Change is inevitable in all aspects of life, but it can still be depressing. I spent a large part of a recent Friday wandering around my favourite city in the whole world and came away feeling all lost and confused on an existential level.
The city had changed in tiny, microscopic ways that people living there never even see, but I hadn’t been back in more than five years and it was painfully different.
It was really confusing, especially in the central business district. The city didn’t match the city in my head, and the few reference points I could recognise from the old days were all the more incongruous in these unfamiliar surroundings.
And then I found a comic shop, and all that rubbish didn’t matter any more.
I’ve been to Paris, Wellington and Amsterdam, but Dunedin has always been my favourite city in the entire world, ever since I was a little kid. It’s slightly closer to the South Pole than it is to the equator, a cold and dark place to be in winter, but it also has a lively young population due to Otago University, some fantastically ornate architecture and a population who like to read. A lot.
I used to go down to Dunedin during the school holidays when I was a kid and always had a terrific time in the city’s book and toy shops. I drooled over the James Bond 007 Movie Book, bought Alan Moore’s Twisted Tales for two bucks, grabbed a Super Powers Mantis figure and Star Trek #17 from a toy warehouse and got the much-craved first X-Men issue in the Fall of the Mutants crossover in Dunedin.
I found my first comic book shop there, and later on spent a large part of my first ever pay cheque on a huge stack of Alpha Flight and GI Joe comics. When I grew old enough to move out of home, I moved there and haunted the second hand bookstores for the next five years.
I got the first 12 issues of the ongoing Grendel series for five bucks from one store over near the Northern entrance of the city and 57 issues of Tomb of Dracula for twenty-five bucks from another shop in South Dunedin. There’s that store where I got Amazing Spider-Man #400, which turned out to be the last issue of Amazing Spider-Man I ever bought, and just around the corner is the one where I got the ultra modern and brand new 2000ad #459 with some Bryan Talbot Dredd.
There was also Bag End Books, which was my Local Comic Shop for a good five years. I got almost all of The Invisibles from them, along with dozens and dozens of those bloody Legion of Super Heroes comics with the Moy art and the last dozen issues of the first Love and Rockets.
We have a small spare room in our apartment that is packed with all sorts of shit, and I’d say a good third of the thousands of comics, books and magazines in there were bought in Dunedin.
Bag End closed a couple of years after I moved away from Dunedin, and even though I tried to visit the city as much as possible in the past decade, the spaces between visits were getting longer as I moved further and further away.
But it’s still my favourite city ever, so I was still excited about visiting it last weekend to catch up with old friends and look for comic books. Then it all got a bit much.
It might have been that weird new little mall that was eerily similar to one I dreamt about two decades ago, or the decaying shops down the south end of town, but I was left feeling lost and confused by this latest trip.
It all started so well – the first thing I did after picking up the rental car from the airport was drive to my three favourite second hand bookstores, and found some reliable treasures, like a Jimmy Olsen digest and a recent Judge Dredd magazine and some Gary Frank Hulk and Jim Starlin Silver Surfer and some Zot, a Milligan/Aparo Batman comic and Kirby Demon and Ditko Shade, so that was fun.
But as the day went on, the more differences there were. Some bookshops that I thought would be immortal had closed down, and bits and pieces of the city had shifted. Buildings I’d worked in no longer existed, that garage down the alley where I once saw Captain Marvel in a drunken hallucination was long gone.
It had all been replaced. Time marches on and new stuff is always showing up, but I didn’t recognise it. Even the gorgeous new sports stadium they’ve built down by the water was oddly off-putting.
This is fucking stupid, right? Feeling down because a place you liked has moved on without you. Getting existentially depressed because that place you bought The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (Deluxe edition) #18 isn’t there any more.
But sometimes you can dig the place you live in so much, it’s like part of your ego becomes defined by it. And even when you move away, there is always something you leave behind, something that unexpectedly resurfaces when you return.
I still got to cruise the old streets, and caught up with old friends I hadn’t seen in far too long, but I was feeling truly subdued. Until one of those old friends told me about a new comic shop in town. And who cares about the past when there’s a new comic shop?
I ended up hanging around town a little longer than expected, just waiting for that comic shop to open on the Saturday morning. It was a perfectly average store, but I managed to score that first issue of Daredevil Frank Miller ever wrote and drew (with the pulse-pounding introduction of Elecktra!) for twenty bucks, so that was a decent deal. I’ve never seen that sucker anywhere for less than fifty.
I thought that the beleaguered Comics Compulsion was the last comic store in the South Island of New Zealand, but I was happy to be proven wrong by Pop Fiction in Dunedin
Cities change and life goes on and there isn’t much I can do about that. But as long as there are still places to buy new comics, everything is right with the world.