The first merchant of fine readable goods I encountered as a child in Macon, Georgia was the comic book shop. I can’t recall for sure but I think this shop was called Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find and it was on a very busy street on the opposite side of town from my grandparent’s house. Due to this geographical reality and my Gran Gran’s reluctance to sit in traffic for a half-hour each way and then spend another hour or so waiting for me in the car to get my comics, I only visited Heroes on the rarest of occasions.
I remember a little of the store’s layout but my main memory is the smell.
The vanilla scent of aging paper in a used-bookstore was — and remains — an intoxicant of the highest quality for me, but the crisper printing press aroma of freshly-bound comic books is a treat unto itself. No matter the scattered detritus of one’s daily stenches such as the rotten smell of a paper mill before a thunderstorm or the layer of tobacco smoke that lay on everything in the 80’s, when I walked into a comic book shop I was gifted a clean slate, a freshness that promised and continually delivered new worlds to me,
un-tainted by a tween’s realities in the sleepy south.
Of course, my carefully selected stack of goodness would inevitably have to be mowed down due to merciless financial realities but I always started the crusade with fervor and aplomb. It’s pretty much the same as buying records now…if bands put out an album every month! The Bob Pollard Song Factory & Melody Emporium Monthly. Or Weekly. Or Daily! Aahh!
The Uncanny X-Men (and anything to do with Wolverine) and The Amazing Spider-Man were always #1 and #2. The perennial favorite in the #3 slot was almost always Batman, which was my only DC comic. Marvel all the way baby. Although at this point I’m just happy that comic book companies exist
After that it truly became about separating the wheat from the chaff, and quick! Gran Gran’s overheating the Olds in the parking lot under a July sun and the three other grandkids in the car don’t give a shit about comic books. The remainder of my stack consisted mainly of titles I occasionally dipped into but didn’t collect and new, weird stuff I wanted to try out or had heard someone raving about. But the real silent killers were the Crossovers. Of course I had to have all the X-Men issues from The Fall of the Mutants but that only gave you parts 1, 5, and 9. To get the whole story you had to buy New Mutants, X-Force, Excalibur, and Alpha Flight. This made things difficult indeed.
Did the powers-that-be know what they were doing? Were they aware of this excruciating choice wherein a 12-year old must rob Spider Man to pay Magneto? The answer is that of course they knew. In fact once I learned about that evil little bastard we call Marketing it all became acutely clear to me and I immediately felt a little used. It didn’t stop me from still trying to assemble my complete collections and Special Anniversary Re-Launch Annuals and Graphic Novels though.
Comic books invented the sequel that Hollywood has so shamelessly deployed ad hoc at every turn whenever the scent of a dollar to be made is on the wind, and it eventually ran me out of the comic shops. Playing music and buying records, skateboarding and buying decks, girls making fun of comic books just as you were starting to give a shit what girls thought…but the powers-that-be don’t care, they got fresh batches of boys and girls lined up behind your aging teenage wallet. And for what it’s worth, I don’t think I ever once heard a girl make fun of comic books, it was the sheer terror of imagining such a thing that convinced all of us dumb-ass dudes that they had to hate comic books. Right? Idiots.
So this all added up to a comic collection cessation on my part if you will. There are still too many things these days that I find myself ‘collecting’ or ‘hoarding’, depending on who you ask, so I know that I’ll never return to those crucial stack choices in a comic book shop again. I might slip in and see if there’s a crossover run of titles I can lose sleep over not having a full set of for the archives though.