Shameless nostalgia in a new decade: My first comic shop
Originally posted January 15, 2010
Sometimes I just feel old and stupid and wish I was young and stupid again.
It’s 2010 and I can’t stop thinking about walking into a shop back in the 1980s. When is this maturity thing meant to kick in, anyway?
* * *
It was back in the one of those endless summers that dry up as you get older, periods of time that you can end up obsessing over later in life. I wish I could bottle up that thrill that hit when I was 13 and walked into my first comic shop.
It was the early days of 1988, and I know this because the one of the only comics I remember seeing was an issue of GI Joe, which was the obsession of the month just then. Just too young to get into girls, a little too old to still be playing with action figures any more, but I couldn't get enough of Yo Joe. And seeing Lady Jaye deck Flint on the cover was a powerful image to remember.
I also remember flipping through Excalibur #1 and seeing Alan Davis' slick art at its slickest. The modern sheen, fluid bodies and strong jaws. That love stuck with me longer than the Joe infatuation, and is still going on today.
The store was on the corner opposite the Dunedin railway station, with the courthouse across on the other side. I can't remember its name. I didn’t return to the city for another year and it was gone by then, turned into a model toy shop.
* * *
I was frothing at the mouth for comics by the time I was fifteen. Couldn't get enough of them and was a stereotypically obnoxious teenage comic geek, resorting to thievery to feed the inane addiction. I still feel really bad about this and have relentlessly supported the shops I stole from in the years since.
But I still had to wait three goddamn months for them to be shipped over from the States. Fortunately, there was no internet to spoil any surprises, and the side-effects of this crushingly familiar prejudice of geography were minimal.
Once I realised the comics at the Dunedin store were flown in and were three to four months ahead of the issues appearing in the stores, the wait suddenly became unbearable and the occasional payoff was a little slice of the future, at a time when I genuinely had no idea what was coming up. It was nerdvana.
And the selection of different titles in that very first visit was bewildering. Looking back on it, there really wasn't that massive a range, but there were titles that I'd never heard of before, entire companies and creators that were new names. For all the good it did me. I got unreasonably scared by the Crumb and Bagge comics in the corner which scarred my developing brain and it would still be years before I could even bear to look at anything by these guys again.
* * *
So - of course - the store was gone the next time. The disappointment on seeing it converted was crushing. Fortunately, there was another bookstore in town owned by a comic-lover, who had taken over the aerial importation of American comics, and was good enough to supply a good selection of the latest Marvel and DC books, even if anything more mature than the first Wolverine series was off the menu.
But it really felt like I was in the clubhouse. Even though I had zero contact with anybody else who was as obsessive over comics as I was at that age, the ability to read comics mere days after their American release was a revelation. Even though I had to go back to my home town and that three month wait, the knowledge that there were places where new and unusual comics could be found was wonderful, and I would get to them. One way or the other.
* * *
The three month delay lasted well into the '90s, and I can still remember the crushing jealousy when my best mate got #4 of the Jim Lee X-Men before me.
When it vanished, it wasn't really replaced by anything. There is still the odd shop that sells one of the Superman or Avengers comics, but they used to be everywhere, in every bookshop and dairy in the country. Now, they're just in comic shops.
* * *
There is still a kick in walking into the local store and buying something that came out in the States two days ago. Now, it’s possible to find some pretty meaty analysis of almost any comic, and that’s spectacular, but nothing comes close to that first thrill, coming out of a world of confusion.
I just wish I could stop chasing it, but it’s just too much fun.