Thursday, February 12, 2015

Into the Land of Discovery: The LCS

It’s been a good, long while since I posted something other than a “Friday Slice Of Heaven, Slice Into the Woods” post (weekly) or a “Micronauts Monday” post (ended July of last year), but I’ve been thinking a lot about the golden days of the ’70s, and spinner racks, and newsstands, and what life was like before my first local comic shop (LCS). I touched on some of these topics back in 2010 when I first started Donist World, but thought it was high time for a revisit.

As a kid living in Akron, OH, I always had comics around from a very young age. I’m not completely certain where they had come from, whether my mom or dad bought them for me, or maybe they had been lugging some around for some reason, but all I know is I had quite a few. Of course I had books with Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, the Fantastic Four, the Legion of Superheroes, and the Avengers, the usual superhero fare, but I also had some stuff most adults would consider worthy of contacting child protective services.

Would you let your
six-year-old read this?
Yeah, this six-year-old loved to read himself some horror funny books. Weird War Tales, Werewolf By Night, Tomb of Dracula, Man-Thing, Godzilla, Unknown Soldier, House Of Secrets, and House of Mystery all completely rocked my world. I recall the odd Richie Rich, or Casper the Friendly Ghost, or Hot Stuff (which I liked…y'know…a devil baby, c’mon) kicking around my collection, but for me, the creepier the comic, the better. That’s why Swamp Thing #10 is the issue that solidified my love of comics.

Of course I wasn’t exactly reading the issues way back then, mostly I flipped through and enjoyed the monster mash, but that one issue of Swamp Thing…dang, I just could not get enough of it. You had the title character of the Swamp Thing, who was a large, green, plant creature with roots for veins, but he was not the only monster in this issue. It also had the positively horrific Anton Arcane and his equally disturbing Un-Men to make my heart pump faster and to keep me awake late at night. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I had gained an appreciation of illustration through the gorgeous artwork of Bernie Wrightson, whose style I would recognize in many of my beloved horror comics. I would also come to notice Wrightson’s work in the more naughty magazines (Eerie, Creepy, and Heavy Metal), which I secretly perused at the the local Clicks store, which led to my discovery of Richard Corben, but that is another tale that I touch on briefly here and here in a couple looks at some beautiful hardcover releases.

Oh my gosh.
I think I have the vapours…
Anyways, Swamp Thing made me a lover of comic books, but I still only bought them on occasion off of spinner racks at convenience stores and grocery stores. That was until the day I bought my first issue of The Micronauts — cue the “Hallelujah” chorus from Händel’s Messiah. The amazing toy line had utterly consumed me for sometime, but the day I saw The Micronauts #2 sitting on the rack at the newsstand, it seized my eyeballs as I seized 35¢ from my mom to buy it. On the cover I saw Acroyear, Space Glider, and my soon-to-be-favorite character, Bug, who I prayed would someday be made into an action figure — I’m still waiting. One read through this sci-fi adventure with stunning art by Michael Golden, I had suddenly changed from a kid who bought comics willy nilly, to a monthly buyer and collector.

My poor parents. I kind of feel sorry for them at this point. Not only did I beg to go to the toy store at the mall, but more so I wanted to go to the newsstand a couple times a week, just on the off chance the latest issue of The Micronauts had arrived. My love and devotion to this series followed me from Ohio to California, where I was still able to find all my new issues at the grocery store, 7-11, and K-Mart. I was happy as could be until the day issue #37 arrived to shatter my world. I reminisce about this issue in my “Micronauts Monday” post here, but the short version is that the death knell of buying comics at grocery stores and newsstands had sounded. The Micronauts was one of the first series to go to the magical realms known as “comic specialty stores” and “select retail outlets,” which made zero sense to my 11-year-old mind. Thus I entered into what I call The Micronauts Void.

This period would last roughly a year and a half, until by some weird miracle I found out about Andromeda Bookshop. The first time I set foot in this L-shaped store, I was initially disappointed by the overstuffed shelves of sci-fi and fantasy books, but once you walked further in and hung a right…glory. Before me was a large, square room with cubbies full of comics behind the counter on the left and back walls, and new comics on racks to the right. There was also a table in the center that held the week’s new releases, and multiple bundled series climbed the right wall toward the ceiling; we wont’t go into the XXX books crammed into the corner. I had found it, my own pirate’s treasure trove. I had entered Olympus itself, and it bore riches beyond my imagining. More importantly, there sitting upon the Andromeda comic racks was that which I coveted beyond all else: a new issue of The Micronauts, #50 to be exact

Dave Sim signing
I have tried to find pictures of Andromeda for years,
and finally found one. I was not here for this event,
but this is the room. Photo by Ted Mills.
I was back in business. Not only could I buy new books, I could also fill the many gaps in my collection — once I had saved up enough allowance, of course. This would take some time, as new and what would become legendary comics (Batman the Dark Knight Returns, Miracle Man, Watchmen, The Saga of the Swamp Thing, and so many more) were dropping like joyfully dark rain upon the gritty concrete streets.

Over at least two summers, my brother and I made the couple-times-a-week walk from our house to the comic store downtown (4.25 miles round trip) so we could torment the employees by making them drag out all The Micronauts, Daredevil, Uncanny X-Men (the Claremont issues, by golly) back issue stacks, so we could marvel at the covers, and bemoan the out-of-our-price-range costs. These journeys were in addition to our mom driving us to Andromeda every Saturday once we had been paid our $2/week allowance. It’s safe to say we were a little obsessed.

Nerds are cool and all, but this nerd
prefers Volcano Rocks.
The walk downtown wasn’t just about the comics; although that was the primary force for making the trek. We also got to stop by the State Street Video Game Arcade to play Bagman, Joust, and Crystal Castles. Then there was a quick visit to the game store inside the Piccadilly Square mall, not to mention spiced potato logs, lime Slush Puppies, and Willy Wonka Volcano Rocks at Fernando’s Market on the way back home…if we had any money left over, which we rarely did.

Alas, my first LCS bit the dust in the ’90s thanks to high rents and the comic crash, but thankfully Metro Comics came along and I have been shopping there ever since. Only now, I drive to my LCS and I have big boy money to spend, which given current comic book prices means I can roughly buy about the same number of books as I could back when I was a kid.

What was your first LCS?

Any fond memories, or epic journeys to get to one?

How about your favorite Holy Grail comic as a kid?

I’d love to hear about it.

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