There might be variations in hairstyles, or body sizes, or nationalities, or genders, but she can spot a comic geek a mile away. She tries to describe the common thread and doesn’t do a good job of it, although she is quite clear that it’s not necessarily a bad thing, since I’m apparently the living epitome of it, and she married my arse.
She might be saying it because she had to stand in line for 20 minutes while the store sorted out the payments, and wants revenge. She is saying something that could be existentially troubling, something about my identity and a lack of uniqueness in this whole wide world.
But I’m not bothered, because A-1 had an AWESOME sale on, and I just bought the last issue of the Great Darkness Saga, a whole bunch of Ennis/McCrea Demon comics that I never see anywhere, some vital Concrete, one of the last Miller Daredevil comics I’ve been after, all sorts of shabby Marvel reprints and some Starlin Silver Surfer.
I also get Lobo: Unamerican Gladiators #2 and I’ve been after that bastard for nearly eighteen years. That sense of accomplishment fills up that gaping spiritual void quite nicely. For a while.
I feel like such a dork introducing myself to Mike Sterling at Ralph’s Comic Corner in sunny Ventura, but I manage to do it anyway. It’s like getting autographs – I never do it, because I just feel like the biggest tool in the world. The only one I’ve ever actually got was Dylan Horrocks’ name in the front of a new edition of Hicksville, and that was only under supreme duress.
I’ve been reading Mike’s blog for bloody years, and had to go check out his shop to see if it looked like I always imagined it would.
It was. They all looked exactly like I thought they would – Isotope and Comix Experience in San Francisco have just the kind of stock and layout that I always imagined them to have, although I was genuinely shocked and impressed by James Sime’s hair.
Ralph’s was the first comic store in America that I visited in more than three years. I bought some Evan Dorkin and some Marshall Law and a Hernandez Bros comic which was a real treat, because I thought I had everything, and wanted to get some of the local brilliance, but really lucked out by finding Mario’s Brain Capers.
(Before we arrived in Ventura, I made us drive through Oxnard, just because it was the Hernandez family’s home town.)
But yeah: such a dork. How do you say hello to somebody you’ve followed on a daily basis for years? You can’t just walk up and shout “I LIKE YOUR BLOG”, but you want them to know you’ve appreciated their efforts. I once sent Mike a Swamp Thing black and white Australian imprint, mainly to thank him for the years of entertainment involved in his End of Civilization posts. But I didn’t want to mention that too soon, or I’ll sound like a weirdo trying to bribe up a friendship. That never works.
Anyway, I was wearing my favourite Dalek tee shirt, and through that I said hello and may have wept a tear over the cheap prices of comics in the States. It was lovely.
There is a real isolation in living in a country like New Zealand, which is at least half a day’s air travel away from anywhere else interesting in the world. To get to places where Jaime Hernandez grew up, or walk the street corners where R Crumb sold his comics, or visit New York and see exactly why it’s the only city in the world that a hero like Spider-Man can soar, or walk into any American comic shop – that always seemed so unlikely when I was growing up. To the point that they grew into a weird little obsession, a itch that I’ve finally scratched.
Comics are my souvenirs – I can still pick up that Comic Journal with the Evan Dorkin interview in it and remember a marvellous day in Manhattan, and can point out the exact issue of 2000ad bought from Forbidden Planet on my first day in London, or the shitty comic I got in Mongolia's State Department store.
So when I go to Isotope, I get some very Isotope comics, including a mini-comic by somebody whose name I can’t read, and Andrew & Roger Langridge’s Zoot Suite. (There is something suitably ironic about traveling to San Francisco to buy a comic by a couple of Auckland boys.) When I go to Comix Experience I end up buying comics by names like Henderson, Seth, Bagge, Kupperman and Huizenga, but I miss saying hello to Brian Hibbs because he’s off on a food run and I don’t get the chance to walk up and say “HEY! I LIKE YOUR IN-DEPTH ANALYSIS OF COMIC BOOK RETAILING FROM THE GROUND FLOOR PERSPECTIVE!” Just as well, really.
(I still run back in and grab a copy of the Onomatopoeia newsletter after realising I’d forgotten to pick one up….)
In Vegas, I spend more on a taxi getting to a comic shop than I actually spend instore, but my pack is already straining and I have to restrain myself, or I’m going to go right over the weight limit for the flight back home. The fine folks at Cosmic Comics are liquidating a bit of stock, so I get an Essential reprint of all those groovy black and white Dracula comics Marvel used to put out, and some Vertigo laughs for ten bucks and call it done.
There was other awesome stuff during our few weeks in the American West – we saw a Hollywood star get his Hollywood star, figured out some new road rules, ate an extraordinary meal at a three-star Michelin restaurant, woke up to a Monument Valley covered in snow, saw the best stage show I’ve ever seen, watched the dying quarter of the Superbowl in a Mexican café in Salt Lake City, froze our butts off in the Grand Canyon, declared my love to the most beautiful woman in the world again at a Vegas chapel, watched an insane amount of amazing American TV, felt the grooves of grenades in Alcatraz and drove along those incredible lost highways.
Going to American comic stores was just one small part of the incredible trip, but it was a crucial one – that charge I get from walking into a new comic shop is still strong, especially when it’s over the other side of the world. Especially you can buy an issue of Pallokaville for ninety cents.
Okay, the best moment was driving into Monument Valley with some Morricone on the stereo, but the 70% off sale at A-1 was pretty fucking close.