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.