says:

    I started collecting comics when i was about 12 or 13. I am happy to say that 17 years later, my first comic shop is still alive and kicking back in Waco, TX.

  16. ActualButt ActualButt says:

    The first comics shop I really belonged to was Cool Stuff Comics in Drexel Hill PA, where I briefly worked, but before that I bounced around between Durning’s Comics (closed for selling porn to kids, and not in the way that the CBLDF would help out with), Fanfare, Showcase Comics on South St. in Philly (now Atomic City Comics), but the majority of my books were "procured" at the local 7-11.  To this day I still don’t know where any of those are.  The only books I really retained from when they came out and I bought them were anything I have that came out after Grant Morrison started his run on X-Men.  That’s when I started my quest to get every single issue of X-Men and Uncanny X-Men.  I thought about questing for complete runs of X-Factor, X-Force, New Mutants, Excalibur, and Wolverine, but I quickly realized that I would end up buying way more Rob Liefeld art than I was comfortable with.  After an impromptu invite to a "Midnight Madness" sale at Bagged and Boarded in Bensaslem, PA, I decided that this would be my new shop.  I subscribed there for about a year, and the guys there were great, but I was basically travelling from the southwest edge of Philly to the Northeast corner every Wednesday.  The commute just became too much for me.  Now, I’ve discovered a store mere blocks from where I go to school in Center City Philly, Brave New Worlds.  On my lunch break on Wednesdays, I just have to walk 3 blocks to pick up my books.  Here’s to the Comic Shop Locator Service for helping me find about half of those stores!

  17. Poopmonster Poopmonster says:

    The spinner rack was where I was introduced to the world of comic books.  Pulling an issue or either Richie Rich Riches or some cartoony book.  Firestorm was my first superhero book and begging my mom to buy it (dad would always throw a quarter down, though when 35 cents became the norm it would only be one book for me and one for my brother).  And it was Firestorm that lead me to Alpha-Omega Comics and the Fat Man’s (not sure of the real name but the place was amess comics all over the place just piled on the ground, and a huge surly guy sitting behind the desk) to try to find the first 2 issues.  Sadly the series ended 2 issues later but by then I had my first taste of the wonders of a Comic Book Shop.  All those pretty books bagged and boarded hanging off the wall and the long boxes stuffed with unlike now stories and characters I had never heard of.  I travel alot for work and love to go find new comic shops out there, I still get that little kid sense of Wow.

  18. John42 John42 says:

    great article. my first comic shop was actually that ithaca shop you guys talk about sometimes. i lived in a super small town, and had to drive an hour just to confirm the simpsons notion of comic book store guys. ifanboys: what was the name of that shop?

  19. Josh Flanagan josh (@jaflanagan) says:

    Comics for Collectors.

    What town?

  20. John42 John42 says:

    thanks Josh. that was really bugging me. the town was called penn yan.

  21. Somehow I missed this when it first came up, but now I’ve finally gotten around to it, and it’s nice to have the complete picture of all three of your first comic book shop experiences.  It’s especially nice to know that yours was such a generally positive experience.  I think comic book people are more apt to give kids more credit than non comic book people – they’re so used to seeing their interests derided as "kids’ stuff" that they know better than to look down on actual kids who are really reading the same sophisticated material they are.

  22. kevrum kevrum says:

     When i was a noob, billy the guy who ran the shop would give me drawing lesson. I don’t know if those lessons helped but it was a good time and it made feel less like a customer and like someone who matters.  Now i’m working at a shop and i do my best to make going to buy comics a fun experience for the kid and new readers i try including them in  conversations, asking about the comics they read. I ask the kids, who would win in a fight? I’m still having a good time.

  23. kasu86 kasu86 says:

    Great article, Josh! Brings back some great memories. I worked at the bike shop across the street and remember how excited I was that a real comic shop was opening in our little corner of the world. Previously, my only comic source was, yes, Laverdiere’s and other stores with the spinning racks full of Superman and Spidey and Archie comics and not much else. The only downfall of being so close was the fact that my dad (the owner of the bike shop) could see how often I went to DEC. I didn’t care. They opened in spring ’86, the beginning of the "new" DC, after Crisis, Frank Miller’s Batman, awesome Spidey books, Frank Miller’s Daredevil, Watchmen, etc. The skinny, balding guy was Stan, the owner. "Dan" from Head of the Class was actually Tim and yes, it seems he was there every time you walked in. The man bled comic ink. Stan was there for the $$$; Tim was there because that was "The Dream". Eventually, reality sets in, though; a couple of years later Stan sold the biz and it became Downeast Cards, etc. Tim died a couple of years ago, but the last time I saw him, he was sporting his Watchmen smiley-face T-shirt. Fan til the end. After a couple of years, i switched to comic shop a few more miles down the road and around ’93 I stopped altogether when they started coming out with all the foil and hologram BS. Came back in 2005 with Infinite Crisis and JMS Spidey and Bendis and decompressed storylines and $4 comics and shiny paper and everybody "waiting for the trades" and buying comics on the internet from a "comic shop". <sigh> Thanks for the DEC memories, Josh!

  24. Josh Flanagan josh (@jaflanagan) says:

    Wow Kasu, thanks for the update.  Center Street Cycles, right?  Behind the rec center?  Crazy.

    Take care!