My First Shop… Wasn’t a Shop At All, Really

My turn, eh? Alright, well. 

My childhood comic shop wasn’t brick and mortar at all (nor sticks, nor straw). I recall many shops, but none of them regular. We’d often go out to the country and visit farmer’s markets in Montgomeryville, say. And there would be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics. Not the black and white ones, sad to say. Those were my only new comics. I was a fair-weatherer, a scavenger, subsisting mostly on hand-me-down comics from older cousins. Stephen, Frank, and James had a good ten year lead on me and were all fairly charismatic. If they’d been into stamp collecting I’d probably be writing a weekly column for about now. My blue milk crate of comics started filling at an early age. Mostly, I just liked to look at them, horde them, poring over the panels without really reading them. I was a shy kid, so I spent much of my time and Keebler-fueled energy stockpiling my imagination. I was feverish for art, for colorful new images. Old comics brought imagery and romance. I didn’t know anything about weekly release schedules. To me, superhero comics were the stuff of old trunks and yard sales and attics. Inherited riches. And my cousins were archaeologists.

Now decorated officers in the Army, at the time they often found themselves grounded for staging water pistol campaigns in their living room. Sequestered to their bunk beds on summer afternoons, they duplicated comic book covers, often blowing them up to the size of standard movie posters. They plastered these images, along with complicated diagrams of Asian melee weapons, all over their walls. I remember commissioning a drawing from Frank. It was an obscure cosmic character from a book I found at a yard sale. He took the book from me and studied the cover. He nodded. He actually calculated how many hours he’d spend grounded in the coming weeks and promised to produce a color pencil recreation in something like two months. I got it back much quicker. He hadn’t anticipated the release of a new Super Soaker the following week. I no longer have this poster, but I remember unfurling the newsprint for the first time and marveling at the fruit of misbehavior.

Remember now, I was a meek little flibbertyjibbet. Terrified of confrontation. I didn’t dare step into a comic shop. Not on my own. I’d have my dad go in first and I’d sort of coast in behind him, grab whatever Amalgam comics looked the most ridiculous and tug on his shirt tail. Maybe it was the model set forth by my juvenile delinquent cousins (and remember that water pistols were the extent of their mayhem), but I assumed that all comic readers were bound for prison. Hooligans who sat in the shop injecting themselves with things, throwing shurikens at each other, being loud and speaking with their mouths full. I may have seen a photograph of Alan Moore and assumed it was what happened. I loved the medium, but I was afraid of the culture. A culture I sort of wanted to be part of, because it seemed dangerous. I just needed to stop being a wuss.

Logically, I decided that “drawing more” would toughen me up.

I wanted to be an artist, or so I believed. What I really wanted to do was bring life to the characters all shuffling about in my head. At the time, I thought that meant drawing them. I assumed that all artists, no matter the medium, wore berets. I had a thing for hats. In nursery school I’d said I wanted to be a chef when I grew up. I had no interests in the culinary arts, but I wanted to wear the tall hats they all seemed to wear on menus for pizza places. I paraded out in the pageant with my big, paper chef’s hat, an astronaut to my right and a farmer to my left. Even then I knew we were all just a bunch of fakes. You’d piss your pants before you even left the atmosphere, Matt. You have no idea what kind of responsibilities and obstacles face the modern agriculturalist, Bill. We’re all just in it for the hats.

“When I grow up, I want to be a painter. Not a chef.” I announced to my father. We were driving home and I was in the back seat with mismatched action figures.

“Are you sure?” he asked without turning around. “Nobody likes anything an artist does until after they’re dead.”

He remembers none of this, but it’s one of those memories that’s stuck with me. As an only child I wanted desperately to be liked. Dad was probably just talking about deceased painters, the type that cut off their own ears. As it turned out, I didn’t like anything I came up with in art class either. I took classes with a rather strange bohemian woman around the corner, but I grew tired of the peculiar smell of her house, the year-round Christmas tree, and the fact that my best friend had long since stopped going. Left alone with creepy Miss Haversham for the third straight week, I told her I was not sure I wanted to pursue the visual arts anymore. This was apparently a lie because I did take several more classes and did opt to enlist in four years of art education in high school rather than taking a language. Miss Haversham was replaced by an ornery nun who offered a sweet brand of condescension for my “cartooning.” She never did like Norm, the wise-cracking samurai from my proposed “Marshmallow Ryo” comic strip. Nor did my other teachers. He popped up quite a bit in the margins of my trigonometry notes.

I kept drawing until I figured out I liked playing with words better. It’s as simple as that. There was no real moment where I kicked over an easel. It was just a gradual realization that I liked the invisible things happening behind the drawings, the clockwork machinations that drove the images to do whatever it is they were doing. I’d always wanted to be a writer, even before I knew what that meant.

“Can we just play the game, Paul?”
“No, I think we should work on the backstory a little more.”
“It’s getting dark.”
“We need to know why we’re fighting. We can’t just be ninjas.”
“We really can.”

Deciding to write, or to pursue writing, has changed the way I look at comics. I became more interested in serialized storytelling. And that, and only that, landed me in the comic shop from week to week. I still appreciate art, very much so, but I’m in it for the words now. Truth be told, after the whole 90s bust, I was only reading trades. And that was just a here and there sort of thing. It wasn’t until I faced the removal of my tonsils that I decided to invest in a serious return to comics. Or, really, a first foray into serious comic reading. I knew I’d have some downtime during my recovery, and even though I was 22 at the time, I imagined this would have to involve footy pajamas, ice cream, and a stack of comics. I wanted to do it right, this rite of passage. Even though I was starting late, I wanted to go full tilt into what I still perceive to be a timeless tradition. There’s something youthful and romantic about comics. That’s not to say they’re childish. Not in a negative way. But they do awaken a vibrant passion and enthusiasm that lays dormant in most people once they’ve shed off the trappings of youth. I started reading The New Avengers then, and in an effort to find other books I might like, I started listening to a certain podcast.

My first shop, my current shop since the start of 2007, is Brave New Worlds in Willow Grove, PA.  It’s the shop where they know my name.  It’s the shop I never had as a kid.  It’s my shop.



Paul Montgomery dreams of owning his own haberdashery. Contact him at You can also follow him on Twitter.



  1. May I be the first to request that Paul interview Ed Brubaker for iFanboy, and the subject matter of the interview be limited entirely to hats?  (Ed Brubaker visual, for anyone who needs context:

    Great article.  And I love Norm already. 


  2. You wanted to be an artist Paul?…..Mmmm, I know who should draw Josh’s comic!

    How come everyone’s story of their first LCS was interesting? Mine’s just a shop a couple of miles away, no thrills….Jersey is boring.

  3. Whatever skills I had have surely atrophied.  And the only thing I ever sketched were character models.  I hate rulers.  

    @ohcaroline – I’ll gladly talk to Brubaker about whatever.  I only wish I could pull off the fedora. Maybe he has advice about doing it right.  It’s an art.  

  4. Nice work here Paul.  Probably one of my favorites so far.  Keep rockin’ away brother.

  5. and once again…i fall in love with these amazing stories of all the My First Comic Shop. good job paul

  6. Gold star for the Dickens reference. The only question is is there was an Estella.

  7. @Dave – There’s always an Estella.  😉

    What I could really use is a Magwitch.  Especially with Baltimore Comic Con this weekend.  My wallet coughed just now.  

  8. great job, as always Paul

  9. Great article Paul. I’ve been to Brave New Worlds a few times and it really is a great store.  I was born in Philadelphia and my cousin lives in Jenkintown so I have early teenage memories of playing Magic: The Gathering there.

  10. TMNT Adventures #3 was my first book that wasn’t a hand me down Archie digest. I have an incomplete run up to I think #27, and they’re still in my big box under my bed of things I never bothered to bag and board. Maybe I should at least bag that first one for sentimentality’s sake. That series was actually pretty half-decent, if a little preachy with all the environmentalism.