[an error occurred while processing this directive] Celebrating Five Years of Pushing Comix Forward [an error occurred while processing this directive] [an error occurred while processing this directive] [an error occurred while processing this directive] [an error occurred while processing this directive]

MY FAVORITE THING IN THE WORLD (AND OTHER STORIES)

My name is Mike Sterling, and I sell comic books for a living.


On a Saturday afternoon from a few years ago, a customer came into our store with a batch of comic books for sale:

Customer: "So, how much is my copy of Thundercats worth?"

Me: (looking at the comic) "In this condition, and it's pretty beat, about a buck. Maybe."

C: "How much are your Thundercats?"

M: (checking the back issue bin) "Well, this one here is $7.00, but it's in brand new condition."

C: "So how 'bout I offer you my copy for $3.50?"

M: "Um, no. I'm not going to pay you $3.50 for something I'd be lucky to get a dollar for."

C: "Well, look at the condition of the comic that guy is buying, and you're charging $16.00 for it!"

M: "That's a Superman comic from nearly 50 years ago. A 50-year-old Superman comic is in demand in any condition. A 15-year-old Thundercats comic in lousy condition is virtually worthless, since nearly perfect copies can be found fairly easily."

And so it went. This same guy had a bunch of beat-up Disney comics from about a decade ago ("Not a lot of demand for those at the moment," I said. He says "well, there will be in about 10 years," so apparently he's clairvoyant). He asked for Action Comics...we show him Action Comics. He says, "no, not the ones published by DC Comics." He means the older Actions published by National Periodical Publications, which was DC Comics in the 1940s. He shows me a bunch more comics. They're pretty beat up, and I say as much. He says, "no, they're not." I pull one out of the bag and show him the tears and wrinkles. He's unfazed.

He's also being really pushy and arrogant through the whole deal, which is my favorite thing in the world. He does have a few comics I want to buy, but I know full well that the difference between my reasonable, realistic offer for these comics and whatever fortune he has in his head is too great, and not worth the effort to argue. I tell him that the boss does all the buying, and that the boss will have to make the final decision...mostly because he's worn me out. He asks if I'm a partner or owner, and I say no, I'm the manager. He asks why I can't buy the comics. I think to myself, it's not that I can't buy them (I could if I wanted to), but I really don't think it's worth the trouble to try to buy them from him. I just shrug off an answer.

He then asks how old I am, and though confused by the question, I tell him "30." He says, "I'm 36, I'm an elder."

And that, my friends, was the final surreal moment. He's an Elder? What, he's a Freemason? A member of the Stonecutter's Guild? No, he just means he's older than me, and, as such, he knows more about comics than I do.

Well, I know there are a few people who know more about comics than I do, but this guy sure as heck isn't one of them.

This is one of those people who knows just enough to be dangerous. Now, normally I don't have a problem with people like this...I talk with them, try to explain things to them, and I'm nice about it. I tried to be nice with this guy, but his scattershot declarations and overstatements of the value and conditions of his items, and his general attitude of "none of you people know what you're doing" really grated. I tried to be nice, I bit my tongue, and attempted to explain things to him, but my uphill-battle sense was tingling and I realized that I was better off just trying to get him out the door.

Not all of my in-store conversations go out of control like this, but there are certain questions and comments that I could probably do without hearing ever again. For example:

"I'm buying a lot of stuff...how 'bout a discount?" - I don't mind this question from people who actually are buying a lot of comics...as in several hundred dollars' worth. That's a fair question, and, depending on the material being purchased, I can usually work something out. However, 90% of the time I'm getting the question from somebody buying ten or fifteen dollars' worth of books, which are either 1) already marked down, or 2) a currently "hot" book that I can easily sell at full price to someone else, if this person doesn't want to pay for it. They dare to be surprised when I say "no."

"I'm looking for tattoo ideas...can you, as a complete stranger, help me decide what to permanently engrave into my skin?" - No, they don't say it like that, but it is how I hear it. The vast majority of our Harvey Hot Stuff comics go to these people.

"Will you give me a dollar for the bus?" - Yes, I really had someone ask us this. Repeatedly. Every day for weeks. He'd pop in, walk up to the counter, and cheerfully ask "can I have a dollar?" Well, he was certainly optimistic, I'll give him that.

"Do you have any really good ninja comics?" - This is kind of an in-joke at the store...basically, a long time ago, I was alone at the shop, waiting for the one customer in the store to finish shopping and leave so that I could lock the door and take a much needed (and, as time passed, increasingly needed) bathroom break. The customer in question, a young gentleman aged about eight or nine, was slowly sauntering about the store, poking into the back issue bins, looking at the new comic racks, and just generally wandering about, while I waited and watched and tried to restrain myself from doing the pee-pee dance. He eventually came up to the counter and asked that immortal question, "do you have any really good ninja comics?" Alas, for some reason I had a very hard time concentrating on the answer.

"Hi! I just let my ill-mannered kids run around the store unsupervised while I talked loudly on my cell phone for the last half-hour, and I have absolutely no intention of buying anything. Can my kids use your employees-only bathroom?" - I'm going to let you guess my reply.

"Do you have any dark comics?" - Um, what? When I try to get some clarification, usually the best I can get is "you know, with devils and demons and stuff." However, showing them comics with devils and demons (and, yes, "stuff") usually results in a "nah, that's not what I'm looking for." When I do manage to corner them into giving me some specifics, in most cases what they're trying to find is stuff that looks like Tim Vigil's work on Faust, without actually being Faust or by Tim Vigil. So, in other words, they want something that's "dark," but anything I show them that matches that criteria isn't what they're looking for.

A related inquiry is "do you have any graphic comics?" By definition, aren't all comics graphic? Oh, you're looking for violent comics...silly me.

"Do you have any comics with superheroines that aren't oversexualized?" - Okay, again, fair question...the young woman making this request clearly wanted something that wasn't exploitative. Most of the Marvel and DC books were pretty much right out, since apparently female characters showing anything even resembling secondary sexual characteristics was bad, bad, bad. My best attempt at finding something along these lines was Trina Robbins's Go Girl...you know, the comic by the long-time industry veteran, known for her support of female cartoonists and related causes. "No, that's too sexual," came the reply. The upshot - the comic this customer ended up settling on was Dogwitch. Hey, I'm not slamming Dogwitch here, honest, but, really, that wouldn't have been my first choice for this woman.

"So...what comics are good?" - Normally, this isn't a hard question. If it's a regular customer, I probably know his or her tastes already and can come up with something that may appeal. If it's a customer with whom I am not familiar, finding the right comic may take a little longer, but all it usually takes is asking the right questions. However, when the question is posed like this: "What comics are good? You know, like Purgatori" (or any other comic that I may have a less than stellar opinion on) -- that's when the difficulty sets in.

"You know, I'm the person 'Hopey' from Love & Rockets was based on." - Since our store is in the area from which Love & Rockets originated (and, in fact, our store was the first comic shop to carry the original issue self-published by Los Bros. Hernandez), I hear this statement with some frequency. There are apparently about two dozen people who were the single direct inspiration for the character of Hopey. Did you know that? I didn't know that.

"Do you have a photocopier? I want to copy pages out of this comic." - Oh, yeah, sure, please don't spend any money. Here, let me get you a comfy chair so you can sit down and read all the comics cover to cover without paying as well. What? Dirty my hands with filthy lucre, in exchange for actually purchasing something? You offend me, sir! (TRANSLATION FOR THE SARCASM-IMPARED: Just buy the damn thing, you cheap bastard.)

"Are all your comics this expensive?" - Not said while looking in the glass showcase, where the pricey books are. This was said to me in response to the customer looking at a $2 comic out of the regular back issue bins. How can I respond to something like that? I mean, aside from the immediate two-word response that came to mind, in which the second word is "you." I think I directed the person to our quarter and fifty cent bins.

"Slow day today?" - Invariably asked shortly after we just cleared the store after a huge rush of customers. For some reason, I get really defensive and want to shout "we just had a full store of customers! I swear, I swear!" while the customer who made the initial comment just gives a condescending smile and says, "sure...sure you did."

"Do you have a private viewing room for the adult comics?" - Oh my, no. We don't have a public restroom because, after working at places that did have public restrooms, none of us want to clean it up after extensive public usage. We sure as heck don't want to have to clean up a "private viewing booth." Ick.

"Do you carry comics?" - I swear to God. From someone inside the store. In front of the comic book racks. Apparently not blind. He asked me this. I only thought I knew the meaning of the word "dumbfounded" before that day.

"You mean there's an entire store just for comic books?" - There are entire stores for silk plants, entire stores for barbecue grills, entire stores for seashells, entire stores for Thomas Kinkade paintings, entire stores for beads, entire stores for carpeting, entire stores for balloons, entire stores for shoes, entire stores for video games, entire stores for candles, entire stores for paint, entire stores for picture frames, and entire stores for wigs.

Yes...yes, there are indeed entire stores for comic books. How incredibly strange that is.


In case you're wondering, I did my best to answer all these questions and politely and as patiently as I could. Well, aside from the cell-phone guy who used us as a free daycare center, who was told where he could get off.

If you have any comments or questions (hopefully not any of the above!), please feel free to e-mail me at cbg (at) progressiveruin.com.

-- Mike Sterling


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