I came to comics late. My first undergrad roommate was a huge DC and Vertigo fan (this was in the late 90s), and I went to our college town’s LCS with her a couple times, but I didn’t really understand how to get into comics, nor did the shop make them particularly approachable to a shy sci-fi nerd who had no idea what treasures the racks would eventually contain for her. Roomie lent me her Sandman trades. I tried but wasn’t into it.
Then I dated an angry Batman fan with serious dad issues for a while. (I know). That didn’t help get me closer to comics fandom yet either. Meanwhile, still in college, I was reading sci-fi, watching Buffy and The X-Files and, in retrospect, heading inexorably towards becoming someone who’d end up working on genre. But I still had no idea how heavily comics were going to feature in that mix, even when I was already far into my graduate studies.
I have moved a lot of times in my adult life. How many times? Too damn many times. Between my own career trajectory and that of my partner’s, it seems like we’ve spent most of the last decade packing and unpacking. I craved connection and stability in these new places, and it was usually sorely lacking.
In the summer of 2006, we relocate to Austin, TX from the Midwest, and I have culture (and thermal) shock beyond belief. Every time I venture out the door of my new apartment complex at 46th and Guadalupe, I wonder why I’ve moved to the actual literal surface of the sun, if I’ll ever finish my degree before I melt, and how I was going to make friends here with my Boston accent. Then we discover Austin Books and Comics, which is a manageable walking distance even in 100F+ heat, and we venture in to poke around shyly and buy the new Buffy Season Eight comics. I don’t really understand how to read them. Like Sandman, I’m not totally getting into them either. I’m not sure if I’m doing it wrong.
The me that is almost combatively inquisitive in my encounters with all other mediums seems to vanish in the presence of comic books and the people who sell them, and even though everyone I interact with at ABC is super nice, I am too overwhelmingly shy to ask questions or interact much more than mumbling something about “Joss getting all my money” when I step up to the register. But I keep coming back, because they are nice to me. Eventually I grow to love Austin, but we’ve stopped buying Buffy and moved to another neighborhood across town. We’re still not really comics readers yet.
A few years later, life drops me in Central Amsterdam. I do not speak Dutch. I can barely read Dutch. I live at one of the most photographed intersections in the entire “dam” city, a stone’s throw from the big train station, and in what seems to be simultaneously the heart of the gay bars, Chinatown, and where every comic shop in the city is, all on the edge of the Red Light District. It is loud, crammed with tourists at all hours, and I go into massive sensory overload trying to cope with the basic tasks of daily life. I can’t sleep at night for weeks on end.
Our move was at the end of the summer Avengers hit the screens. I loved it. My partner decided to make the leap into print comics with Marvel, and got us a subscription to Marvel Digital Unlimited, diving in to read. I am still focused on using my new (Dutch) Avengers blu-ray as a security blanket, but one night I can’t sleep, can’t focus on writing, can’t stop thinking about how homesick I am. A friend has suggested Runaways as a good starting place for me, so I log into my partner’s account and figure out how to start reading it. I read Runaways all night. The dam (see what I did there?) breaks.
I check out my local LCS options in the neighborhood, all three of them. Two are palpably unwelcoming to female customers. The one literally around the corner from me, Go Joker, is another story altogether. If you’re reading this, Ron: Thank you. Thank you for suggesting Marvel titles that changed my life, and for insisting on going through the previews with me page by page. Thanks for teaching me what a pull was. Thanks for making me feel like a part of the neighborhood I was dropped into by chance. I cried on my last walk home from your store.
(At this point, Marvel’s open serial narratives in print are at the core of my dissertation. At this point, print comics are helping me understand the workings of genre storytelling better than I ever had before.)
Fast forward some years to rural Texas. I’ve finished my degree. I’m having culture shock yet again. This Texas is not the Texas I got to know in Austin. This is yet a different Texas. I have a very stressful and demanding job I’m working remotely, and there are no LCSs where I am. Hastings can’t always be counted on to have my Bitch Planet and Ms. Marvel. This is a disaster.
On the first of what would become our nearly biweekly drives to Austin on Saturdays (from way-the-futz-too-far-away), we stagger into ABC like castaways. The store is so much bigger now. The store has swallowed the entire plaza. I walk over to the wall of Marvel single issues and start to cry. Staff remember us from years ago and smile and greet us. We’ve come home. We start a pull, ask for recs, talk to everyone. It’s most of the in-person social interaction I’m getting, these every couple-of-weeks visits, and these wonderful people have no idea how much it means to me.
Time passes, new jobs are offered, and now we’re driving northeast for what’s hopefully a permanent landing spot. Roots sound great, but pulling up my LCS roots, a lot less so. The new neighborhood is everything we wanted. The LCSs, trekked to one at a time, in the surrounding towns, are anything but. We’ve been pulling with ABC and having it shipped to us for about a month now, a supposedly temporary arrangement. I still like talking to people at ABC on the phone about my pull more than I like entering any of these dank, unfriendly, male-dominated local spaces. By now we’ve been to comics stores on two continents, run in many languages. The ones around here rank below all of them. We decide just to stay with ABC by mail.
Sometimes you end up with an LCS that’s not very “local” at all. The important thing, is that the right LCS always feels like home.
Share your LCS adventures (good and bad) in the comments below, and make sure you don’t miss Rae’s piece from yesterday!
The above was a heartfelt love letter to Austin Books and Comics and Go Joker, and no promotional considerations of any kind were provided by any parties to any parties. Even Rae doesn’t know I wrote this yet. -Dr. G