Monday, August 8, 2022

I didn't need church when I had the corner dairy

These tiny suburban shops - some of them set up decades before I was born - came stacked with ice-creams and lollies and cans of soup and old toys and older bread. And these were the places where I worshiped at the altar of superhero comics. 

As a kid, I had no idea how comics got to New Zealand - getting them across the biggest oceans in the world meant you would frequently miss issues, or entire titles. There were years and years when they couldn't bring any American in, because the local reprint boys had stitched up the market (and tough shit if you wanted your comics in colour).

There were no comic shops. You went to the local bookshop to get a regular fix of 2000ad - and many of them had them because the kids of Aotearoa dug their Johnny Alphas and Rogue Troopers.

But to get any kind of varied comic diet, you would also have to go to the corner dairies - tiny convenience stores scattered across town. It could take half a day to get round them all, so I spent vast amounts of my youth cycling between them.

All that effort for some mediocre Marvels I sold off years ago. And that's probably why now, decades later, I still remember so much of this shit.

Look here, on Otipua road, towards the south end of Timaru, there's the shop where I used to get Scream for 15 glorious weeks in the 1980s. I haven't seen them sell any good comics there for almost 40 years, but I still can't stop myself in looking, whenever I just wanted an ice cream. The shop is still there and the magazine rack is still jammed in beside the door. I still look.

Just a couple of blocks down the road is the store that was a regular source for Justice League International, just as DeMatteis/Giffen was finishing and Jurgans took over, and was also the place were I could get two of the Superman titles, starting with the Panic in the Sky storyline (the idea of getting all four weekly issues was absolutely outlandish, so you had to take what you could get. Took me 25 years to get the last issue of that Panic in the Sky thing). 

I also got the issue of 2000ad with the twist at the end of Zenith Phase four, and on the left you can just see the footpath where I literally dropped the issue in amazement.

It turned into a fish and chip store for a few years, before reverting back to a dairy. I don't think they've had any comics there since that long-ago change.

Down by the park in Timaru there's a Night And Day dairy, and they always stuffed their magazine racks with all sorts of Marvel goodness for years and years. 

I got a bunch of terrible Bob Harras/Steve Epting Avengers comics from there, (although it was during the year where every fourth issue had a bitching full foil cover). It was on the way from town to my Nana's place, so my sister and I went past it often on Saturday afternoons, while the parents were at housie, and I could get some X-Factors by the indispensable Simonsons, or The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition '89 Update

It's still there and you bet your arse I have a look over their magazine rack, and it's still as packed as ever. But I think the last comic I ever got from there was the Claremont/Lee X-Men #1 - the only place in town to get a copy of its shelves. 

This North Street dairy provided a regular diet of post-Byrne Avengers West Coast and What The-!?, along with some very, very cheap meat pies.

This bad boy on the main road used be the only source of McFarlane Spider-Man I could find anywhere. It got turned into a fucking excellent record shop for a while, before reverting to a regular shop. 

I wish I still had those McFarlane issues, they're worth a fucking mint now.

Some dairies like the one that used to sit in this space wouldn't get in new regular titles, but would often have piles of remaindered DC comics from a couple of years ago for a buck each. Every couple of years a new box would show up and me and my mates would slowly pick it clean of all the good Brave And The Bold and Justice League comics. 

Just once there was a small pile of strange looking Marvel comics, but I was a bit scared of them at that age, and they were $1.20, so I didn't really touch them.

This shop lasted for years, had a spacies room at one point, and then that back room was used to rent video tapes and it was my main source for all the Italian horror films I could get three bucks for in the very early 90s. 

And I just found out the building got demolished this weekend. Another one gone.

Further into town, the corner dairy by Gunnion Square is still going strong, but is unlikely to stock anything as amazing as Camelot 3000 #12, which sat there for some months in the 1980s. 

It also used to be a lively source of Federal reprints, which I always had a lot of time for. The shop is still there, and I have seen a lot of things like Disney comics on its magazine rack over the years, but that's about it.

The Maude Street dairy would get the British stuff - if Eagle or Battle or Tiger were your thing - and suddenly got swarmed on by kids who wanted the action figures during a very turbulent few weeks in my adolescence. 

It turned into a refrigerator shop and then nothing and I ended up living in the flat next to it for a couple of months in the early 2000s and now it's something else.  An excellent fish and chip shop right behind it just closed, which is a huge blow for the community, but their spectacular burgers still weren't as exciting as those bloody action figures.

The best one was back in Timaru, on an incredibly busy corner on the main highway. It disappeared 30 years ago, but I can still remember the breathtaking selection of 2000ad and Marvel goodness that was there every time I went in - the last time I was in there before it was demolished, I got the Nocenti/JRJR Daredevil issues with the Inferno crossover, which I still proudly own.

Another place, just across the road, had the first Eagle Comics reprint of Judge Dredd on beautiful paper with a transcendentally good Brian Bolland cover, and that's gone too now, replaced by a car park years ago.

But it's heartening how many of the stores have stayed, even if their appetites for selling flimsy comic books have faded. When comics went fully into the direct market, these kinds of places weren't even thought of, and the supply quickly dried up. Just gone. At least I got in while I could.

1 comment:

Nick said...

It was a similar situation in the UK in the 70s / 80s - aside from the landscape-oriented, B&W official Marvel magazines, you just had to get lucky and bridge any continuity gaps with your imagination. Going on holiday always gave you the chance to discover a title that hadn't made it to your town or, if you were really lucky, a dusty old back issue that you'd missed at home. My best haul there was a day trip to a seaside location where someone was selling off unwanted Quality magazies (Warrior, House of Hammer) in bagged bundles.

But yeah, your parents would go into a newsagent to grab the daily paper, and that was your window of opportunity. Easy to spot the Summer specials shelf, and then just a case of scanning the immediate area for anything exotic. Can I get this?