Praise Odin! It’s happened! After years of hoping against hope and diligently praying to Thor’s papa, a new comic shop has opened up in my neighborhood. It’s just blocks from the 1950s ranch house I call my personal headquarters! Some might even call it “walking distance.” A new comic store? In this economy?! I’m floored.
Truth is, over the last decade, my wife and I have a long running joke whenever an empty storefront kicks into construction mode. She comments, “I hope something useful goes in there.” And I inevitably respond with something along the lines of “I hope it’s a comic store,” knowing full well that there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that anyone in their right mind is going to open such a high risk/low reward business in the sun-bleached wasteland that I call my neighborhood. Nail salons. That’s what they like to open in this part of the world, that or one of those twenty-dollar foot massage places. Lord knows I could probably use a manicure (and I do enjoy myself a good foot rub), but simply put, those sorts of places don’t help a brother get his weekly comic book fix.
But last month my prayers were answered. I was in my living room staring off into space when I received a text from my wife that included an attached photo of a small handwritten sign that read simply “Comic Store. Coming Soon.” Was this some sort of cruel joke? Sure, I hadn’t emptied the dishwasher of my own volition in months, but I didn’t deserve to be mocked so harshly. “Don’t toy with me, woman,” I muttered to no one in particular. Eventually the wife clarified that the sign was in the window of a vacant storefront not too far from the abode. I was pumped. This was a golden opportunity. I’d never had a geographically desirable comic shop to call my own. Because of the expansive nature of the City of Angels, I’d never really had much in the way of personal connection to one shop or another. Generally, I base my book buying on where I happen to be on any given Wednesday. Sure I’ve got my favorites , but none of the shops I frequent are really “mine” in that special “my local comic store” way. But with the proximity of this new comic book endeavor, that was about to change.
I envisioned stepping into this new shop and immediately chatting up the owner. I imagined his name might be Jeff or Jerry; definitely something with a “J.” There’d be immediate geek chemistry and we’d become great friends. I’d hang out for hours on end, talking comics and about life in general. I’d become a fixture, there more often than not. Sure, my day job would suffer, but it’d be worth it. Maybe I’d work a shift or two behind the counter for free just because Jeff is such a pleasant guy. I took my fantasies a bit further and imagined that the place would have some really nifty places to sit. Big overstuffed couches maybe or a variety of La-Z-Boy chairs in which to kick back and readcomics. Some modern touches, too. I was excited! This place was going to be cutting edge. Hip and happening. Maybe there’d be craft beer on tap? Wouldn’t that be something? Comics and beer? Imagine the possibilities! This was going to be a rebirth! My local comic shop would be different than all the rest. A geek oasis. A clubhouse that I would never want to leave. I couldn’t wait.
In the days following the text from my wife, I watched this new comic store come to life…sort of. It was slow going, truth be told. The new owner taped up some yellowing standees of Hulk and Spider-Man to the front windows first thing. Didn’t seem like it was done with a whole lot of care, truth be told, but I told myself not judge the place yet. If a crusty old standee brings in a few new customers who wouldn’t otherwise come in, I’m all for it. Weeks passed. Nothing really seemed to be happening at the new shop. I peeked into the place and could see that it was coming along…again sort of. There were some familiar comic racks, some glass cases, a counter with a cash register, and the usual shelf of graphic novels. No sign of any La-Z-Boy chairs or any chairs for that matter. Guess they’d be putting those in later. The real question: Why was it taking so long to actually open? I was antsy, anxious to forge ahead with what I imagined would be a relationship with a comic store like nothing I had ever experienced. Finally, one evening, as I was driving my son back from little league practice, I saw it. Like a beacon in the dusky summer night. It was an illuminated sign on the front of the previously dark comic store that blinked a welcoming “OPEN” to passersby. The time had come.
The following day, I pulled my trusty white Ford Explorer up to the front of the place. As I stood at the entrance, I though about how my life was about to change. There was no turning back. I walked through the front door, only to be met by what can best be described as a decidedly run-of-the-mill comic store. The wind immediately left my sails. This was not the store I’d seen in my mind. Not even close. I’d seen this store a hundred other times. The word that comes to mind is “serviceable.” Where was the beer? Cutting edge this place was not. I immediately tried to orient myself through the initial disappointment. I should give this place a chance, I told myself. Suddenly, I was face-to-face with the smiling storeowner, who put out his hand, introduced himself and asked my name. Though thrown off by the obvious lack of beer taps and absent modern accents, I introduced myself and we immediately started talking comics. I liked him. He suggested some titles and I will admit to there being at least a modicum of geek chemistry there. He offered to set up a “pull list” for me. I actually wasn’t ready for that sort of commitment, so I held off and told him that I was going to have a look around.
Everywhere I looked was something that made me think to myself “I’d do it a bit differently.” You see, there’s a part of me that’s been designing the ultimate comic shop in my head for as long as I’ve been going to comic stores. Nothing ultimate here. Soon I was swallowing the bitter pills of truth: this wasn’t the coolest comic store in town and this place wasn’t really going to change my life. But as I watched the storeowner interact with various customers and saw the obvious joy on his face, it dawned on me that this place, though miles away from the comic store I’d fantasized about in my sun-baked brain, was likely the tangible version of a comic store he had once envisioned in his own head. He too had undoubtedly imagined the dream comic shop of the mind…and here it was in all its “glory.” Would I tape standees in the window? No. Would I have comfortable chairs for my customers? Yes. Beer? Damn straight. But there’s something noble about a man realizing a dream. His dream.
In the end, it’s admittedly a bit difficult to accept that the comic store in my ‘hood and the comic store in my head are so utterly different, but hey, they’ve got comics and the place is in walking distance. There’s something to be said for that.