If you have been watching our social media streams and calendar, you may have seen our mention of FREE comic book day. Due to other plans we had that weekend, we weren’t able to participate, but I asked a friend of mine who did participate to write a commentary for us. I have known Mr. Z. Love since high school and think he offers a great perspective on whatever topic he’s writing about. When I approached him about writing an article for Frugal Florida Fun, I don’t quite know what to expect but in the end I was left with a smile and a new appreciation for what has quickly becoming a lost media. I can’t quite think that we can all learn a little something from the way his day went.
There are certain expectations when going shopping at different stores. When a person goes to a grocery store, he or she is just one among a number of people independently flitting about their lives avoiding the entanglements of conversation with strangers. When a person goes to a high-end clothing store, he or she expect to be followed around the store by salespeople who hover like vultures, disingenuously complimenting how that shirt would look on you. Yet when a person goes to a comic shop, he or she expects an experience that straddles the border between commerce and community.
Sure, superhero movies are the parables of our day and superhero merchandising is big business, but they are simply an echo of the source material. Department stores that sell Superman shirts and Captain America toys are but mere missionaries spreading the gospel of what has been established in the comic book mega church. While superheroes are mainstream comics books are not quite.
Upon entering any comic shop on any given day, a person can expect to run into a socially awkward customer who doesn’t have the defined skills of conversational give and take. The nerd stereotype is alive and well, protected in its holy ground, free from the judgments of outsiders. While they are still alive and well, the majority of people a person is likely to encounter are down to Earth every day people of all walks of life: doctors, mechanics, and real estate agents. Any more, it’s hard to categorize the average comic reader as they transverse all walks of life: men, women, children, adults, black, white, brown, dim, bright, socially awkward, socially awesome.
Once a year (the first Saturday, every May) these people line up out front of the shops in their holy journey to their own Mecca. What separates a comic shop from other stores is that these people, as diverse as they are, are likely to have more in common than a collective of strangers at any other store. When waiting in line, people are just standing there silently as they would at Wal-Mart, but are instead actively conversing about what they enjoy. These aren’t just A-B conversations, but rather stream of conscious dialogues wherein anyone in earshot is likely to offer their 2 cents.
“So what did you think of Game of Thrones last week?” “That king of the white walkers looks awesome, that’s how I pictured Dragur from World of Warcraft to look?” “I never got into Warcraft. Starcraft had a better plot.” “Starcraft is so bleak though, I’ve always preferred the intellectual future of Star Wars.” “In a future devoid of conflict and overwhelming despair, sacrifice means less as it accomplishes less.” “I like vampires.” (Obviously this is the guy who’s a little socially awkward.) “If you like sacrifice, you should check out the final issue of Superior Spiderman. They should have some on sale.” “Did you see the movie? It’s pretty bad. Sony needs to take a page from what Disney studios did for the Avengers.” “Meh, Disney skirts by on name. Frozen was way over-rated, but people pretended it was a good movie simply because it had a good moral. Now Tangled, that was a good movie.” “No doubt you saw the girl back there dressed as Supergirl.” “Her boyfriend kinda looks more like Carl Sagan than Superman.” “Ooo, have you guys been watching Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos? What do you think?”
While any of these subclasses of fantasy or science are on polar ends of the spectrum, there is a common linking between them and fans of any genre. For the most part, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, cartoons, horror, and anime exist as extensions of the “what-if” game – exploring humanity in a quest to understand what philosophies define us. This common quest to understand ourselves by vicariously living the experience of fictional characters it what creates the community of a comic shop. It’s an opportunity to share experiences and discuss the ramifications of these experiences without ever putting our lives in danger.
So when the door to A Comic Shop opened up, we filtered in. I’ve never seen anyone hug a clerk at Publix, but found myself in line to give Eric the beloved employee a hug. Other employees handed out cards and guided people to the comics of their choice. In order to make sure there is something for everyone, there are limits. A Comic Shop let customer’s choose 5 issues for free. Now mind you, these issues are “Free Comic Book Day” issues that the publishers supply in order to generate interest in the print medium. I picked up the obligatory Marvel and DC comics and an Archie for my wife who was recovering after being out late the night before at the comic shop’s “Nerdy Karaoke” event at their attached bar. (Yes, it is a comic shop with a hangout and bar inside the store.) With my final two options, I snagged some indie comics that looked interesting. For smaller companies FREE Comic Book Day is an opportunity to say, “Hey, you like Marvel’s Punisher? Give Valiant’s Bloodshot a try.”
Now, like any place offering something for free, there will be those who come in for the free stuff and leave. To those of us who enjoy the camaraderie we use it as a day to support the shops as well. As I tend to be a snob, I prefer to buy hardback graphic novels that collect story arcs. So I browsed the racks for novels that I’d been curious about or that I would like to expose my wife to. The owner Aaron was doing some last-minute pricing with a sticker gun. I did my best to not follow him around like a vulture so that I could jump on a book that had been marked down before anyone else got there first. We exchanged pleasantries and I let him go about his business. I imagine on the shops biggest day of the year, he’s likely got a million things to do.
I picked up an Avenger’s Disassembled supplement book of Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor story lines. While browsing the art, a customer mentioned off-hand. “That one’s really good, probably one of the better Marvel novels I’ve read in a while.” We chatted for a bit about what thought about related issues. Ultimately I settled on about 12 graphic novels. They were also buy 3, get one free.
While waiting in the check out line, I people watched. It was cute to watch a father taking his son to the shop for the first time. The little boy bounced around picking up every free issue he could get his hands on, his father cautioned him, “Nicholas, you can only choose 5.” The little boy browsed around and picked up an issue of the horror comic “Crossed.” Wisely, his father took it from him and said, “That one is not a free issue. Hey look, you like Teen Titans!”
As Eric was totaling my order, I picked up some fliers for upcoming events. My wife and I are quite fond of making costumes, so the Halfway to Halloween party caught my interest. A Comic Shop also celebrates Free Comic Month, and gives away free issues each weekend, so I’ll return each Saturday.
Now, any fan with his salt is not content to shop at just one shop, but makes the rounds. Kevin and Tavis were making the rounds in North Orlando and Deland. Other friends checked the East Coast. I don’t know the exact factors, but different shops will also have a different selection of free comics.
So I left and traveled down the road to Sci-Fi City. Each comic shop has a different identity. A Comic Shop has an indie crowd feel, a little more raucous and wild (likely due their bar The Geek Easy.) Sci-Fi City has more of a basement dweller feel, as they are equally a gaming shop as well as a comic shop. On any given weekend, they will be full of customers playing Dungeons and Dragons, board games, card games, or video games. Now when I say basement dweller, it’s not a derogatory term, just a different type of nerdy (as I myself am found of board games and DnD myself.)
Upon walking in, I was greeted by Spiderman who informed me that I was allowed to take any 10 issues. Jackpot! They had a larger selection and some interesting indie comics. Instead of clearance prices, they had most items slashed 30%. While I had no need for a Klingon dagger in my house, I found myself trying to justify if the discount was enough to make it obligatory. Likewise I browsed the board games and action figures. Ultimately I settled on Arkham Horror, a board game based on the H.P. Lovecraft Cthulhu Mythos. The clerk had recommended it to me in the past. Likewise, the stores employees were happy to just talk about their experiences with games and comics. Like having 2 best friends, I was glad to support their business as well.
I had intended to travel down to Coliseum of Comics at the Fashion Square mall, but found that my car battery had died while inside of Sci-Fi city. Now normally I would have been pretty grumpy at having to wait for AAA to check my battery. (I called because I was worried that it was my alternator.) But when one has a massive cash of graphic novels in the car, waiting simply becomes reading in a different location.
When I arrived home in the evening, I displayed the swag to the wifey and posted pictures of my haul on my face book to compare to my friends’ hauls. It’s interesting to see how our tastes vary, but how those appreciations of the media cross genres and give us all something to talk about. Ultimately they will tell me which comics they liked and which to avoid and I will do the same. In the middle we’ll have discussions of plot lines and concepts and ideas. The journey of exposure to new ideas continues and unites us in a quest to get a better idea of humanity.
Special thanks to my good friend Mr. Z. Love! Take a few moments to checkout his bio, and if you would like to see more of his writing, please let him know in the comments below.
Professionally, Z. Love is a 33 year old children’s psychiatric crisis nurse who has worked in psychiatric research involving schizophrenia and specializes in psychosis. Unprofessionally, he is a 33 year old Viking-Philosopher-Renaissance man who finds himself consumed by the ever-present fear of letting life pass him by. He finds himself feverishly seeking out adventure and experiences, enjoying the beauty of the obscure and the humor in the irreverent.