So you’ve decided to be brave & bold and go to a comic book shop! Good for you! You’ve taken the first step into a wonderful new universe (SEVERAL universes, actually!) of fantastic four-colour delights and thrills for all ages! Maybe you’re new to comics or maybe you haven’t been to a comic book shop in AGES, since back when you were a kid and big into X-Men or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or something. (I don’t know your life.)
Now, there are a few things to know before you go. You can’t just walk into a comic book store. (Well, you actually can. Most people don’t, though. And they should. But go in with your eyes open.) Some shops are bright and airy, some are … not. (The bright and airy ones tend to smell less like B.O. than the … other ones.) Comic book shops generally don’t bother much with décor, unless it’s paraphernalia that they can sell. (This is called Shelf Porn – toys, action figures, statuettes, etc. “Cool Shit”.) The good ones, whether bright and airy or … not … always have LOTS of Cool Shit and a variety of it. You like Star Wars? We got Star Wars. Hell, we got Star Trek, too. You like Horror Movies? We got Horror Movies. Pulps? Cartoons? Old paper ephemera? We got it all, man. (Even in the bright and airy ones, the carpet or the floor might be dirty. Just go with it.)
I mentioned the smell earlier (and yes, you might smell some B.O. It’s considered crass to wear too much cologne in a comic book shop.) and that’s a bench-mark of any very good comic book shop. It should be redolent with the sweet aroma of rotting newsprint, a most intoxicating perfume, a peculiar and delicious odour as attractive as cinnamon or vanilla or new-car-smell. The ink, the paper, the plastic, the combination – if I could bottle it and sell it, I certainly would. This will be the first (in a series!) of assaults on your senses (IN A GOOD WAY! Probably!) upon entering a comic book shop.
Then get your eyeballs ready because that’s what’s next on the list – THERE ARE COMIC BOOKS EVERYWHERE. They’re all over the walls, behind the cash register. These are the Marquee Books, the important and expensive and you can’t afford them so don’t even bother asking to see them. Then again, I don’t know your life, you might be rich so go ahead and ask to see that Mister Miracle #1. The staff will then give you the V.I.P. treatment.
There will be bins, about chest height, lining the walls and filling the space. These are the back-issue bins and they are FULL of OLD COMIC BOOKS, grouped alphabetically by title, in ascending order of issue number/volume. The books are all in plastic bags, with backing boards. If you’re looking for that old issue of Batman or Jimmy Olsen or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it’ll be in the bins. There’s a lot of gold in there and if you’re frugal and persistent, you can make out like a bandit. (Please don’t steal at the comic book shop.)
The focal point of the store is the New Comics Rack. It’s a wooden shelf, about four feet tall, stepped outwards from the wall maybe two feet, with slot-like shelves, so you can only really see the title (most comics place their title on the upper third of the cover). This way, you have to choose to examine the cover (in case there’s a spoiler on the cover or something. Plus it keeps the books upright and undamaged). Some stores group the new releases by company, some do it alphabetically. It depends.
The New Comics Rack is a heavy traffic area; it’s where everybody wants to be. Sure, it’s great to rummage through bins or browse the shelves for trades (trade paperbacks – collected editions of existing material or original stories in book form. These are what eggheads call “graphic novels”) but EVERYBODY wants NEW Comics.
This is why (and I can’t stress this enough), it’s very important to stand three feet back from the New Comics Rack when browsing. It’s just polite. It’s an unwritten rule of comic book shopping that, I guess now, is written down.
“Unless you’re four years old, you’re three feet back” is how it was explained to me way back when, what seems like a thousand years ago.
The 3 Foot Rule is Geek Democracy In Action. No one is so important that they can block the view of others. Everyone can scan the racks at their own discretion, take a step forward and choose the book they want (and then take a step back). Since you can’t judge a book by a third of its cover, you need to flip through it, check the creative team, absorb any spoilers you want. And then, if you choose, step forward and put it back on the rack, to await a more (or less) discerning customer.
The other two inviolate rules of comic book shops (and if you violate them, you will be asked to leave. Some places threaten to vaporize you) are these –
- DON’T OPEN THE BACK ISSUE BAGS. Ask an employee. They might not be happy to help you but they will. Most stores post a sign to this effect. (Seriously, don’t open the bags. Because then you’re an asshole who just ignored the sign.)
- This is a store, not a library. It’s pretty simple. Stores sell things in order to stay in business. Browsing is encouraged; camping out and reading comics for free is NOT. You understand how Capitalism works, right? You want this store to be here for your edification next week? Then BUY SOMETHING. Feel free to browse. Feel free to flip through things to see if they interest you and whether you want to buy it. NEVER EVER SIT DOWN ON THE FLOOR IN FRONT OF THE NEW COMICS RACK (and not just because the floor is possibly and more likely probably gross) because you will be asked to leave and possibly learn what “the bum’s rush” is all about. (I have actually seen someone get the classic bum’s rush, one hand on the collar and one on the back of the belt, in a comic book shop. The clerk, a man-mountain who was actually a gentle giant and one of the nicest guys in the world, got fed up with this twerp and ejected him as if he was one of the Three Stooges. It was crazy.) You don’t have to be rich, you don’t have to buy everything (even if you deeply, deeply want to) but BUY SOMETHING.
Look. A lot of people who like comic books don’t exactly recognize social cues. I’ve seen people camp out and I’ve seen the poor clerk kick them out. I’ve seen customers freak out that some dude is camping out. (I have actually seen someone get the classic bum’s rush, one hand on the collar and one on the back of the belt, in a comic book shop. The clerk, a man-mountain who was actually a gentle giant and one of the nicest guys in the world, got fed up with this twerp and ejected him as if he was one of the Three Stooges. It was crazy.) Don’t do this. Don’t be that guy.
My sister used to take me to comic book shops when I was a kid (and used book-stores too) so I had the benefit of a Classical Education in these matters. By the time I was about nine years old, I had absorbed the 3 Foot Rule, I could scan the racks like a hawk in flight and zero in on what I wanted, I could join in intelligently on the discussions of older fans. By the time I was eleven, I was going it alone, my weekly pilgrimage to Downtown, every Saturday. Dragon Lady and the Silver Snail, maybe stop in at Bakka (they were all on Queen Street). I’d have lunch and then ride the subway home, reading my New Comics. My parents had no idea where I went every Saturday until I was about thirteen. (I had an idea they might not like me riding the subway alone so I just didn’t tell them. I’d rather ask for forgiveness than permission.)
I haven’t been to a comic book shop in a while. I bought my last New Comic on the day of my mother’s funeral (the last issue of THE BOYS, if you must know). But today is Wednesday, New Comic Book Day. You should go.
Really, you should. You’ll love it.