My First Shop: Brian Reed (Guest Column)


If you’re in your mid-30’s like me, before you’d ever set foot in a proper comic book store, odds are you knew comics as those things you bought off the squeaky metal spinner rack.

I was born in the dinosaur-roaming days of 1973, and came of age in the 1980’s. Back then, it was okay if you didn’t wear a seat belt, not every person on the street was a child rapist, and the only thing we had to fear at a store was a bottle of poisoned Tylenol. The world’s parents were okay with letting their kids hang out at the spinner rack and paw through comic books while the parents themselves went and shopped.

The mid-80’s were huge for comics, but you couldn’t really tell in Anderson, Indiana. You couldn’t tell much there, to be true. We missed out on a lot of music, a lot of fashion trends. We got movies, but aside from that it felt like we were living in a cultural backwater, even at age 10. We weren’t REALLY a nowhere burg (we were in fact just a few miles and a decade away from becoming a bedroom community for Indianapolis), but you could have fooled me.

Maybe there was a comic book store around before the local used book store started stocking comics in the late 80’s, but if that’s the case, my friends and I weren’t aware of it. So we all more or less missed out on The Dark Knight Returns. I knew Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a cartoon before I knew their original black and white comic form. I never even heard of Watchmen until I saw the trade sitting in Waldenbooks, back when trades were a weird thing we’d never seen before. “Look! It’s thick like a book, but it’s full of comics! Is… is that guy floating on a boat made of sharks? What the hell is this?!”

 



Anyway, back to the point at hand– the first place I remember buying comics was the spinner rack at the local Hook’s Drugs. This rack is where I read a lot of my first Spider-Man stories. It’s where I read Avengers, X-Men, G.I. Joe, Action Comics, Detective Comics, and who knows what else– I wasn’t exactly paying attention, or planning for a career in comics back then. At that age, Star Wars had warped me enough that I was pretty sure my flat feet and extreme nearsightedness wouldn’t stop NASA from hiring me to be a shuttle commander in the coming space wars.

I’m still sort of mad about the lack of space wars.

Back then, an average comic was around 60 cents, so mom or dad or grandma would say “well, grab two or three you really want” and you’d just grab whatever you hadn’t already read while they were off shopping. The end result was a pretty crazy disarray of issues, and a mishmash of story that my friends and I didn’t initially have enough puzzle pieces to fit together.

The idea of collecting hadn’t sunk in back then. Bags and boards and all of that nonsense was unimaginable. You sometimes only got to read the first chapter of a two part story, or maybe you came in in the middle of the Fantastic Four’s latest shenanigans. There were no trades to wait for. There was no internet to look up an obscure character. Comics weren’t a religion for any of us yet, they were just a thing we’d go for when we weren’t in a store where we could try and score a new Star Wars or G.I. Joe action figure.

But that started to change a few years later. That used book store I mentioned? Well, they must have seen the same stuff on TV my friends and I were seeing. People finding their old Fantastic Four and Amazing Fantasy and selling them off for a couple thousand bucks. Because suddenly, Book World — a trashy little joint full of the smell of old paperback books, was selling comics.

They were also selling vintage Playboys, which, you know, we’d try our best to peek at when nobody was looking. But that’s neither here nor there.

The important thing is, they weren’t just selling new comics, they were selling back issues. This is still four or five years ahead of the 1990’s craziness, mind you, but it was the first time we’d seen back issues. It was the first time we’d seen bags and boards. It was the first time we understood comics came out every week — not just, you know, whenever. Book World became the go to place to blow our allowance money.

These back issue bins are where I found out about The Dark Knight Returns, and the day Gwen Stacey died, and what happened in those issues I missed of Secret War. I’d weigh paying 60 cents for a new comic vs 90 cents or a dollar for a back issue I was missing. And then I would convince whomever had brought me to the store that I needed them to please buy me some bags and boards.

And for the next five years I would seriously do things like hold my breath while I pulled a comic out of its plastic sleeve– afraid the Scotch Taped flap might slip and adhere itself to my irreplaceable copy of The Amazing Spider-Man #252 (“They only had three of them in the bin! I paid $3.00 for this thing! Do you know what it will be worth some day?!”).

But then I finished the first part of growing up, and I moved away. And Hook’s Drugs got bought out by CVS, and the spinner rack was no more. And Book World went out of business and the building got taken over by a dentist. And I got married. And the Clone Saga put me off comics for nearly a decade.

And then I was suddenly in charge of an Ultimate Spider-Man video game, and i was back in a comic shop for the first time in forever. And I found myself with a lot of research to do.

I miss the old days of the spinner rack in the same way you miss the sound TVs used to make when you’d turn the dial. It’s a part of a time and a place that seem long ago and far away now. But it’s also a part of the time when my love for the medium of comics was born, and the mental groundwork for my writing career was laid. Somewhere in the back of my head, I know that even the nicest comic shop doesn’t feel right because I don’t hear the squeak of that metal spinner rack.

 

Comments

  1. "Do you know what these will be worth someday?"  Sigh…

    Love Ms. Marvel by the way, keep up the good work Brian.

  2. great article

  3. Brian, I am two years older than you, and if you add in low black table covered in old, beat up comics at Mr. Lindsay’s Barber Shop (which contained everything from Scrooge McDuck and the Beagle Boys to old DC and Marvel classics), you just described my childhood and my exposure to comics–right down tot he used bookstore–a friend of mine discovered the place at Normandale Mall.  Great article and great ride down memory lane!!

  4. Great article Brian, and great work overall. To the Ifanboy guys i have to say great job at making this a running article with all different people writing about there past its really interesting.

  5. That part about "holding your breath" and being afraid that the tape would stick. Wow. Its like he read my mind. Except for me it was Fantasitc Four #348.

  6. They never caught the Tylenol poisoning perp! THEY NEVER CAUGHT THE TYLENOL POISONING PERP!

    (He/she could still be out there…)

  7. Thank you for sharing this, Brian!  It’s cool to see how you went through the same cycle as a lot of fans, before you started writing.

    I’m a couple years younger than you are, and I didn’t read many comics as a kid.  But I definitely remember the Tylenol poisoner. My school librarian gave us a lecture on Halloween about how we should basically be scared not only of getting razor blades in our candy, but basically of any consumer product, because they could unexpectedly kill us.  I think that was the end of the innocence.

  8. Great……I can definately relate……

     

    I remember buying the Mirage Studio’s TMNT when everyone else in the 4th grade only knew them from the cartoon and Archie comics….And I felt superior…….And I guess I was……..

     

    "They never caught the Tylenol poisoning perp! THEY NEVER CAUGHT THE TYLENOL POISONING PERP!

    (He/she could still be out there…)"

    Posted by conor on 09/30/08 at 02:54 PM

     
     
    I am…….Except now I put lead in toys……..BWA-Ha-hA-hAH!!!!!

     

  9. Ok, How about this one;  Best Comic Shop Name?

    Mine’s " Rainbow Bridge" in NYC,now long gone.

     

     

  10. YES a nice article from a Comic Book writer…we should have more of these!!

  11. those original ninja turtle comics were awesome! you guys should do a show on them (a video show that is, not stage)

     

  12. iFanboy, the off, off, off, off broadway show–I would definitely make the journey to NYC for that!

  13. and it has to be about the ninja turtles, the original series, not the cartoon

  14. Good times with turtles.

  15. I too am disappointed in the lack of space wars.