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More about Olly Moss at ollymoss.com.
25 December 2010
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18 December 2010
If there was a comic book store in Tacoma, Washington when I was growing up there, I never saw it. At least, I don’t think so. I have a vague kind of half-memory of this place we used to drive past that had a tattered Spider-Man poster in the window, but it very well could have been a used bookstore. Even now, I think there are only two or three comic book shops in Tacoma, and Comic Book Ink is the only one I’m certain of. Back in the late ‘70s? I’m almost positive there wasn’t anything even resembling a comic book specialty shop.
Comic book stores were actually just coming into their own when I was discovering comics back then. The Direct Market was showing the first signs of being a light at the end of the tunnel of economic desperation comics were traveling down at the time, and comic book publishers themselves were slowly beginning to take advantage of the new market. It would take a few years before things really took off, though, and by most accounts, the Direct Market wasn’t really swinging until the early ‘80s. In the meantime, I bought comics wherever I could find them, and at that time, there seemed to be plenty of options.
7-11 was a frequent source, but it wasn’t the only one. See, the further I was drawn into the world of comics, the more time I spent obsessing on ways to find more of them. And it didn’t matter where I was going with my parents (and when you’re a kid, you’re always going somewhere with your parents – usually someplace dead boring); I always found a way to convince my Dad to pull over at some likely spot to check for comics. Sometimes, I just had a hunch that a certain supermarket or drug store would have comics, but just as often, I’d been given advice from any number of my comics-mad friends. That’s how I found out that the McChord Air Force Base Exchange (BX, for short) had a magazine section crammed full of comics, for instance, or that the Hallmark Shop adjacent to the local Fred Meyer (local chain store, kind of similar to Wal-Mart, but on a much smaller scale) had a well-stocked spinner rack right next to the cash register. Fred Meyer carried comics, too, as did K-Mart, but they were sold in bags of three for a dollar and the trade dress on the covers had been altered so that the price and issue number of each book was displayed in a big, fat diamond. Seen through the always critical eyes of youth, these comics looked a little weird and plus, everyone at school said they were “reprints.” Never mind that many of our favorite comics – Marvel's Greatest Comics, Marvel Tales, Marvel Triple Action – actually were reprints; we were kids, and logic wasn’t exactly our forte at that point. And ultimately, if some comic I desperately needed was in one of those bags; corner diamond be damned, it was mine!
There was something that troubled me greatly, though, and that was the fact that I’d seen all these ads for things like Origins of Marvel Comics in various comics, but the books themselves were so elusive they didn’t seem to exist. One of my friends had a copy of the follow-up to that book, Son of Origins (which he’d taken apart and assembled into individual comic books, incidentally. I still remember him lending me his copy of “Daredevil #1”...), but when I asked where he got it, he hadn’t a clue. His Mom bought it for him, and that was that. I was fascinated by the fact that he had it, though, because it represented tangible evidence that these things I saw in my comics were real. And if they were real, that meant they were sold somewhere. The big question now was…where? Quite the puzzle for the burgeoning mind of an obsessive young comics fan.
Things have changed a lot since then, though, and comic book shops have become as much a part of our cultural landscape as video rental chains and record stores. Unfortunately, a sad thing comic book shops have in common with those types of establishments is they are all, alas, in steep decline as a presence in our communities. This isn’t news. The number of comic book shops in the United States has been in recession since the ‘90s. I’ve seen figures stating there were over 10,000 Direct Market outlets at one point, but you would have to shave two thirds off that and then take off a little more before you got an accurate picture of the current statistics. And sure, part of that is down to the fact comics and graphic novels are readily available in most bookstores and you can order them online or read them on your phone or whatever, but the truth of the matter is the market has shrunk considerably over the years. Comic book shops aren’t as common as they once were and in some places, the options for comic book readers are as limited as those I had as a boy.
Up until recently, I felt pretty lucky that I worked in Downtown Berkeley, due to the fact one of the absolute best stores in the country, Comic Relief, was mere blocks away. Lately, though, Comic Relief is but a grim signpost to the past. Fortunately, there’s still Dr. Comics & Mr. Games in Piedmont, and crossing the bridge to my home in San Francisco, there’s Brian Hibbs' wonderful Comix Experience and James Simes' Isotope. There's also Mission Comics, Al’s Comics and Neon Monster, just to name a few. A good comic book shop is a good comic book shop, after all, and if you’re immersed in comic book culture enough to be visiting this site and reading my rambling blog posts, visiting one is probably something akin to dropping in on an old friend or going to church.
Even thought I don’t buy as many comics as I used to (funny how one gets more selective with time, innit?), I still get a real buzz off being in a shop on new comics day or dropping by a store to find it bustling on the weekend. It’s the same thrill I get from visiting my favorite record stores or going to a good film or seeing a great band play live. There’s just something real about being there amongst my fellow travelers, joining in the Holy Communion of Comics, and it’s an experience I don’t get from ordering something online or picking something up from a chain store.
So, if the weather’s agreeable wherever you are (often a challenge, this time of year) and there’s a shop nearby, do yourself a favor and drop on by. Bask in the glory of a place made especially for you, and while you’re at it, remember that not too very long ago, these temples to the power of the unbridled imagination weren’t part of the landscape at all.
17 December 2010
16 December 2010
I'm always happy to see comics getting some local press, but after reading your recent article about East Bay institution Comic Relief, my only reaction was, "What a pile of horse shit.
"One of Rory Root's surviving family members is going to buy the store and save it? Are you kidding me? That's like saying you're going save a shooting victim by putting him in front of a firing squad. They own the store now, and I am beyond puzzled that someone could research and write an article about Comic Relief's current predicament without understanding that.
Having known Rory Root since I first started working in comics in the early '90s, I can tell you that as much as I loved the guy, he was far from perfect. He kept Comic Relief alive and kicking, though, often against significant odds, because he understood the business and had a deep-rooted love and understanding not only of comics, but of the people who bought and read them. As a result, there were people willing to do favors for Rory simply because it was Rory. Rough around the edges though he was, Rory was a magnetic personality and he engendered a tremendous amount of goodwill. There were few greater ambassadors for comics, and since Image Comics moved to Berkeley in 2004, it was the pleasure of our entire staff to shop at his store.
A seemingly never-ending series of colossal blunders by Rory's family have put the store on life support, and now the store is a shell of what it once was. Comic Relief hasn't received new product in weeks. For anyone even the least bit familiar with the business of selling comics, it should be vodka clear: No new books means no business. No business means no store. And far from being some sort of solution to the store's troubles, the Roots are actually the cause. They took the store over against Rory's wishes and have run it into the ground with such force, you'd think they were blasting for oil.
You see, here's the thing: Rory had a number of health issues, and he was well aware that he was living on borrowed time. The topic of his death and the future of the store came up often – not in terms of "if," but "when" – and no matter who he was talking to, he always made it a point to say that the store would be left to long-time general manager Todd Martinez. He repeatedly said it was documented in his will: The store goes to Todd.
But when Rory passed away in 2008, a funny thing happened: His family claimed they couldn't find a copy of the will in his house.
Now, let's for a moment give the Roots the benefit of the doubt. Maybe Rory really did lose the will. He wasn't exactly known for his organizational skills, after all, and stories of the clutter in his house were legend. But even so, his wishes were widely known. Rory was a public figure and he was not shy about sharing the details of his life. It was no secret he wanted to leave the store to Todd, and one would think, will or no will, his family – of all people – would have enough simple decency and respect to honor his wishes.
But, no, despite having zero experience running a comic book store, the Roots elbowed Todd out of the way like it was raining hundred dollar bills, and started making decisions regarding the store's future that insured nothing but its eventual ruin, beginning with the immediate dismissal of Kathleen Hunt – Rory's attorney and best friend – as executor of his will. They either fired or forced out good employees, they gave up prime real estate at key conventions and best of all, they hired Chris Juricich to manage the store, demoting Todd Martinez – Rory's right hand man for well over a decade – in the process. More staff quit in frustration, and visiting the store was like a trip to Dr. Doom's castle. For Rory's friends and Comic Relief's regular customers (very often, one and the same), watching this sad spectacle unfold has been nothing short of heartbreaking.
The one bright spot in all of this is that I personally am not a short-sighted idiot, so while the Roots failed to recognize Todd's value, I did, and seeing how demoralized he was under Juricich's and the Roots' supervision, I hired him to be Image Comics' Sales & Licensing Coordinator.
Meanwhile, Rory's family continue to stomp on the legacy of their brother, as the wonderful store he created staggers ever closer to its slow and inevitable death.
Whether it's the writer's inability to filter truth from lies or, y'know, actually do some repoting and check some basic facts, I don't know. Maybe this is just a cynical attempt by Juricich and the Roots to cast themselves in a better light. Whatever the case, I'm calling bullshit on this pathetic rewrite of recent history. The customers who've supported Comic Relief over the years deserve better, the store itself deserves better, and most of all, Rory deserves better.